The other morning I noticed something beautiful.
I poured the half & half into my cup of tea and suddenly there was an explosion of swirls. Cold liquid meeting hot, white meeting brown. It was captivating, a kind of cosmic dance there in my morning brew.
Wow, I thought, how come I never noticed that before?
In Thorton Wilder's play called Our Town, the character named Emily Webb, who has died in childbirth, asks to return to the world of the living. She sees all the simple things that make up our days, like ironing and meals and sleeping and hot baths, and she asks, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?"
I used to follow a blog that was, and may still be, very popular, called Humans of New York. There is a young man who is a photographer and he walks the streets of New York City and takes pictures of people and then records some part of their story. There is one that has stuck in my memory. The woman was sitting on a park bench and she spoke about how she had worked in a restaurant for many years, how the restaurant was home and the people she worked with like family. Then the restaurant came upon hard times and eventually closed. Looking back on those days, the woman says, "I was happy then, and I didn't even know it."
I wonder, sometimes, do we know happiness when we are in it?
Are we aware of how magnificent life is when we are living it?
Or is it only when something terrible jars us from our daily existence that we smell how great the air smells, see how awesome the members of our family are, understand how marvelous it is to have hands and eyes? To be alive?
Jesuits practice something called the Daily Examen, a five-part prayer that looks roughly like this:
I've broken it down into those elements so I can remember it better. First, identify those things for which you are grateful, then do a full day's review. (The kids and I used to do this at bedtime, without knowing that it was Jesuit-ish. We called it Talk Me Day.) Then notice any things you did for which you are sorry. Ask for forgiveness, and then pray for grace with which to enter into a new day.
It's a kind of conversation with God, at the end of the day. And it brings one in close contact with the simple goodness of a day.
I began a journey of seeking God, probably when I was born, who knows? But it became more pressing during the past several years through a series of events. For me, God is not a man, God is not keeping score, nor is God tossing lightening bolts at us pitiful humans. God is not wearing a long white robe, nor does God need a shave. God is in your mom's smile, God is in the grass that is slowly, slowly greening up. God is the unexpected windfall and the terrifying heart attack. God is in the suffering, the sorrow and the ecstasy. God is like a thief, relentlessly trying to steal your attention, to bring you back into awareness of the beauty of this life, both subtle and profound.
When I did my examen the other night I was amazed by something. It was a cold and rainy day and I was tired and weary from hospice visits. I was missing the kids and worried about whether or not I would be prepared enough or graceful enough to meet the challenges of the upcoming Holy Week. I had received bad news about my car.
I laid in bed, eyes closed, house quiet, and thought of all of the people I had been with throughout the day. I thought of the people I ran into unexpectedly, of the kindness of those trying to help me with my troubles. I thought of one of my beautiful hospice friends, breaking through the frustrating sludge of her dementia to patiently teach me how to knit. I thought of the sweet messages I received. I was amazed by how many people I had encountered in one day. And, too, I thought of the incredible luxuries I have in my life every day: a warm home, enough food, a back-up car that runs, clothing, a hot bath. Love. So much love.
I had no idea it had been such a beautiful day.
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?
It starts with the milk in the tea and it goes from there. Blessings upon your day. Amen.