“Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got. ~Art Buchwald”
I had an epiphany during my post Iraq PTSD crash….“Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.” I actually think that I remembered a similar quote from the movie Braveheart but whether it was a real epiphany or simply an errant movie quote that resonated in my badly shaken brain it really doesn’t matter.
The value of living life to the fullest really came to me then. Now I admit, though I discovered that truth, it was often difficult to make real in my life. That being said, living every day matters to me and doing so in community with others, people who have an important part in my life.
To get to this point has not been easy. I have seen a lot of death and destruction in my life: I’ve experienced trauma, had people shoot at me, been robbed at gunpoint, been on aircraft with mechanical problems, narrowly missed terrorist bombs and a lot of other rather “sporty” events. Likewise I have seen death and trauma up close and personal. Babies born too early to live, elderly people passing away after long lives, young men killed and maimed by war, children and the elderly maimed, cities and villages devastated. I’ve seen people of all ages whose lives have ended suddenly either to disease or trauma and seen people suffer long and painful deaths which can only be described as excruciating.
In all of this though I have also found life in people who no matter what their circumstance choose to live and often seen the grace of God in the midst of great suffering. It is as Anglican theologian Alister McGrath says: “Life under the Cross.” I had one of those experiences with a Navy widow when I was serving as the ICU chaplain at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth back in 2009. The woman in her dying moments continued to look after those around her, thanking people, blessing people, laughing, joking, crying and praying. I had the privilege of conducting her funeral, she was a saint.
I know that death is a reality, those who seek to deny it only deceive themselves. Even Jesus died, there is no resurrection without death first. There is almost a death denying cult in the western world. Many doctors cannot look someone in the eye who has a terminal illness and tell them that the illness or something related to it will kill them. We often rely on machines to extend life well after they serve any purpose in bringing healing to the patient forgetting that the patient is a person with hopes, dreams and wishes. Everybody dies…but how do we live?
I also know that there is injustice and poverty in the world, even in our country. I know that innocents suffer because of the choices of powerful nations and individuals, politicians, businessmen, dictators and even religious leaders. There are times when we have to stand up to injustice. In fact that should be a normal part of life and faith. But when we do stand up against injustice we must be in the business of reconciliation and not revenge while we advocate for the least, the lost and the lonely, those who have no one to speak for them.
I know people who for whatever reason cannot seem to enjoy life or find happiness. I know people who cannot enjoy friendship with people who are not like them and I am sad for them. It almost seems that for them the glass is neither half full or half empty; but rather that there is a flaw in the glass that will cause it to explode and send a shard of glass into their eye. Mark Twain said that “the fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
There are also people of faith, or at least people that believe that they are people of faith who dehumanize others who don’t believe like them or live by the tenants of their particular faith. Some of these people actually kill in the name of their God and I am not simply talking about radical Islamic terrorists. There are plenty of examples of this among the Christian, Jewish and Hindu faiths throughout history.
There are plenty of others from every faith tradition who dehumanize other people. The members of the Westboro Baptist “God hates Fags” crowd who disrupt funerals of fallen US Servicemen and women saying that their death is God’s judgment on them for serving the United States. They despise the nation and the sacrifices of those that they mock while enjoying the freedom that both give them.
There are people in every religion who do this sort of thing, they dehumanize the people that God has created in his image. That being said I have seen others who have no faith who mock those who have strong religious faith and seek to deny them their rights. Both religious and secular radicals are often willing to use the power of government to silence or even persecute those that they disagree with. Somehow I don’t think that this kind of life is what God intended, and certainly not by the men that wrote our Bill of Rights.
My Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor during my hospital chaplain residency said something to me that resonated then, and still does today. He told me that I had to stop living my life expecting failure and heartache. He said that I could actually write much of my own future by how I look at life and chose to live in faith, hope and dreams, to believe in a good future while remaining grounded in reality. He opened the future to me, a future full of possibility,exploration and adventure. A future of hope, friendship and faith.
I’ve learned, and it has been an often painful learning curve, to live and appreciate life and the great gifts that God has given me. I’ve learned to laugh and live with people and to have friendships beyond what would have been my comfort zone even a few years back.
I have also learned that even if I believe something with all my heart it doesn’t necessarily mean that God agrees with me. I had to learn to turn off the incessant voices in the media that seek to divide and destroy their opponents, who belittle, silence, attack, dehumanize and quite often demonize those who disagree with them. This doesn’t mean that legitimate differences should be pushed aside, but it is a call to civility especially for people that are entrusted with reconciling the world to God.
For me life has come to mean community and friendship, finding commonality while recognizing differences. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but that’s okay, it is a free country. I’ll agree to disagree but do my best to remain respectful and not become enemies just because of a difference of views. I have chosen to live in this reality but unfortunately I don’t always live up to my own expectations.
As I look forward to another year of writing on Padre Steve’s World I hope that what I do in thought, word and deed is to live and to help others to live. There is far too much death, trauma and hatred in this country and the world not to attempt to do so.
Thank you for following this site and blessings,