Beth and I were talking over the weekend about perspective. It amazes me as I get older the more control I lose and the greater perspective I gain. Whether it’s a few moments, days, months or years, our lives, which we like to plan, can come undone.
The world has never been predictable. I was speaking with a friend the other day about the instability which surrounds us. Our political systems, family and community systems, even our environment seems to be spinning out of control. Nothing, if it ever was, is normal nor inevitable.
Last night I read a quote from Eugene Peterson, a pastor, writer, and scholar. He writes;
“The whole of the spiritual life is learning to die.”
This quote resonated with my spirit and experiences over the last several years. Dying takes many forms. Death of all things is a given but we seem to organize our lives as if we might be the ones to escape the fate of everyone else. Death is not a negative word if you’ve learned to die. If you do not hold on treasures and trinkets, live each day as if it’s your last; being kind, grace-filled and loving, never putting off to an uncertain tomorrow what can be done now, in the present moment.
We are but sojourners on this path called life. We are not meant nor built to last for long. With this perspective; how we choose to be today could be how our transient life is remembered tomorrow.
Today I’ve been thinking about the eclipse which happened yesterday. It was awesome and am thankful I was alive to see it. However, I’ve also been thinking about the fact that we see the sun and the moon every day. All we have to do is look up at the correct time, as with the eclipse, and we can see both in much if not all of their glory. What made yesterday’s event special was the two occupying the sky at the same time. It was so spectacular we bought dorky looking glasses, closed down schools and businesses, marked the day on our calendar and watched the time closely. All so we wouldn’t miss two objects in the sky, hundred of thousands of miles away from us, come together.
The moon is about 200,000 miles from the planet we call home. This seems like a huge number until we realize the sun is almost 93 million! Yet, for a few moments yesterday, the moon, which is much smaller, blocked out the sun. The difference is compared to the sun, the moon is sitting right next to us.
Reflecting on this I begin to wonder about our proximity to each other and the troubles we are all trying to overcome. Sometimes the obstacles and dangers we face seem so big and terrible. They are daunting and overwhelming until someone does something kind for us. Then, even if for a few moments, the act of mercy and grace is what we see not the enormous challenges we are fighting to overcome.
There are people we know who are fighting for their very lives. An enemy, a disease, a crisis of a sort that we ask; “What can I do?” The answer is simple; be kind. We will be amazed at the difference a random act of kindness can make.
I drove to the dump today on my way to a meeting. When I opened the door the stench of heat, humidity and heaps of garbage smacked me in the face. As quick as I could I deposited my trash into the container and left. There’s nothing quite like the smell of a dump in the middle of July. I’ve lived in a lot of places but the dumps in July seem to share the same aroma no matter where I’m at. To put it delicately, they all have an unpleasant smell, or they stink!
I was talking with someone this week about unpleasant people and the way they try our nerves, disturb our stillness and negatively impact our lives. We all have those people in our life, those folks whose attitude, demeanor, demands and difficult ways give off an unpleasant aroma.
How we handle these foul folks reveal more about us than they do the other person. It’s easy to respect someone who respects us, compliment those who say nice things, return kind gestures and empathize with those who care. However, for the ones who stink it’s easier to get in and out of their presence as quickly as possible and avoid if doable.
To respect, speak kindly, act generously and care for these smelly ones takes a conviction in the deepest part of ourselves that gracious, grace-giving, living isn’t about the other person, it’s about who we are and want to be.
One of the easiest lessons of wisdom to learn is you are what you repeatedly think or do. One of the hardest wisdom disciplines to practice is thinking and doing good things.
Aristotle said, paraphrased by Will Durant; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” So what we keep thinking and keep doing reveals who we truly are, on the inside. We can say we are kind, loving, grace-giving, but if our thoughts and deeds betray us we must come to the reality of who we are if we desire to change or be at peace through acceptance.
For those like myself who live with depression, one of the cycles we can get into are negative thoughts about ourselves. We relive painful moments, negative events, over and over again. We get stuck with thoughts of how we could be better, how terrible we are, and how little we can offer the world and those closest to us.
Being caught in a cycle of negative thoughts, reliving mistakes and mishaps is called ruminating. For those battling depression the thoughts can literally go on for days, weeks, months. When we are doing well, on a plateau, we can catch ourselves and refuse to hop on these train of thoughts. When we are struggling our thoughts can take us down tracks from which we may never recover.
I like the Zen saying; “You can’t stop negative thoughts from coming but you don’t have to sit and serve them tea.”
In the End –
This morning I watched a documentary entitled; “Get me Roger Stone!” It was a biographical tale of one of the most famous, some might say; “Infamous” political consultants. He helped Ronald Regan get elected, many other Republican candidates be successful, and was one of the architects of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Near the end of the film, Mr. Stone says (paraphrasing); “If I go down as the dirtiest player in the game I’ll consider myself a success.”
I grew up thinking people, as the get older, begin to think on the brevity of life and what comes after. I thought the older people became the more spiritual, wise and kind they became. No matter the type of life they lived when they were young there was always an age where they turned the corner and began to live virtuous lives.
I think my understanding of older people was skewed by the ones I knew. I had two godly grandmothers and the only others were from church. They taught Sunday school, gave praises and lots of hugs, smiled a lot, didn’t judge and seemed to be one step closer to heave n than the rest of us youngsters. To me, this is how all older people acted. However, as I grew up I realized this wasn’t the case. True, there are some people who changed but most older people are just older versions of their younger selves. There wasn’t an age where they ripened into good fruit or a corner that made them spiritual and wise.
The documentary today was a reminder that we are choosing our destiny every day. Each choice we make takes us down a path and at the end of our journey the story of our lives will be told by the choices we made. What’s written on our headstones, spoken about at our eulogy, remembered about us is what we have done, are doing and will do.