Friday, June 27, 2008

You have less than 5 years to live...

Have you noticed that life seems to change drastically every 5 years? How many people can look back 5 years into their life and say everything is pretty much the same? Many things might be, but I'll bet that in many other very significant ways it is completely different. 5 years ago in my life, my grandmother was still alive and I was visiting her almost every week; my brother still lived in Ann Arbor and I would see him at least a few times a month (5 years before that he was still living at home in the room right next to mine. He now lives in New York); One of my best friends was living just across the city (he now lives across the country); I was talking with or hanging out almost every day with another close friend who I now hardly talk to more than a few minutes a couple times a month; And I still had a plausable amount of hair on my now bald head! (5 years before that I had hair almost down to my ass!) WTF!?!

and 5 years from now, Obama will be into his second term as president...

If you chance to look down and see how quickly the stream of time is passing by as you walk the balance beam of your life, you are apt to get rather dizzy and maybe even filled with panic. Maybe you didn't realize you were on a balance beam before you stopped, maybe you didn't realize how easily you could fall off, how easily everything you know could change. There have been many times in my life when I have gotten that feeling and wanted to hold on to something, to somehow stop life from slipping by so quickly (usually when life is about to change significantly, perhaps the loss in one way or another of a loved one, sometimes just from listening to a song that reflects on life's quick passing - usually something by UnderCover or Terry Taylor, maybe Rush's "Time Stand Still", something like that). But there really is nothing to hold on to. It doesn't do any good to try to hang on. We worry about death, but death happens to us all the time, all throughout our lives. Life as we know it ends, over and over again, and something new takes its place. The life we know now is not going to be here in 5 years. (although, in another sense, as Buechner says, every person we once were is still there living inside of us somewhere, only they get covered up and hidden more and more as time goes by). Do you have kids? This is the easiest way to see this. Think of a newborn completely dependant and a 5 year old who can walk and talk and is probably started in some kind of a 10 year old in 5th grade listening to the latest in moral-eroding rap music that would horrify you to think of a 5-year-old listening a teenager taking drivers training, rebelling, living their own kind of life in their own private world with friends you probably don't approve of... now a young adult who can go off to war and get killed, or is more likely halfway through college at age (if all goes according to the plan) someone out on their own, working at a career...perhaps marriage, kids, etc etc... life just goes by so fast. can you believe each of those stages is just 5 years apart? 5 years is nothing. If someone told you you only had 5 years to live, you'd probably freak. but that's pretty close to the truth. Whoever you are right now will be no more in 5 years, whatever life you are living right now will no longer exist then. It's probably best not to look down and see how fast it's all flying by. People like me tend to get dizzy and a bit paralyzed when they realize it, whereas others don't think about it and just keep going along their merry way, living life as it comes and changes until they lose their balance and slip off the bar for good. And of course, as Tom Waits once said, eventually we all get to be dirt in the ground...

Merton's Mountain

I just finished reading Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain. This is a very different book from anything else I've read by him, and I certainly would not recommend this as a starting point. Not that it's not good (it is very good), but unless you are already familiar with Merton's work and thought, what he's contributed to the literary canon of meditation on the spiritual life, you might find yourself wondering why you should care about the life he is writing about in this autobiography. This is one of the first books he wrote after joining the monestary, and its early origin is evident to someone more familiar with his later work. The most obvious example of this, to me, was the way he talked about other faiths and denomonations within Christendom. He has very little respect for the "opposing" denomonations, taking what come across as cheap-shots at their "erroneous" ways of understanding and practicing the faith, and speaks of Catholocism with an almost idolatrous reverence.

There is a great 10-minute biography of Merton's life here

Saturday, June 21, 2008