I bumped into a friend a few months ago who introduced me, in turn, to a friend of hers. She exuded a peaceful energy that I later learned belied a deep sorrow. Her friend had a son, in his 30s, with cancer. My friend asked: Would I pray for him?
I did. Every day. With fervor.
But her son died a month ago and I questioned my prayers, and God’s plan and purpose.
I have no answers. I never will. As I grow older the human journey becomes more mysterious, fraught with more uncertainties, laden with yet more questions.
But I do know this: Life comes together. Life falls apart.
We will go through long stretches where we are caught in the hum-drum web of our ordinary existence. A job. Housework. Raising a family. Caregiving. Whatever it may be. The stillness of ordinary days can be numbing at times.
Then “something” — whether it’s a death, diagnosis, or divorce — will splinter us, shatter us into jagged pieces that we feel will never come together. And usually those life events, personally or globally, will make great noise. They get our attention.
When these challenges make themselves known, we are moved to compassionate action. Or not.
Here is a story told by poet and author Mark Nepo:
“Two monks studied long and hard and finally had an appointment to meet the Buddha at the top of the mountain. They trudged up the mountain when one of them tripped and broke his leg. The two rested, staying on the side of the mountain overnight. In the morning, the one who broke his leg wasn’t doing well. The other was torn: Should he stay and help his brother? Or should he keep his appointment to meet the Buddha?”
What would you do? For each of us, the answer will be individual.
Perhaps none of us knows right action until we “sit with” it a bit, not let our decision to be clouded by fear. We must see with right vision and the understanding that life will always be a push and pull, struggling to find balance.
I see that in my own life, caring for my father. I had other plans when I retired, but dad had a stroke and I felt called — and continue to choose — to stay on the side of the mountain, to be present to him and to help care for him in his old age.
Even with that loving choice, here’s what I continue to learn.
I’m not good at trust. I like to control. When I do fail at life lessons, however, I attempt to be gentle with myself, not judge myself. To accept that I — like most of us — am doing the best I can, in the moment.
And I am learning to “make room” for the uncertainty, the not knowing, to offer space for the human experience in all of its glory and misery.
Buddhist nun and teacher, Pema Chodron writes:
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
I think of my friend’s friend often. And yes, I continue to pray for her. My heart goes out to her as she mourns the loss of her son. As does my heart to most of the unanswered questions and miseries of life. Mass shootings, terrorism, a world gone amok with greed and power in some spheres.
But in the midst of it all, I’m also struggling to be present to the joys. To dad’s smile when he sees me; to the small shoots of green poking through ground even as a violent March N’oreaster rages outside; to a cozy nap; and a friend’s uplifting phone call.
In the Old Testament, it has been said that the Israelites wandering in the desert were given enough “manna” to last for the day. When they hoarded it, the manna became inedible, filled with maggots and worms. Psychiatrist Carl Jung also used the word “manna” but described it as the luminous spirit that is inherent in all of life, how it is an unconscious influence of one being on another.
Today, I tell myself, I don’t have answers. But I have enough manna for the day. And I can choose to be manna to others and to myself.
So. I will sit with life in the moment. When things come together. When they fall apart.