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Commentaries and observations about the conflicting moral beliefs and psychological issues facing our culture.
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"AWAY WITH WORDS"
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5 August 2021
We Always Have Time
Aging is a willful, persistent companion. It will have its way with us. I speak from personal experience: my decades run their course and the number of my years are insistently evident.
For example, these days I am less inclined to sprint across parking lots or climb stairs two at a time. I find railings more useful than in younger days. Standing in line has become abhorrent. Sometimes I chuckle when forget why I came to the kitchen, and it takes a moment (or two) to recall my reasons.
So, it’s clear to me that the years do indeed assert their inevitable grip on body and mind, both of which are, I admit, less nimble than when I was a svelte 50, or a spry and eager 60.
Happily, aging offers benefits. I am no longer concerned about work schedules or waiting in airports. I’ve learned to relish my leisure hours and to enjoy quiet visits to my church nearby. And I am surely much more aware of - and grateful to - the many people who perform the myriad daily services we take for granted.
As I See It
These days, the Spirit often moves me to ask, “What have I learned about myself and about life over my four score and seven years … and what am I still learning?”
And there’s a further question (if anyone should ask): “As a result of my years, what elder’s observations might I share with people who have open, wondering minds and listening hearts?”
Some folks may think me haughty or preachy or presumptuous to pose these questions … or to offer answers. But the benefit of my years has taught me the significant difference between faddish, news-bite “opinions” and time-tested insights of elders whose credibility is bolstered by decades of experience and learning, honed by the informed critique of history, and balanced by the enduring norms of proven objective morality.
Facts, Not Nostalgia
I am of an era when every life - especially the life of every child, born and unborn - was valued and protected. No woman (or her physician) put her career or her putative “health care needs” above the life of her child; this was unthinkable. Today’s sense of personal “freedom” has entirely vitiated such old-school thinking.
I am of an era which held high the flag of our country, even as we struggled to implement justice for all, as we struggled to grow beyond our personal sins and cultural imperfections as a nation of flawed human beings.
I am of an era when elders were respected for their patient endurance, honored for their uncommon Wisdom earned in the crucible of their years. Elders were not seen as disposable citizens, as some agencies and officials now determine.
I am of an era when elders were revered as hopeful exemplars of the human spirit, revered for their humility and their quiet, yet intractable, virtue. After all, elders paid -- and still pay -- our dues and endure losses and face dilemmas which aging demands.
Elders were - are - familiar with life’s basic, soul-centered questions which our distracted, self-absorbed culture rarely considers today; questions such as:
- What motivates you to be quiet and listen to someone intently and attentively, with courteous heart and mind?
- Who moves you to come out of your self-protecting shell, out of your fearful restraints?
- Who inspires you to selfless altruism?
- Who speaks to your heart … when, that is, you are not busy on your cell phone?
- Who - or what - awakens in you willing self-sacrifice and anonymous generosity?
- With whom are you most vulnerable, undefended, open without reservation?
- With whom do you share your secrets?
- Who do you trust?
So, with due respect to those who disagree, I offer a few observations -- working principles, really -- which occur to me in my elder’s reveries. These principles emerge from my belief in God, six decades of “people-work” and my lengthy participation in our human search for abiding meaning and moral purpose in life.
So, for your consideration …
1. Every day we are given countless opportunities to learn about ourselves and the meaning of our lives, and to improve the lives of others, no matter how small our contribution may seem.
Life presents innumerable moments of personal revelation, interior lights about more humane ways of being alive; countless challenges from within; insights about how we may be better persons for ourselves and others.
But the question always comes down to this: When these learning moments are upon us and we know the better course, then what do we choose to do?
Choice is basic to action. Knowing is a start, but doing is crucial … knowing, choosing, doing…..
2. Some people studiously ignore their opportunities and dismiss their challenges. They are disdainful of self-knowledge, afraid to admit the truth about themselves … to themselves.
These insights about ourselves are blessings, actual graces. But people who avoid such truths will miss the point that these truths possess extraordinary value, even (or especially) if they are painfully revealing. And we all know that it takes courage and humility to face painful realities in our lives.
3. Thus, to their own detriment - and with injury to others - some people become adept at avoiding truths about themselves; adept at skewing facts and disowning truth in their lives. They do not listen to others, even to so-called “loved” ones and/or family members, who so often pay the heaviest price for years.
These deniers become untrue to themselves and unavoidably false to others. They become adept at avoiding responsibility, at denying the crucial role of trust and empathy in all human affairs. They become oblivious to how much goodness they could instill in their relationships, blind to how much goodness they miss in their own lives, cynical about goodness itself.
4. So, the tragic, but avoidable, reality is that cynicism and futility bloom in the toxic soil of anger, denial and avoidance.
If people would heed pesky personal truths and resist the ego’s frightened need to run and hide, they would soon become grateful heirs of their God-given dowry.
Yet, for some people, the mere mention of “God” (or any authority outside the elevated self) ignites resistance, rejection and resentful enmity.
5. There is always a price to pay for personal honesty. Yes, we always pay a price for changes we make as a result of facing personal truths. And that’s as it should be, because the content of one’s character is on the line.
