Can it be? It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere? Where did summer go? Heck, where did the year go? It has been a rather challenging year for almost everyone. With a scant three months before the page turns and 2020 becomes a memory, it is probably a good time to remember that the hardships and challenges we have endured are what life is about. It is not about jetting to some far off destination. Experiencing the delight of other places or tasting yet another new dish. Life is about living each day the best we can. To be kind and respectful. To watch and listen and learn. We don’t have to agree with what everyone says. Or what everyone does. We must do our part to not harm others. And this means respecting each other as if we are all borne of the same Father. That we are brothers and sisters in the most basic thing that defines each of us. Our DNA says so. Our RNA says so. Does our heart tell the same tale, or do we insist that enlightenment is only for the few? I tend to think it’s for the few. Oh. Check that. That kind of thinking, of allowing ourselves to think that we are better than the other only brings ruin to a community. If this pandemic wracked world has something left to teach us, let it be a simple reminder. A smile, even beneath a mask, still radiates warmth within. We cannot love everyone, but we can respect everyone. And in doing so, perhaps, that respect will become something greater. Something better. Perhaps.
We are living in interesting times. Uncertain times. Volatile times. I read the stories about protests, destruction, the lack of leadership, the blame shifting, the marginalization of people that someone does not agree with, the marginalization of people because they look different than the familiar. Unsettling, convulsive, stressful. Words that we choose not to use somehow are words that we must use. What is happening? Why is this happening? What can we do to make our world the world that we like to live in, the one we are comfortable in?
The answers may not always be pleasant, and no one person, not one group, not one party, not one nation has all the answers to the questions that we ask. And yet, there are so many of us who want to tell others that our solution is THE solution. Shout down the words and ideas of those that I feel are unimportant. What matters most is what I believe, what I feel, what I see. There are great injustices in the world that must be corrected. This time, it is my time, our time to change the world for the better. To the world that I see. To the world as it should be. History has shown us that men are evil, that nations were built with pillars of hatred and oppression.
In many ways, there is a lot of truth to what is now being said. For too long, people refused to acknowledge that our world has not been fair, that justice has not always been just, that even a society that longed for freedom, that a nation established in search of freedom was not always free. At least not for a great many of its people. From the men and women who roamed freely for thousands of years, suddenly torn from their lands, pushed westward, herded into spaces that offered nothing but a bleak future. For those who survived. The cries of the wolf, of the bear, the cayote, the buffalo, mixed with cries indistinguishable from our own. If people would only listen.
I cannot imagine what life was like for those who marched the trail of tears. I cannot imagine what life was like for a man or woman, torn away from one continent, to arrive at another and live a life of destitution, helplessness, treated as yet another item in one man’s inventory, to be used, to be abused. Somehow, people allowed their worse instincts to guide their life. Even people with noble ideals became a prisoner of their own sense of righteousness, forgetting that all men and women are intrinsically part of the same human family. Greed, hatred, a myriad of reasons assured a life of suffering for too many Americans.
And so, with all the things in the past, we must be ready to break with all the things the past represented. Some say that ideals tainted by human frailty are not ideals at all. All the accomplishments of flawed men and women are worthless and should be relegated to the dustbins of history. We will not tolerate those transgressions. We live, after all, in a different time, a more enlightened time, a time with possibilities that allow us to remove the vestiges of everything that offends us. We are their betters. We demand justice. We demand so many things. Hatred must be a thing of the past. No one from the past is worthy. The sins of one, the sins of many are the sins of all. Recrimination abounds. The mantra of the emboldened rule the airwaves, if not our lives. We can make this a better world. We will make a world in the image that we see fit. Those who do not agree, well, they are throwbacks to that evil past. They are to be ostracized, criticized, demonized. A new collective has risen, with all the answers. There is only one truth and those who disagree will be shamed to submission. It is the price that people must pay for a the new world order. Where freedom is extended to all who believe. And woe to those who dare think to be different. There is only one truth, and it is our truth. Oppose us and you will be deemed an enemy of modernity, of truth, justice, and the new world that is being created.
Sometimes, I look at the world and I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne. I didn’t pay much attention to my high school reading back then, but it seems to me that The Scarlet Letter can still teach us something today. Lessons about our humanity and our impulses. Hester Prynne was shamed for having an affair. Instead of withering in the midst of universal condemnation, Hester lived a life that refused to bend to the societal pressures imposed upon her. Her quiet dignity in the face of attacks from the self righteous allowed her to grow, to find her self worth, to understand that her weaknesses and failures did not define her. It was this ability to learn, to seek improvement, on her own terms, that gave her life meaning. Centuries ago, Hawthorne gave a lesson that many seem to have forgotten. A life lived with a sense of right and wrong is better than a life of self righteousness.
