Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Willing to Wander

I’m a big believer in pilgrimages—whether it’s to the Mekong River to watch for “dragon fire”, or a mountaintop in Spain where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared, or a dirt road in rural Missouri where a “spooklight” dances, or the deep silence of the woods around a Trappist abbey in rural Oregon. My own understanding of a pilgrimage is that of a quest—I try to take a route I haven’t taken before to a place I’ve never been before, where an answer to a question may or may not be waiting. I’ve discovered that risk and openness usually bring a surprising gift.
When I visited the Trappist abbey recently, the weather was perfect, the hiking trails lush, and the sounds of forest creatures and burbling streams and wind sighing in the tree tops a welcome relief from the concrete and traffic of Seattle. The monks started singing at 3:30 in the morning, punctuated the rest of the day with prayer and singing, and finished at 7:30 pm. I tried to sleep as late as 6:30 am, but with bells ringing and other retreatants rising early, it was difficult. It’s only a place you should visit if you’re willing to enter into the “monastic rhythm”—and it’s a little jarring at first coming from the hyperactive outside world. My favorite time of day was the 7:30 pm prayers and songs in the candlelit chapel as a monk pronounced, “Brothers, we are now one day closer to our eternal home. ”That comment sent a shiver down my spine, reminding me that we are all pilgrims, and each day is another mile in the journey. Every day is a new mile we haven’t traveled before—and we don’t really know where our wandering will ultimately lead or what our destination city will look like. I guess that’s what travel used to always be like. Now, we tend to be fully informed and completely connected over the internet before we even take our first step. Yet adventures still await those who are willing to wander. After departing the abbey, I just started driving in the general direction of the Pacific coast. Along the way, I spotted hand-made signs and arrows proclaiming simply, “Monastery.” Naturally, I had to follow. The signs led me along deserted stretches of two-lane highway. I was just about to turn around when I reached another arrow pointing to an unpaved road. The unpaved road dead-ended, and when I stepped out of my car, a beat-up old tom cat came racing out to greet me. Maybe the monks’ silence left the cat starved for conversation. I had arrived at the only Brigittine monastery in the world, where cloistered monks chanted and made chocolate. I took a few moments to pray in the “Our Lady of Consolation” chapel and, of course, I bought some chocolate. For some reason, the winding roads on this little pilgrimage kept depositing me on the doorstep of those hidden ones who are devoting their lives to praying for the rest of us. Apparently, there are even cloistered cats.
Also posted on my blog Strange Islands

I'm dying.

I'm dying. My days are numbered. I realize that we only have a certain amount of days to use at our disposal. When confronting our demise, it can often make us reflect on what we do, where we have been, what we could have done, and what to do with the time we have left.

Now before I cause panic or anyone to wonder about my health, I am okay (as far as I know). I am still waiting on the results of my recent cholesterol test, maybe then my worries may shift. (Sorry Mom if I spooked you.)

I am not in a melancholy state of feeling like a pierced Goth kid who sees death as a perpetually looming reaper. Although it did not help that I awoke with no voice, and a cold like I have not seen in ages, I still am not doing too badly for a 45 year old dude with many miles on him.

I guess what started the inspiration for this installment was indeed the fact that I remained home from work and was watching the Today show. I was watching a segment highlighting the story of a family in which the mother (of 2 young girls) was fighting, to no avail, Stage four cancer. It was heartbreaking as the mother’s main worry was that of the welfare of her children. More so, she lamented missing “moments” with them: proms, weddings, vacations, and grandchildren to name a few.

The piece also highlighted an organization, to which the name momentarily escapes my memory that will help provide vacations, moments mind you, for the families of the terminally ill. They offer them a fond memory and a reprieve from the ravages of the illness for a brief period in time. It warmed my heart, and I commend these people for their fine efforts.

I listened to her newfound wisdom of making the most of the time she had left, and her deepened appreciation for the “small stuff” that used to pass her by. I stopped to reflect on that poignant realization. “Oh my gosh”, I thought. We are ALL dying. Maybe we do not know when exactly, but do we have to become confronted with the finish line to start to practice the wisdom now obtained by the ones who have been informed of their time remaining?

I also thought deeper for a moment. Who are the actual lucky ones here? (With absolute compassion and all due respect) I wondered which life was more coveted: one that is long without awareness to its gifts, or a narrowed timeline with a deepened appreciation of life’s blessings and a love for each individual moment. Quite a toss-up isn’t it?

Without being dark or macabre, I want to remind all that we are indeed dying. This I say without the intent to sadden, but to uplift. Many proceed through their timelines without knowing the date of their departure. That is the way it should go, right? Our schedules, the small stuff, and trivial circumstances flood our days, leaving little room for desire, or urgency for that matter, to take time for the important stuff. The stuff we would so trade a king’s ransom for if we had one more day at the end. More time to do the things we would do, if we all knew our departure time.

Since many of us are lucky (or unlucky, depending on your viewpoint) to not know when we are leaving this earthly plane, perhaps it should truly spark more urgency than less. One who has been handed a terminal health obstacle for example can immediately get on a shift in perspective and start to gain closure, reconnect, or simply appreciate the things we the oblivious procrastinate. Many of us, myself included act as if we are drinking from a never ending well. What if God decided to call us home next week? What if it was tomorrow? What if it was this evening? How would you act? What would you do? Who would you surround yourself with? What are your loose ends?

I realized a few things today:

Time is a precious resource If we compare it to money for example, we can spend it. In both we can dole it out to achieve what we need to do, and trade it for accomplishing things. Like money too, sometimes we trade our resources for wise things, other times not so wise. We can save it. Through planning and frugality, we can economize things we do in order to maintain as much of our precious resources as possible to use at a later time. Both time and money should not all be blown on a whim or foolishly. Lastly though, we can waste it. However the grave difference here is that there is a possibility to make more money, blessed would we be if we found a way to print more time.

Things left undone. Are there experiences that nag at you, calling for you to try? Is there somewhere you have always wished to visit? Is there a class you always wanted to take? Is there a book still unwritten within you? Have you always dreamt of seeing Europe, maybe the ocean, maybe simply another city? If your time was greatly limited, what would you do? Are you a parent? I never heard of a man on his deathbed saying, “Gee, I wish I spent more time at the office!”

Things left unsaid. Do you have any “I love you’s” still trapped inside you? How about any “I miss you’s?” Perhaps you may have accumulated an “I’m sorry” or two. Often we hear of people who regret that they were never able to release the burden of words left unsaid. Take your own inventory. Is there anything that needs to go or be shared?

Many of us do not know exactly when we will leave this big blue marble. Even those who are burdened with physical or health obstacles may not always know the exact time of departure even when knowing their time is more limited than others. I feel that we can all agree if we knew our time was going to be shorter than we expected, we would be prompted to take on an urgency to wring the most life we could out of our remaining moments.

Like the song by Tim McGraw advises: “Live like you're dyin'” Don’t wait until a difficult diagnosis or loss of a friend or loved one, prompts you to an awareness you can engage now in this moment. Although I am not sure if I will try skydiving, I will try my damndest to appreciate my moments here more. I will try to recognize the gifts that lie before me, and will try to be more frugal with my time.

Since I have now spent enough time in front of a computer, I think I will log off and live a little.

This is a re-post from Artisan of the Human Spirit by Tony Anders