As the day winds down, I turn the TV on and sit transfixed. Mesmerized by the colors and the beauty of the latest Pixar movie – Soul. What can I say. This is another masterpiece from the geniuses at Pixar. This film has so many levels that I think it will take dozens of viewings before I even begin to digest the messages that the movie has to say. The most important thing that it brings to my mind, however, is that we as people waste so much time thinking that things can be so much better that we forget how to live life. It isn’t the glories, the heights of fame and success that defines a person. It’s how we live with our family, how we live in our community. How we touch the ones we love and the people around us. We live a life and we forget that every moment is special. I needed this reminder today. I need to remember this message every day. We obsess and work hard to get somewhere and then when we get there, it often feels like a disappointment. There is an emptiness, a feeling that we must have missed something. What we miss is the part of life that makes it worth living. Being alive means looking around, taking a breath, and watching the world around us. Whether it is in the company of others or in our quiet corner of the house, life is around us. In the warmth of the early morning sun. In the cold stare of Orion as he marches in the winter sky. Life is everywhere. Each step forward, backward, sideways takes us somewhere new. Each step is an opportunity to give meaning to the lives of others. And in so doing, give meaning to our own lives.
After listening to Carter Rubin sing Lauren Daigle’s great song, “You Say”, there is nothing that I can say that can be more eloquent than the words in the song. All of us, in our lives, will experience loss; we will hurt. We will have our triumphs. And we will experience happiness. Today is Christmas and it is a celebration not only of the birth of Our Savior, but it really is a reminder that there is no Greater Love than what the Father has for all His Creation. No matter who you are, no matter what your circumstance, you are loved. You are created in the image of God. Loved by Him before you were born unto Earth. Before you drew your first breathe, He knew you. And loved You. We should always remember that God gave us the freedom to love. And be loved. For who we are. Each of us is a gift to each other. From a Creator who loves us all. Equally. Though each of us are different, we are all God’s children.
No, I don’t mean you or me, in the midst of a room or a gathering, being the center of attention. I am taking about the quiet moments that we all spend by ourselves, thinking about the world going on around us. Sometimes, I delay the introspection by watching a video on youtube. Or catching another movie or show on Netflix or Amazon Prime. And then another. And then another. As if delay leads to forgetting, to putting aside for another day. Do we think so little of ourselves that we don’t want to spend the time understanding our thoughts, not listening to what our hearts and minds, in the silence of the moment, is trying to tell us?
A time out. A time for contemplation, perhaps even a prayer. Purposeful and deliberative pause and reflection. Do we always want to live a life reacting to everyday events with nary a though to what we are doing? Do we want to live a life planned out for us, by us? Or do we want to look at ourselves, maybe even at stolen moments, and try to see, to feel, to understand what we are doing, who we are, what matters most in our lives?
When we look within ourselves, we may find that what stands out is not what we think is important, or what the world deems is important, or what we want to be important. Take the time to stop and think. To listen, in the silence of the moment, for a voice that is always there, guiding our lives. Each of us, whatever the age, whatever faith we believe in, can take a moment to listen and to see what stands before us.
Broken or whole, we owe it to ourselves to pause for a moment. To see that colored leaf that glows in the sun. To find within ourselves the thing that stands out. To find that even in the silence, we are not alone. That all that we are, all that we can be, is not just about you or me. It is about us. The moments of our lives that truly matter are not full of I’s. It is in the we’s the we are made whole.
One look says it all.
To all the mothers in the world. May there be peace and love in your heart always. A love that knows no boundaries, in this life and the next.
Spring is tulip season in the mid Atlantic region. With days getting warmer, rainfall is also bountiful. Life giving water. It makes the grass green. The mood a little melancholy. The ground, saturated by the drops of rain falling from the skies, is a little soft. Maybe even muddy. Grey skies indeed. And in what can only be described as a pleasant contrast, shades of red, pink and yellow adorn countless gardens in all the neighborhoods. The colors, saturated by the clouds diffusing light as it falls from our star, are vibrant. Droplets of water cling to every flower. And through each miniature lens, beauty is magnified.
After years of not paying attention to my record player (and the old LP recordings), a sense of nostalgia filled my life as 2018 was coming to a close. It was not a very good year for me, but I am not going to say that I had nothing to be thankful for. There are always so many things to be thankful for in one’s life. Lives end, but the experiences shared, the memories, the love remains. It was a time to realize that that old song from “Funny Girl” – “People” still mean the same thing to me now, several decades since I first heard it (and fell in love with the song). Life has ups and downs, but as long as there are people in your life that give it meaning, life is always worth living. Sorrow may linger, but joy always remains.
And so it was that I ended up putting a record on that old Denon record player, only to find out the stylus on the cartridge had snapped. A few days later, Amazon shipped me a new Ortofon cartridge. And what was dusty and forgotten was alive again. As the stylus fell on the vinyl, the past and the present became one. And the sound of music, long unheard, became part of my life again.
A little snippet from Alfred Brendel playing Mozart.
Another thing. Somehow, an old CD player that was supposed to have been donated years ago never made it out of the garage. After cleaning off the dust, it was time to play an old Carly Simon CD. Some things never get old.
A new year. Old things are new again. And new things, well, they’re always there to be discovered. “People. People who need people. Are the luckiest people in the world.” I am a lucky man.
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.
I was looking at some of the pictures I took in the last year an a half and this one caught my eye. Flowers, no matter how beautiful they are, always seem to have a lifespan. Even as it fades, you can see the beauty that once was. It didn’t wither because of lack of care. The garden was the beneficiary of abundant rainfall. The flowers were well taken care of. In their time, their beauty was a reflection of the warm sun that nourished them. And yet, as with all things, the flowers have an expiration date.
Each thing on earth has an appointed time. In its time in the sun, each flower provides beauty and sustenance. They may fade away, but each leaves a mark all its own. And come next spring, another set of flowers will sprout and grow. And like the flowers that came before them, they too dazzle the senses.
The circle of life. Mysterious. Essential.
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.