Saturday, June 4, 2016

20,840 and counting

By Claude Monet - The Japanese footbridge in his garden at Giverny, France

I woke up this morning on the 20,840th day of this journey.  I did not ask for it to begin.  At some point, I just became aware.  Aware of people taking care of me.  Aware of familiar places.  Aware of things to do.  Aware of sounds.  Aware of food and drink.  Aware of bath and splash.  Aware of hot and cold.  Aware of sick.  Aware of the floor.  Aware of the crib.  Aware of the car.  All this awareness crashing through my eyes and ears and mouth and back out again with my own noise and reaction.  So it began.  One vast experiment in communication, in relationships, in taking, in giving.  One day became the next.  I hardly noticed.  Unless there was a deadline.  Or the impossibly slow run-up to Christmas.  Or the even slower march to the end of school and the barefoot shirtless freedom of a southern boyhood summer.

By Monet - his house in Giverny

Quantifying one’s life in this way is a sobering exercise.  If I live as long as my mother (who died in 2011 shortly before her 75th birthday), then I could reach day 27,367.  If I live as long as my father (who is still living at 83), then I could see day 30,295.  But one way or another, to use the clich├ęd phrase, my days are numbered.  There are far fewer before me than behind me.  And tomorrow is not a sure thing.

By Monet - Poppy field near Giverny

Numbers don’t provide the melody of a life, nor even the harmony.  But they can count off the beat.  A straight allegro 4/4 time, or a faster 3-4 time that condenses into 1-1 time.  Then there is the more eccentric 5/4 or even 7/4, where it’s a challenge to hold all the notes together and where the act of counting becomes a near impossibility.  And even when the time is settled, the speed can adjust and readjust from a slow dirge adagio and back to a Mozartesque allegro con brio.  So the passing days can actually provide a lot in terms of the superstructure of our lives, even before we add the instrumentation and notes, for good or ill.

By Monet - Poppy field in Argenteuil
Of my more than 20,000 days, I spent 11,680 of them married, bringing forth children into the world and raising them, and attempting an ongoing partnership that came to an unwanted end.  I spent 7300 of my days as a student at various levels.  8030 days I spent as an ordained Presbyterian minister in the US, the UK and in Ethiopia and Kenya.  I have spent more than 6300 days in Africa.  I have been an Orthodox Christian for just over 2000 days, though I spent a further 5110 days badly wanting to become Orthodox before I finally made the fateful decision.  It’s been 481 days since I ran my last marathon, and it was 913 days ago that I ran my first.  It’s been 321 days since I moved back to Kenya last July19th.   Which means it’s been about 330 days since I had my last piece of blueberry pie and big mug of white coffee from my favorite Greenhouse Coffee Shop in my little home village of Crozet, VA. 

By Monet - Poppy field

I have known many, many astonishing, exceptional, amazing, kind, generous, ingenious, hilarious, eccentric, gifted, fun, devoted, exemplary, brilliant, thoughtful, patient, good individuals– people who have been good stewards of the time and opportunities and gifts they’ve been given.  And I’ve known others who have been less so.  But it is the people who have made the living of these many days and counting worthwhile.

By Monet - Poppy field

I’ve lived long enough that I’m starting to miss people who have shared so much of this journey with me but who, be it their own journey has come to an end or their own choices or mine have taken us in different direction.  I think about these people often – how much I miss them; how much I owe to them and their input and imprint in my life.  The long, painful goodbye begins.  The day is coming when no one I have known, not a single person in this circle, will be left.  I have older friends whom it seems all they do is go to funerals.

Real Poppies near Giverny (photograph)

I have regrets.  There are days that I wish never happened.  Other days I wish I could take back and do over again.  But that’s not what history does.  What’s said is said and what’s done is done.  It’s what I do next that matters.  And of all the days that have passed, and all the possible days that lay in the future, the one that matters the most, the one that carries all the possibility of change and hope and repentance and renewal and reconciliation and healing is this day right now.  Those days gone by can never be retrieved.  And those days before me may never come.  Stewardship is thus an immediate concept – what will I do now with who I am and what I have and with the possibilities, relational and otherwise, that lie before me?


What indeed?

Mssr. Monet in his garden