Indeed, we must listen to our own experiences, especially the hurtful ones, then embrace - yes, embrace - the price of soulful toil, the price of prudent action and personal Wisdom.
6. These truths are signposts intended to reveal to us who we are meant to be in our lives and how to get there. Our job is to listen to them and take courageous action.
All of this speaks to our innate human vulnerability. No matter how many defenses or evasions we master, it is only when we confront our vulnerable, unpretentious selves that we find inner strength and courage to move beyond the endless futility of our ego’s pretenses and our strenuously-defended self-myths.
Simply put, when we are weak, then do we find strength in ways unforeseen.
7. As the soul grows in the soil of truth, a measure of Wisdom also flowers. Wisdom is the gift of seeing beyond ourselves, beyond our limited knowledge, beyond our learned skills, beyond our ego’s often-errant edifices, beyond the myths we create about ourselves.
Wisdom helps us see with uncluttered discernment beyond our fortified limits. Wisdom instills humble insight, truthful self-knowledge and reasoned, balanced self-love.
Wisdom instills gifts to mind, heart and soul, such as:
- The gift to see that life’s mysteries are all around us;
- The gift to recognize that miracles are common;
- The gift of accepting that the miracle of life begins with us;
- The gift of acknowledging that each and every person is a mystery beyond our comprehension and control;
- The gift of seeing that doubt and fear are merely the first steps into our life’s own mysteries;
- The gift to admit that (despite lives often filled with loneliness and wonder) we are never alone;
- The gift to realize that when our lives are guided by moral virtue, we are on our surest path to redemptive clarity and moral stability;
- The gift to admit that God does indeed exist, that I live in God’s created universe -- and that I am, in fact, not God.
8. Wisdom is a virtue, i.e., a strength of character and soul, a power of mind and heart, evident in our judgment and behavior, in our prudence and fortitude, our patience and temperance.
Wisdom flows from our willingness to learn, to change and to struggle to attain what is of greatest value in our lives; to be rid of what is of little or no value. It is both a strength which increases within us, yet a gift which originates from outside of us.
Wisdom and character - and the peace of heart and mind they afford - are negated by self-absorbed cynicism and a pattern of flight-filled denial. In other words, we can kill any chance we have of growing in Wisdom and virtue and moral clarity. It is our choice.
We are not given the gift of life to reject the truth (in any form) nor to spend our years avoiding opportunities to learn nor to reject Wisdom’s many blessings.
9. We become wiser - and more humane - each time we choose to be rid of the moral detritus of anger and spiteful, petty envies of youth, even as these persist into our adult years, even into elderhood. To persevere is part of Wisdom’s theme.
Some people deeply resent the fact that they need to change for their own sake and for others (especially loved ones). They resist this truth even into their elderly years … when many souls and hearts are finally weary, perhaps deeply scarred, from struggling so fruitlessly for so long.
They forget that we are not meant to pursue chic pettiness nor harbor righteous revenge nor chase after the whirl of fleeting glamour … and we’re certainly not meant to demean others.
10. So, finally … what is the point?
The point is this: We are persons equipped with knowledge and choice. We are meant to hone our character and find God’s own peace as we move through our years into our elderhood.
We are meant to go from subjective doubt to stabilizing faith, from flighty relativism to moral clarity, from instability to maturity, from wonder to Wisdom. We are meant
- to accept the unfolding truths about ourselves,
- to rightly direct our yearnings into generosity of soul,
- to seek and impart benevolence,
- to forgive others and ourselves,
- to be mature human beings rather than perpetual whiners;
- to act with militant gratitude for the benefits we possess,
- to express our needs and our love wisely rather than rashly.
In the last analysis (as Thomas Wolfe puts it) we are meant to become persons “… whose character is of immense and patient wisdom and gentle but unyielding fortitude...''
The Comfort Of Human Universality
It is beneficial to recall that we all experience hope and wonder, fear and isolation. We all possess the want of kindness when we are vulnerable, the hope of reassurance from others that we are, at last, loveable … that we are truly loved … that we are safe with someone in this oft-estranging world.
No matter what else we may accomplish or attain, we are wise to remember that life does not come with the promise of comfort or ease. Suffering is the universal language we all understand.
Therefore, it is good when we are moved to selfless goodness by a beloved spouse or a trusting child; by a feeling of empathy for a needy soul or by a compassionate instinct to protect the innocent.
We are wise also to remember that grandeur is found in small things … that miracles abound around us and within us at every instant. And we are wise to remember that every life is made better by acts of benevolence which we may freely choose.
Presiding over all of this must be our awareness that we are capable of finding meaning and beauty in life simply by 1) an act of our will, and 2) by our choice of benevolent action.
By choosing and imparting benevolence, we bless this world - and we change ourselves.
By our deliberate choice of goodness in our attitudes and our actions, in our words and in our deeds, by our example and by our presence, the world is made better … and so are we. And our opportunities to impart goodness are endless.
Our choice of benevolence is what our time upon this earth is really all about. This is God’s point in giving us life and putting us here.
These are some of the working principles my elder’s years often impress upon me. There are more, many more, to be sure … but, for now, may these suffice….. for now ….