As I tiptoe into midlife, I’d like to think that I am finally starting to shed illusions more quickly than I construct new ones. Although I have not yet suffered the significant loss of ability, many activities require either greater effort or more recovery time than they did 15 years ago. I can still pretend to be young, but there is a price. There is also an awareness that I cannot take my current strength or health for granted indefinitely. This is not yet diminishment. Instead, I am simply forced to acknowledge limits that I may have always had but could previously ignore.
As I see others around me age yet more rapidly than I am, I learn that dwindling strength means increased dependence. Today I am the one who helps to carry luggage or move furniture—tomorrow I will be the one requiring help. I expect the transition will be a tricky one for me, thanks largely to a stubborn pride that I don’t often recognize as such. Therefore, a crucial aspect of my dawning confrontation with reality is discovering and accepting my pre-existing dependencies in order to help me later adjust to the new ones that await me at their respective appointed times.
I have historically seen myself as a capable problem-solver who works hard to achieve good results. In college, a friend once told me that she and I were both victims of the ‘try-hard syndrome’. I don’t have the patience or discipline to push myself in all things, but when I feel that something important is on the line, watch out! I am typically my own most demanding boss. These past few months I have packed my travel schedule far too tight and have had to learn the hard way the psycho-emotional toll that takes on me. I was so refreshed by the last couple weeks I spent at my home base in the Bronx, that I felt a surprising tinge of sadness as I left a few days ago to drive up to New England for Christmas.
My trip to Massachusetts was purely elective and an eagerly anticipated opportunity to reconnect with relatives, friends, and local Marist Brothers, so my sadness was entirely irrational. It was still genuine and undeniable, if fleeting. Had I felt this before without noticing? After all, I have a long history of overlooking some of my emotions when they conflict with how I think I should be feeling.
I am glad for my current responsibilities in spite of whatever difficulty they present. I find my work to bring in the next crop of Marist Brothers both exciting and life-giving in numerous ways. Even the travel has its positive aspects. The lesson for me isn’t to avoid challenges whenever possible—rather I am reminded that no matter how much self-care I practice, my well-being is ultimately in God’s hands. As much as I hate to admit it to myself, once again I am not in control. What I do well, I do only by God’s grace.
As a species, we tend to have a rather high opinion of ourselves, but look where that’s got us. Although we’ve had miraculous medical and technological advances, we have also created ever more novel forms of cruelty and methods of exploitation. Even our giant steps forward sometimes carry major negative unanticipated consequences—look no farther than the vast good and significant environmental harm done by the manufacture and use of plastic products. Clearly, we don’t have it all figured out.
Christmas draws our attention to many spiritual values, including love and generosity. Might we make a conscious effort to include humility in that list? If we were doing such a great job on this planet, maybe God could have left us to work things out for ourselves. If we were on the right track but needed some slight redirection, maybe more prophets or divinely inspired texts would have done the trick. In coming to us as an infant, it seems almost like God made an exaggerated point: We’re doing so poorly by our human family and this planet earth that even a baby could show us better.
I can still do a lot in my life, but not as much as I once thought. This primarily represents a diminishment in my illusions and serviceable years remaining, not my actual capabilities. Furthermore, whatever I can do, can’t be done without help.
This week’s ‘ear candy’ is NOT the famous song Hallelujah written by Leonard Cohen, but is instead a much newer song, written and performed by a trio of sisters. To me it speaks beautifully of the ways in which we rely on other people and on God. The ‘brain food’ is a reflection by an author struggling against disability. In a sense, he wrestles with the issue of when to struggle for an idealized independence and when to accept compromise with reality for the sake of greater wholeness. Sound familiar?
Ear Candy: “Hallelujah” by HAIM
Brain Food: “Walking Is Extraordinary. I Don’t Want to Give It Up.” by Todd Balf
Come back next Saturday for a new post!