Though on the surface it seemed every person was different, this was not true.
At the core of each lay suffering; our eventual end, the many losses we must experience on the way to that end.
We must try to see one another in this way.
As suffering, limited beings—
Perennially outmatched by circumstances, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces.
-a conversation between Vollman and Bevins in George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo
The other day as I was driving to Rutland I thought, again, about what it feels like to not have a cell phone. And then I thought, "I don't have a cell phone, I don't have a TV. I don't drink; I go to church on Sunday. I preach in church on Sunday."
Cripes, what a weird life this has turned out to be.
Then I thought about how those few bits of information about my life don't tell the story well at all. When you think of someone who doesn't have a cell phone or a TV, someone who refrains from drinking and who goes to church, you think of a certain kind of person. Maybe a Mennonite or a person who lives off the grid. Someone who doesn't much like the world, maybe.
And that led me to think about the other facts of my life and then I started making lists and I found it to be really amusing, my life by the numbers.
I got this far:
I have two brothers and a sister.
I have two sons and a daughter.
The birth times of my children: 4:48, 3:38 and 5:38.
I have been in love five times, married twice, divorced twice.
I have had six dogs and no cats.
I have been to 13 Caribbean islands, 49 states and 9 countries.
My immediate family is testosterone heavy; the males outnumber the females, 2 to 1: there are 10 males and 5 females in my family and we live in Vermont, New York, California, Alaska and Colorado.
I have been to 32 Grateful Dead shows.
I have lived in 4 states: North Dakota, New York, California and Vermont.
I have lived in 4 apartments and 8 houses.
I grew up in Saratoga Springs, New York.
I have owned 5 Volkswagons.
The oldest piece of clothing I own and still wear, that I purchased new for myself is a Patagonia jacket, bought in 1986. Second oldest: Patagonia shorts, circa 1987; third oldest: Patagonia ski pants, 1997.
I was born on 5.19.1965 at 7:53 AM in North Dakota.
Lessons I have taken: horseback riding; fly fishing; drawing; banjo; skiing; tennis; surfing; skeet shooting: snowboarding; rock climbing; dance; basket weaving.
I have been to Alaska 5 times and New Mexico 6 times.
My full name is Melissa Ann O'Brien. I took the name, Catherine, when I was Confirmed. There are 9 Saint Catherines and they were mystics, artists and writers.
I have 2.75 degrees: BA, M.Ed. and soon an M.A.
Certifications I hold: one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education; Level One Reiki Practitioner; Ground and Aerial Training, Skydiving; Firefighter 1; Advanced Fire Behavior: Wildland Fire Control; Hazardous Materials Operations; Hospice Volunteer.
Team sports: softball, tennis, track & field, hockey.
I have been skiing since I was 5.
I have climbed 17 of the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks.
I will be 52 in May. I'll be in Alaska for that birthday.
What is it that tells the story of a life? Is it the numbers? The spaces between the numbers? I am a voracious obituary reader. I love to see how a person's life is distilled into just a few paragraphs. I often wonder, sitting with hospice friends, what they were like when they were young. What they loved, what they dreamed, who they knew, where they worked. There are so many things to know about a person. What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Are you best in the morning or at night? What color was your hair when you were young? Did you travel as much as you wanted to? Do you believe in God? Do you have any regrets? Do you remember your first kiss? Coke or Pepsi? Follower or leader?
I wonder, sometimes, about all these things we do, places we go, the ways in which we choose to challenge ourselves, the things we wish to learn. We are trying, trying, trying to make a life of lasting worth, fleeing, perhaps, the reality that we are suffering, limited beings. Creating, as best we can, some version of compensatory graces as we go. Hoping that our obituary tells the story of a life well-lived, fleshed-out fully, worn thin by the time we're done with it. Why we come here when we do is anybody's guess. When we leave is an even larger mystery. The in-between, our very own paint-by-numbers. Amen.