In his book The Heart Aroused, David Whyte wrote of a time he found himself working with a roomful of thoughtful managers. The group was looking at the way humans find it necessary to sacrifice their sacred desires and personal visions on the altar of work and success. Whyte instructed the class to summarize their life in one sentence.
In the back of the classroom, a woman read slowly, unaware that the silence struck the room.
“Ten years ago . . .
I turned my face for a moment, and it became my life.”
Whyte was demonstrating how we have the patience for almost everything, but that which is most important. We look at the life of our own most central imaginings and see it beckon. For the most part, we neither dare to follow it nor leave it. We turn our face for a moment and tell ourselves we will be sure to get back to it.
I read Whyte’s book in 2002. Every once in a while, the urge to write my one-line life summary resurfaces. In a darkened stairwell my left hand shook uncontrollably from Parkinson’s. “Just one of those days,” I muttered. In utter exhaustion, I quickly penned, “Days became decades.”
“Days became decades.”
Almost everyone I know understands this sentence. Work hard for your goals, sacrifice, commit to the ideas of others and forget your own, receive promotions, and get rewarded for success. Through the years, your hard drive gets full, life fills, investments pay off. Yet you stop to look around, and nothing seems familiar.
Weariness is the fulcrum for introspection. At 59, doctors claimed I had approximately two good years. At 60, eleven months remain. I descend into a cadence of thought of just how I got here. I have a ton of shit, but little else. My inner soul longed for a truer sanctuary, a hunger for something money can’t buy.
St. Gregory once said, “Grace is given not to them that speak their faith, but to those who live it.” I’ll have to admit, I haven’t lived in faith until about eight years ago. I mean, I had faith, but I hadn’t lived in faith. Right now, amid a pandemic, amid all my suffering, I am just plain weary. Exhausted. Exhausted of words, ideas, thought-provoking mission statements such as “First things first” or “Turn the ship around.” When people die every few minutes, such things seem rather small.
Moving to the bathroom, I splashed water unto my face. Looking upward to the mirror, I asked the man on the other side, “Where does this end?” I didn’t know.
Lovers of words and computers are prone to endless study. Yesterday, my boss asked if I had performed any research. With accouterment of medical support alarms, laughter was my only reply.
We’ve become so involved in all things that we forget to live. We are propelled to make the best use of time, study the world, and absorb everything. Interactions become “deep,” “philosophical” or “analytical.” And when we’re done, there’s no joy.
The real proving ground of living a faith-based life does not reside in our ability to study it. It’s about how we treat one another, and whether we’re fully present in each moment of service. Can we find pure gratitude, a joy in the heart, a desire to serve?
Faithful living is not an intellectual assent. Service to those in need is a path, it’s faithful living. The real proving ground of our faith isn’t how articulate, or how deep it may sound, it’s how we live. Thus, when I looked in the mirror, the man looking back responded:
“… if there is no room for humanity, pain, sweat, doubt, and discouragement if your life, then you need to change who you are.”