We as a society seem more than happy to be the tools for creating a new gulag. We happily parrot the ideas and beliefs of those who want to think for us, who thrust their ideas upon the world as if their ideas alone are right. That their solutions are the only solutions. That being part of a whole, unwavering in commitment, unquestioning in demeanor, is the only way to live one’s life. I am reminded of some of the ideas put forth by Raymond Kurzweil a few years ago. The singularity is here. Common thought for a common action. Individuality is not needed in the collective. We are part of the greater whole, a world where man and machine become one, where an individual’s contribution to society becomes nothing more than a machine assigned chore. Today’s apparatchik are precursors to tomorrow’s hive mind. While today the self righteous leaders insist in homogeneity of thought and intent, tomorrow’s cybernetic overlord will be no less benign and just as sinister. A single orthodoxy, created by a new breed of enlightened men and women, is here to save the world. Embrace it. Or else.
We need to acknowledge that diversity is what gives humanity its strength. Different abilities, different interest, different ideas, different beliefs. All grounded by a virtue that seems to be forgotten. The virtue of humility. If you believe that you are unworthy and not important, then your desire to subjugate others will probably not be very strong. Without the desire to impose your will or your ideas on others, you may find merit in something that someone else believes in. Or at least have an idea why that person believes in it. If you open your mind to the infinity of ideas that people can share with each other, you can begin to understand that we are a global community of individuals capable of doing things with a sense of selflessness. When no one man or woman is important, we understand that we are all important.
With humility, you can temper hate. With humility, you begin to understand that the differences among us can be enlightening. The humble does not seek to dominate but to serve. If each of us serves the other, which of us is the slave, which of us is the master? We can learn so much from one another. We humans are imperfect and will always be. And yet, we must not allow the imperfections to justify cruelty, intransigence, hatred.
Nelson Mandela allowed his sense of self to be subsumed by humility. In so doing, he helped begin the healing of a nation. In his quiet dignity, we saw what true strength really is. Humility. Forgiveness. And love.
My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.” Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human. Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars. And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience. In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own. Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying. He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him. Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known. A love he had never known. A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride. All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all. The ability to feel and to give love.
It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold. Kamin was not rich by any means. His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought. Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship. And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary. He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.
We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after. We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in. We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken. When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions. Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring. A fluttering butterfly. A cool breeze on a warm day. A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant. So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life. Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little. Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?
It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above. Green leaves on a pot. These leaves have a secret. They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom. These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant. Jasmine. Beautiful and sweet. A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility. It is, in many ways, ethereal.
So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode. And of a beautiful flower. And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals. It is within all of us. And when you find it, share it. Be kind. Be gentle. Be generous. In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.
When I think about the things that happened this year, I want to go to a dark room and make everything go away. And just like the college campuses around the United States that deem it necessary to isolate people supposedly investing their time to learn new things, experience a world outside of what they have known, and learn that life is full of the unexpected, it seems that the temptation to only feel, hear and see the good things in life is the answer to a life that doesn’t always have answers to questions that come about. And yet, to shut the world out because it’s not what you want is to deny yourself the essence of what being human is all about.
Life is a series of events that in its eventuality is unstoppable, in its unpredictability predictable. This year has seen the death of someone very dear, the death of others that have filled my head with ideas and my heart with love. There was sadness all around. For the realization that some voices will never be heard again. Some smiles will never be seen again. That a warm touch, that warm hug will never be felt again. The mind senses that change has come. The heart knows that change has come. The spirit knows that while change has come, the world still beckons and that which are gone truly still live in our midst.
A Christian believes that the promise made by a loving Creator becomes manifest in the birth of a child. Whether that child was born in squalor matters not. What matters is that the God who created us all kept His promise to His people. That love, true and unerring, triumphed over disappointment. That forgiveness and mercy is more powerful than hate and betrayal. That in giving His people His son, knowing that He in turn will be betrayed by His creation, God showed us the possibility of what we all can become. If we let love reign in our hearts, we are capable of making the world we live in a world that all of us, whether we consider our self a child of Abraham, whether we follow the precepts of Buddha, whether we find solace in the spirits of the forest – all of us the can transcend the limitations we place upon ourselves. Respect one another. Care for one another. To see people not as impediments to our ambition but truly as a brother or a sister that we can nurture and love.
