|These people... These beautiful beautiful human beings...|
This past Easter Sunday as I sat on a deck with the people that I have come to know as family, I felt the warmth of the sun peaking between the clouds, I heard the wind rushing through the leaves as change began to creep, and I felt blessed. Spring seeped into winter weary bones as the worries and the weights, the fears and the uncertainties, the hopes and the dreams all flowed together in unified peace because of this rugged experience. I came here to serve and to care, to accompany and to lift, to be shattered and to be remade, and I will leave with nothing settled, but with everything changed. I speak of change because the bonds I have made, the work I have done, the pain I have felt, the dreams I have dreamt, the tears I have shed, and the meals I have shared have made this little rock called Earth and these passing moments called memories home. So what do I do now after this year has wrecked me?
Some of us have answers about careers or grad schools; others of us have no answers at all. For me, I no longer know how to live my life. I feel like I'm being pulled in a million directions; I am confused and conflicted.
I thought this year was going to be about simple living, social justice, community, and spirituality. I was wrong about that; those values are hard and it was rare for me to be in touch with them. It has been a complicated year. In fact, I think JVC should revise the four values. They should be uncertainty, doubt, inadequacy, and fear: I have been uncertain of my commitment, doubtful in the work that I was doing, inadequate with who I am, and fearful that I was wasting a year. I have felt ashamed of where I stood. I know that I failed at becoming the fantasy of my best self, but I believe that I avoided falling into the nightmare of my worst self. I'm thinking that maybe the point is in living in the tension between the fantasy of success and the nightmare of failure, of the values dreamt and the values dreaded because without the tension none of this makes sense.
Some of us will succeed far beyond our wildest hopes, yet some of us will fail in the most miserable ways. I imagine some of us will walk into packed auditoriums demanding the attention of students and peers while some will walk into half-empty halls where no attention will be paid. From the hallowed walls of Congress filled with history and power to the packed grittiness of the local DHS waiting room where humanity teems, I see us all moving and shifting because of the stories we have lived.
The stories of this year include the hearts that were broken, the friends that have passed, the students that grew, the children that ran away, the highschoolers that graduated, the patients that never got it, the tenants that kept fighting, and, for some, the community-mate that you could never see eye-to-eye with (for me, it was Bob...who is almost a foot taller than me). It includes the story of my past. The story of a child sitting on his father's shoulders feeling the rain, of his father's demons, of his anger, hatred, resentment, and regret, of a grave where rain reminded him of his childhood, and of a year that has helped me grieve. I'm not sure how, but I think all the stories that I have lived and heard, all the successes and failures I have dreamt and dreaded has pointed me towards one direction: to love.
For most of my life, practicality has nagged me to ignore the stories that are periphery to my goals and to commit to a life skimming the narrowed shallows. I have known I would become a doctor since I was 4 years old. For 20 years I followed that belief. For 20 years I checked off the boxes. For 20 years, I did extremely well. But, for twenty years, those achievements and accolades were only things to be collected and accrued. They were hollow. If anything, this year has taught me to throw that out and to jump into the widening depths of stories where the truest of truths are lived and the realest of reals are felt. This realization has made me reconsider how I use the word love. I got it in my head once that the word love was meant for my future wife and maybe my future children. That was foolish because love is wide! Love makes me dream of my better self.
I have dreams of becoming the Surgeon General, of working for the World Health Organization, of winning a Nobel Prize, of writing for the New Yorker, of opening an art gallery in Chicago, of owning a coffee shop called Puzzles, of learning to play the piano, of falling in love with my soulmate, of nurturing children that will surpass me, of saving a life a day, of inspiring students, and, most importantly, of dreams that I have yet to dream. To live in the widening depths is not to live one dream, but it is to realize that we have dreams as disparate as the infinite number of futures to be lived. The reality is that maybe all, some, or none of these dreams will come true. It is silly to say that the answer after this year is to pursue our dreams and it would be equally silly to say that it would be a betrayal if we fail to do so. What I do know, is that because of this year I will always find meaning even if I have a terrible job, a broken family, or a failed mission. All we can do is embrace and love whatever we may choose or whatever may come our way. To live in the widening depths is not to reach all or some dreams, but to realize that dreams are loves to be stayed true to even if they are not lived.
I'm realizing that the difference between dreams and reality is as wide as the distance between you and me or between us and the people we worked with. That is to say, that the gulf can be as wide as eternity, but simultaneously, as narrow as a silken veil.
The widening depths are where my dreams meet yours and theirs. In those depths is where we begin to see that maybe we're all suffering. Doing this work is gritty and messy and painful and heartbreaking. But, by doing so, we start seeing people as a whole; we start falling in love. In the end, love makes us into our better selves.
Forget the shame of uncertainty, doubt, inadequacy, and fear; put aside the efforts around simple living, social justice, community, and spirituality. This year leaves me with one value: love. It is the center where you and I, us and them, reside as one. Eternity between distinctions dissolve and the only eternity that is left is the vastness and inclusivity of love. I will dream without hope of ever finding the answer, but knowing that by dreaming and by loving, the difference between my successes and my failures, my hopes and my fears, us and them, you and me will nothing but be a silken veil because I will live the truest of truths and feel the realest of reals.
In the simplest of terms, whatever it is that I feel as my good friend John Staudenmaier SJ said, is the depths of passion where grief is intertwined with delight in the deep down there... its name is love.