Monday, September 20, 2010

Life review and the experiences of wonder and substance

OK, that wasn't the best title.  But it is based on an interesting occurrence. 

I was just starting to re-read a favorite book, and I was struck by something that the author's description evoked.  It didn't last long, and in a few minutes has already faded and receded mostly into a foggy remnant.  But it was a sudden brief collection of a few images from my life.  Not comprehensive, just the tiniest sampling.

It included the feeling I had when in the spring of 1992 I was in an hotel room in Barcelona, the kind I could have seen at the time as the kind of place an artist or musician might rent as an apartment for a while.  Nice and spacious but relaxed, a bit faded.  There was a sense of a new way of experiencing the world.  The same is true of when I was in Manhattan for the first time in 2003.  It was as if the texture of reality, the shade of the world, could be recolored -- a hint of a different way of living and seeing things like a window into a world of art and architecture and a basic disposition to life.  Something similar could be said of the six weeks I spent in the summer of 1995 as a volunteer at an archeological dig in the south of England.  But there was more to it than just memory.
It was a peak into a particular quality (as in "property" or "aspect") of such life experiences, the same as the first time you really get into an album that touches you deeply and becomes a part of you forever.  Or when you come across a scientific theory or discovery or a theological perspective that blows open you mind or your heart and explodes you into a new and amazing take on the world.  It's also related to experiences of deep fondness for your family and friends that goes beyond loyalty or sentimentality, or when you appreciate something familiar in a whole new way and have that bittersweet memory mix with a novel sense of who or what that something has become or is becoming.

But it isn't just these exciting moments.  Connected as well are other moments, such as the year I frequently sat in a park on the corner of Penn and Fifth in Pittsburgh, or many otherwise routine moments when we lived for a year in Burlington, NC, including the trip to a hip coffee house on the outskirts of Durham or spending time at the local library.  The same thread connects them all, and tugging at one recalls the sublime nature of the others.

These moments have joy at their root -- the joy of growth found both in discovery, remembrance, and anticipation through a continuity linking them all.  Not just momentary exhilaration or fleeting satisfaction but a more profound quality that is woven even into tragic and painful times.  Although it was a pitiful flicker, such moments of actual recognition that there might be depth to life are all too rare.  The flat, tedious view of the world and its false sense of familiarity and mundane repetition can breed a contempt for life.  This contempt can be expressed or masked in many ways.  But the faint, nearly imperceptible hint of depth.  Of connection.  Of many words which do not suffice.  How precious, scary, and if allowed to be seen as an anomaly, how depressing it can be.

I can't recall where I first read it, but there is a Jewish teaching that we will be accountable to God for the opportunities we had for joy yet neglected.  Not in the sense of condemnation, but in regret.  How easy it is to live a busy or lazy, "fulfilling" or empty, happy or sad life that is entirely superficial. Full of experiences and accomplishments but lacking in any true appreciation of their content.  A collection of unopened presents.  How sad!  How easy it is to miss out, to skim over, to neglect the potential for gratitude and joy, for seeing the depth in life.

I confess, such faint stirrings are can be all too rare my life.  Years and years may pass between them.  What a waste!  May we all find freedom from the pull of unsatisfactoriness and impatience and distractions and come to a fuller sense of life.  Amen.

Added: Some us are better at appreciating moments more full than others.  Just saw this posted today.

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