In the spirit of this season, we can find in the people around us, the world around us reason to be hopeful. To be inspired by those who do small things and seeing countless small things bring joy to those who give so wholly of themselves. I pray that today, we remember that salvation did not come with a proclamation of greatness. It came from a Father that loved us all, from a couple who devoted themselves to the care of a child entrusted to their love, and eventually, the willingness of this child to give Himself wholly for the people He and His father loved. In spite of the hatred and spitefulness heaped against Him, this Son of God and Son of Man gave Himself up to serve all of us. To purchase, with His sacrifice, our salvation.
Love, freely given. And today, we remember, if we so choose, that we are children of this same Father. That like His son who died for us, we are tasked to take care of the world around us. To be stewards of His creation. To love all of His creation. It is not always easy. There are disappointments. In the end, it is this selfless love that must inspire us to live a life of generosity. Of giving. Of sacrifice. Forgiveness. Charity.
Peace on Earth. It starts with each one of us. A small act of kindness, magnified a billion fold. May each of us be a reflection of the love that made life possible. And worth living.
Make someone happy. Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life. In our day to day lives, we are bombarded with messages, overt and subliminal, about the importance of being happy. Live your life to maximize your happy moments. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And yet.
In the height of happiness, everything seems possible. The world is at your feet. The view can be intoxicating – everything around you is orbiting a central sun. The central sun that is you. And yet.
Moments of happiness never last. They are not illusory, but they are transitory. A lifetime lived pursuing happiness is a life lived in selfishness, self centeredness. A life that puts one’s self in the center of everything is a life that means nothing. A life that constantly searches for affirmation, for the next big conquest, the next big raise, the next mountain to climb – is that really a life worth living? A life where the self is the centerpiece of existence will experience moments of happiness. And it will experience moments of sorrow. Moments of pain. Moments of great accomplishments mesh with moments of great disappointments. A life that centers on the self and the self alone leaves the soul barren. And the heart empty.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to understand that true existence must be centered not on one’s self, but on what one can do for those around us. Selflessness instead of selfishness. A soul exist within the body and outside its confines. An existence that seeks to give, instead of take. Not the material things that we all covet. But one’s self. To let others see you as you are. The crooked smile, the thinning hair, the not so perfect eyebrows? These are not the things that define you. It is that smile, as imperfect as it may be, given to others that may be in need of a smile. Helping someone cross the road, in a stiff wind that blows your hair into a frenzy. Listening to someone, with eyes wide open, eyebrows raised, to let them know that they are not alone, that you can share their burden.
Respecting people, no matter who they are. Embracing differences as a means of recognizing that an individual is but a part of a greater whole. To see the weak and the oppressed and then realize that their struggle is your struggle. Our struggle. To understand that the sense of self is completed when it becomes entwined with the many selves that surround us. Understanding that it is a kind heart that allows joy to permeate a life.
Joy. When happiness subsides, there is something that centers us. When sorrow overwhelms, there is something that supports us. When we feel pain, we somehow know that like happiness, it will not last and a new page will eventually be written. Joy allows us to know ourselves; to find value not in what we have done, not in what we have accumulated; but instead, to find value in who we are, in what we give of ourselves to others. When our heart is filled with generosity, we can truly love. In the selfless abandon of truly sharing who we are, what we have, what we do with others around us, we find that in moments great and small, in the important and in the mundane, there truly is meaning in our lives. That in the core of our existence, there is joy.
As I gazed upon one year old twins, I think about my own youth. Once, I was the baby on the crib, nurtured by parents who provided for my needs, sheltered me from the elements, protected me from harm. As I grew older, they grew older and so it is with every person, of every generation. We are like the sun, first rising slowly, lighting a path on a dark planet. Slowly but surely it rises higher and higher, and soon enough it reaches its zenith. Then slowly it starts to sink towards the horizon and when the last light of twilight is extinguished, the world turns dark again.
And yet, I could not escape the thought the sun is but one star in the firmament. Each of us, as we grow older, as we climb higher in the horizon, begins to blot out other things in the sky. And yet, elsewhere in the heavens, other stars continue to shine. And I am heartened to think that each one of us, each of our ancestors, is a star. Even as our lives shine bright and we become the center of our universe and seemingly outshine other lights around us, the stars are always there. And so it is that I remember my father and mother, now gone. And grandparents. And uncles and aunts, and the many people who came before me, who came before them. In the evening, before I sleep, I look at the window and see the stars that are always there. They are never truly gone. And if we listen carefully, we can still hear the voices within them. They can still teach us. If we let them. In our dreams we are in some ways always children, always protected, always loved. Awake, we know that life and love are eternal, shining forever, in the heavens around us.
For people who love musicals, the hashtag above will be familiar. It is so fitting that at the moment of great loss, I found meaning in music. My first distinct memory of my mother was watching “The Sound of Music” so many years ago. When I posted the last entry on this blog, I was on my way to Manila to bring my mother back home from her vacation. Her cancer came back, and unlike the saying, the third time was not the charm.
