For a couple years now, I've been thinking of submitting an essay to the This I Believe project. I've listened to a whole lot of them, and am variously moved, amused, confounded, and generally supported in my own sense that the sheer variety of human reactions to the universe, to life, to all the things around us is something to embrace and celebrate. So, as they say, here goes nothing.
I believe life, a mystery filled with beauty and terror, offers us the unique opportunity to discover the one thing that allows us to make our way through the flurry of experiences around us: a life focused on the needs of others, variously in the midst of the banality of the day-to-day or immersed in joy, or perhaps blinded by one horror or another is more powerful than any weapon, more potent than any drug, more threatening than any political slogan.
Nearly two decades of life as a clergy spouse has taught me how little of all that happens, both wonderful and awful, has to do with me. Rather than insist it is only intelligible if I make it mine, I recognize the integrity these events have as events in the lives of other people. My own and only proper attitude should be a truly human being with these men and women as they search for the resources to find their way through, whether it is the joy of the birth of a child, the loss of a loved one, a job found that opens doors and opportunities, the horror of domestic violence, the confusion of a loved one lost in addiction, or the criss-crossing lines of racial, gender, and sexual discrimination and hatreds. Injecting myself in to the midst of these many and varied experiences steals from the people in the midst of the them the freedom and duty to live in them and through them; the best I can ever offer is the reality that they are not and will not be alone, even as the world seems to collapse around them, or perhaps opens up in ways that they couldn't have anticipated.
As the father of two girls, I have tried as hard as I can to teach them never to lose that sense of wonder and awe as their lives unfold. It hasn't always been easy to restrain my desire to intercede for them as they've experienced the many physical and emotional pains that life brings. All the same, what kind of parent would I be if I taught them that it was possible to erase from one's life any experience that was overwhelming? Being with them, without interceding for them, has given them the chance to learn how to live with broken arms and broken hearts without me telling them how they should respond. With one caveat: that they should always respond, even if it is only tears or laughter, disgust or boredom, a time of happiness or mourning.
In St. John's Gospel, the night before he is crucified, Jesus tells his disciples that there is no greater love than laying down one's life for one's friends. While this certainly includes the willingness to physically die for those we love, I believe it also means we lay down our self-centered desire to make the world about us, to be with others in a spirit of love and fellow-feeling that may well be the most true expression of the Kingdom of God there can ever be.