Saturday, July 23, 2016

Still Alive On This Earth

Blue Ridge mountains of my home.
There are some mornings when I wake up surprised that I'm still alive. It can be a wonderful surprise or an anxious preoccupation, or (most often) something in between.

In any case, I have reached the age where I no longer simply take for granted that "one day will just follow upon another" for gazillions of years of a vast future. Such is the horizon of youth, even for young people who know that no one's days are guaranteed. We all feel especially the strangeness of death when it takes someone in the flower of their youth.

In many ways, I still feel young, and I'm starting to realize that "being young at heart" is more than a cliche. It is the task of gratitude, and it is the anecdote to the emotional immaturity that afflicts me and so many of my generation. It grows in tandem with a realism about the "normal" course of human life and the mystery of God's plan for each individual person's life that corresponds to his or her unique identity.

More and more, I have begun to feel the "vastness" of my own past, the volume of life that I have already lived. I am enriched by many memories even as I am haunted by the awareness of how much time I have wasted.

What remains ahead, especially for someone of my health? It's not something I want to dwell on. I can only do my best to take care of myself, and trust in God that the time ahead will be enough for me and for those who love me. The span of what is "enough," of course, remains a mystery. It always has been a mystery. It always has been a gift, and it is a gift right now.

It is a gift that I awaken to another day. Rather than be overcome by the creeping cynicism of my time of life, I prefer to reconsider and reaffirm my priorities.

Today, I have to judge. I have to act.

Jesus first, above all things, in all things. Jesus, asking for my love. I do love Him. I pray to recognize Him more, ignore Him less, love Him in action with less ambiguity and more simplicity and directness, love Him in all the ways He gives Himself to me.

Beyond everything that constitutes what we would call daily "spiritual" activities (which are essential for any Christian), my life still travels the roads of this world. Here I have to live my life and attend to my responsibilities. Though these mundane realities are themselves deeply charged with mystery, it is possible to articulate much about them, and to consider the duties, possibilities, and questions that they continue to provoke.

Most of life is in the little things, of course. Still, although I know I cannot number my days, there remain horizons that it's only reasonable to ponder. What do I see on this part of my journey, and how does it shape today and whatever days might follow from the merciful hand of God?

I am a man, a husband, a father, a companion to my wife, a paternal authority, guide, and example to my children. I am also--in various ways and to the degree that I am able--a help to others. Whether as a friend or mentor (or both), a supporter, or a source of encouragement, I recognize that on the journey of my life there are others who walk with me, and some who, in a particular way, have been entrusted to me, to the attention, affection, and solicitude of my heart. And I likewise have been entrusted to them.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, my family, my friends, and the many kinds of companionship that often arise in spontaneous and unexpected ways (especially in our times)-- all call upon my daily fidelity in truth and love, appropriately, with discretion, with purity of heart. Here I find the daily struggle to regard the person in front of me above my own selfishness and whims, my own power to manipulate, my own unresolved frustrations and anger.

And though I live with many limitations of health, I remain committed to responsibilities and goals of my profession. Disability (and consequent early "retirement") notwithstanding, I do what I can to keep writing and to live according to my vocation as a teacher and scholar, a "theologian" (God have mercy on me) and philosopher.

Nor do I wish to neglect the artist, poet, and musician that are rooted in my earliest years and that still stir in me. For too long I have set aside my artistry, but in my present circumstances and time of life I find it awakening once more. If nothing else, I want to support and encourage creative young people (starting with my own kids).

I know something of the peculiar suffering of artistic people and the pressures and stresses that often accompany their gifts. Words are the tools of my craft, and poetry is my art (though I find it very difficult). Music, which was as necessary to me as air in my youth, struggles to reawaken, if not through much diminished former skills, at least in the ear and the heart. Drama and cinema, as art and not simply "entertainment," call forth my appreciation and critical skill.

There is much to live for. Indeed, it is more than I can handle on any one day. The vocation of each person's life has its priorities, and I pray that I might attend to them properly and be less distracted. This too is a daily challenge and a daily struggle, full of trying and failing and beginning again. Always begin again. Never let discouragement win. Never give up.

I am surprised by each day, surprised by life. Sometimes it can be hard. Some days are harder than others. But I am glad and grateful to be still alive on this earth today.

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