It’s hard to imagine what happens when the music that has ruled your life suddenly disappears. It is an empty feeling when your world is devoid of the person who raised you, who understood you, who cared for you. The person who knew you first, the person who felt my heart beat for the first time. The person who taught me that honesty and truth were the important ideals in life. That love, among all the things that we can give to another, is the greatest gift of all. It is so easy to think that all that we have will always be with us. And truth be told, if we lose a lot of the things that we have, we will not be missing anything at all.
That is almost true. The thing is, we are nothing without the people who care for us. And the people that we care for. Why is it that a child with almost nothing at all, in the warm embrace of her mother or father has a smile so broad that in that instant, the world lights up as if a meteor is streaking through the sky. The warmth that love brings is the one thing that truly makes our lives complete. We can look to the skies for inspiration. With love in our lives, we need only look at our hearts to find that a simple look, a simple smile, a single touch is enough to lift our souls to the heavens.
And so it was in May that the person who saw me as I am finally joined the husband that she lost more than a decade ago. In that moment, her spirit joined the spirit of my father and together, I imagine that they look down upon me and in their corporal form, the same love that bore their son fill the heavens, magnified by the love of the countless multitudes who came before them. Love free of the boundaries of time and space.
I say to myself that as long as I remember, as long as I feel, they are never truly gone. The truth is, life for those who lose someone truly dear will never be the same. Life is altered forever. And yet, it does not have to be a life without meaning. Different yes. Meaningless? No.
And so it was that I happened upon the music that keeps playing in my head. It is in an endless loop. Not that it mutes everything else in life. Rather, the music gives one the clarity to understand that as long as we live, there is always a place for us to find love. We need not wait for someone to embrace us. The gift of love is best manifested when we share it with another. And so, in the loneliness and emptiness that death can bring, it is the act of giving one’s self to another that allows us to find life anew.
Accept people as they are. Find the good in all and in so doing we find the good in ourselves. “I never dreamed that I would find someone like you who would want me.” For many of us, we have already lived the dream. Loving parents that nurtured us, cared for us. We have been found, in the very first moments of our existence.
And now, it is up to us to find the meaning of the hashtag “youwillbefound.” It’s not about being alone. It is about realizing that we are never really alone. There will always be someone who will love us. We are, after all, created out of love. We are all children of love that is infinite.
And so, thank you Evan Hansen. In the depths of sorrow, the wonderful music, the incredible story, the beautiful words reminded me that there is so much to live for. No one is truly alone. #youwillbefound.
A note about Dear Evan Hansen. This is the best musical I have seen in years. Dare I say that it might be my favorite musical written in the last thirty five years. Yes, this includes Les Miserables, Phantom, Hamilton, Rent, etc. A lot of great music to be sure, but there is something about the vulnerabilities that the characters in this show exhibit that we as human beings can understand. And relate to. We all have fears, moments of doubt. Sometimes, no, often times, we need to let others into our lives. To heal us. To love us.
On the Saturday matinee, Michael Lee Brown played the part of Evan Hansen. A fantastic Evan! And Mallory Bechtel as Zoe was adorable and wonderful. This is the show to watch in New York. And now that it is about to embark on its first American tour, I hope that you are able to watch this wonderful musical. Pasek and Paul are the new dynamic duo in the musical universe. The play by Steven Levenson is exceptional. Two and a half hours of laughter, sorrow, empathy, and hope. Yes, hope. The core of this show is hope. Forgiveness. And love.
You are not alone. You will be found.
When you find someone that makes life worthwhile
You remember that God created all of us for a purpose
And in the wonder of creation, He made sure
That each person can find Him
In the eyes, in the smile, in the heart
Of those that they hold most dear
We who are Created in His Image
Celebrate the true meaning of Creation
It is not to glorify one’s self
Nor is it to seek attention to one’s self
But to give one’s self in service of the other
Selflessness, you see
Is the revelation of the Truth
That above all else in the Universe
It is love, shared, that makes us whole
My friend, Father Mark Pilon, passed away a few days ago. He was stern, he was conservative, but most importantly, he was a kind and gentle man. An inspirational person that will be missed. Here is one of the final entries in his blog.
5th Sunday of Ordinary Time
I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.
To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some. I Cor. 9:16
What is the true value of one soul, of human person? We can easily discover what the value of most material things is, but how do we come to understand the true or objective value of a creature like man , who is both matter and spirit, a union of a body and spiritual soul? When it comes to the value of purely material things, it is the negotiation between seller and buyer that basically determines the value. Whether it’s the value of a house, or a car, or a lamp or any other material thing, there is some kind…
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