Words at 51

My throat’s a little scratchy.   I refuse to give the sensation a name (like “cold”), seeing as any malady seems completely inappropriate on a birthday.   But on this May 4, Nashville is under water, people mourning everything from the loss of homes to the hit to tourism, but more importantly, mourning several older residents of surrounding communities swept away by the fast rising river.   The US and Iran are battling at the UN, most not nearly as concerned about all the nuclear weapons the US has dismantled as they are the number of nukes that remain intact.   A University of Virginia lacrosse player was found murdered last night, allegedly a victim of a bad spat with a former boyfriend.    Apple sold over a million units of the iPad in 28 days (sounds hopeful, anyway), and I notice as I read the headlines (I always forget that I share the date with this event) that there are ceremonies marking the death of the students at Kent State 40 years ago today.  They got the guy that (allegedly) tried to blow up an SUV in Times Square, and some movie star whose name I forget came clean and said he cheated on his wife with one of the same women Tiger got tangled up in.  The oil spill in the Gulf seems really colossal (how do you plug that hole?), and I guess the ash over Western Europe has calmed down enough to let planes back in the air.   Some poor Phillies fan got tasered last night (shouldn’t have been running on the field, I suppose), and on this May 4th, can anybody count the maladies running wild in the world?

A 50-ish couple approaches the coffee shop laughing, pulled along by their beloved dogs.  Steam is rising from cups in front of the two ladies at the window, and the buzzcut junior high student, sitting alone (his father gave him a big hug before he left), butters his bagel with great concentration.   My iPhone bleeps, and I see that a former student, a big old cowboy kind of guy with a grin as big as the state he’s from, just posted a “Happy Birthday” on my wall.  I didn’t sleep all that well, because those bleeps announcing birthday wishes pulsed steadily all night long, an annoyance I apparently valued and found some comfort in.  My son is sleeping just fine, exhausted from the effort of memorizing IPA and Italian arias and idea-battling with his dad, and my wife’s early morning flight is just beginning its descent into Portland.  Oh yes, and my daughter lifts out of LA about now, heading back east to her friends’ production of “Death and the Maiden” at Williams.  The morning latte was especially fine, hotter than usual, which is just the way I like it.  I look up, and two young high school girls, friends of mine, twins, are running, herky-jerky and laughing, to catch the city bus, and the dogs outside bark lazy songs as the bus pulls away.

The question was asked: “What does the pure life of following the Christ look like?”  I don’t know.  I’ll pray today, and inch my way forward, muttering again that something is better than nothing, and believe (even as 51 years of fatigue and mixed results and undeserved blessing rushing at me like a kingdom river run amok) that we have the agency to change the world.  Can we make it perfect?  Who am I to say that when the Kingdom of God comes (Jesus hoped for it, asked for it…so do I), a substantial perfection will or will not be born?   And yes, it’s all God, and our agency is all grace, all metabolized and given life by God’s Spirit and His Will (go to it, theologians, get it right), and it is up to us to reach up and grasp the life He offers and calls us to.  We must plug the oily holes, stop ourselves from killing the ones who infuriate us (be they lovers or enemies or both), nurture the love that is the source of all hope, and feed, clothe, and shelter the ones who somehow land in a place (who cares how they got there) where they lack all of that.   And along the way, we must tell the story, make the meaning, find the beauty, linking arms and hearts and throwing grace to the wind like the farmer with those proverbial seeds.   Little Christs, all of us.

We all wonder:  why are we born?  Why, 51 years ago, did I come climbing into being only to know wonder, loss, ecstasy, heartbreak, and one day out there, at the end of my own personal Act Five, to experience it all slipping away into a pretty long closing of the eyes?   Why?  For what?

For love, for hope, for faith, for God, for joy, for words, for the making of worlds…

For life…

3 Replies to “Words at 51”

  1. Happy Birthday, Jeff! I didn’t realize that you and I were born less than a month apart. Reading your writing reminds me of our shared time in high school and church, looking for life to “begin.” Have a great day, my friend!

  2. Jeff, this is so beautiful and yes, I believe the hope is in seeing all those people and all the beauty….the everydayness…those are the places of hope and life and light…..the hug given by the father to his son, the crazy girls running to catch the bus, the traveling into the world and the interaction that happens in those moments are full and rich and resonate with the will of God. What does it mean to be more Christlike but to engage….with your heart, and your eyes, and your words. Yes, this world can be excruciatingly painful but it also can be so full of love. I have chosen this year to be engaged with joy but not the silly giddy joy that with immediately think about when we hear that word….but deep joy that comes from commitment and honesty and looking for all the good happening around me.
    Thank you for these words today.

  3. Thanks Jeff, yet again.

    I find myself drawn by your thoughts to the end of Ecclesiates (and you know me – the optimistic version :-). 12:13 brings me great peace … “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man.”

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