I was away all last week, taking a class at Fordham. I've been away too much lately, given the insane beautifulness of Vermont in the spring. I mean, you know, we all walk around grumbling and falling down and being tired all winter and then one day spring arrives and we're all reborn as gentle, happy creatures. Vermont would be void of people if she didn't do this dazzling dance every May into June. Or it would be more full of those radical weirdos who are scattered all over Alaska, people like my sister who consider going further and deeper into the wilderness to spend a week without running water or restaurants a vacation.
The good thing about all the been away is the coming back. You know, you have to spend some time away from a thing like Vermont to be brought back to your senses. And I mean that literally. When I got back to Pawlet after being in California for five days, I stepped out of my car and heard the falls beside my house as if it was the first time. When I crossed over the New York/Vermont border after being at Fordham for a week, I breathed a sigh of relief. I really saw the green hills. And I remembered that they don't have these green hills everywhere, especially not in the Bronx.
So, I was away. Now I'm back, trying to step back into my ridiculous life after spending a week living in a college dorm and taking a class in counseling skills with a group of international inter-faith fellow students.
I can't sum it up for you and I'm sorry about that; it was a kind of epic week for me — the thing I was really seeking when I applied to seminary several years ago. But I will tell you that there was one afternoon when I was having lunch with some members of our group: two Coptic priests from Egypt, two Jewish women, one who converted as an adult and one who was an African American woman whose parents chose to convert when she was a kid, a Franciscan brother and an atheist from California. We were eating at the café in the New York Botanical Gardens, which is right across the street from the Fordham campus, and I had this moment, this ... I can’t believe this is my life! moment. It was surreal in the most delightful way.
Here is the good news: we had a lot to talk about, all week long. We had way more to talk about than we had time. We were deeply, genuinely interested in one another. There were no arguments, no I have this right and you are so wrong! attitudes. There was a lot of love, a lot of childlike curiosity. And a LOT of conversation and laughter. You could hear it all the way down the hall when you left the classroom.
I miss them today and wish I could see them again, but 53 years of life history informs my understanding that I probably won't.
"The first part of my life was very loud," was what one of my fellow-students said during our introductions on the first day. And I thought that was very funny and also a good way to describe a life.
Everyone had had some kind of shift at some point, away from a life that wasn't working very well or wasn't very satisfying and toward some movement seeking growth and deeper understanding of the mysteries of life. If there is such a thing. I don't know how much any of us come to understand any of it, but I do know that a desire to learn more or or at least to wrestle with the questions is one of the hallmarks of evolution.
The first part of my life was loud, too. At more than too many points in time I was a colossal jerk. I made a lot of foolish choices. I caused plenty of damage and broke some hearts. I was self-involved more times that I care to admit. I drank too much; I was lazy too often. I didn't know I was happy until after my happiness had dissolved, usually by my own hand.
God and I both eventually had enough of that garbage, thankfully, and I set about sailing a mostly righted ship into what appears to be the second half of my life, though there is no folly nestled in my heart that will allow me to believe I get another four or five decades. Or even that I will be able to maintain the course.
My kids are growing and leaving; I haven't had a drink in seven years, I know now that I don't know much of anything at all. Life is an ever-changing, ever-elusive thing. When I was loud I knew nothing; in my quiet I know less. It's OK, though, it really is.
Mostly I am grateful that there is some kind of benevolent energy in this world that has always loved me more than I have loved myself. Loved me enough to carry me and my tattered self to a classroom in the Bronx where I could end each day in prayer with a tattooed former chef/someday Lutheran pastor and a black-robed Coptic priest, with whom I practiced new counseling skills each afternoon of our week-long class. We were from different places, internally and externally. Or so it seemed. It didn't matter much, though, when we held hands and shared these words: blessed be this moment in time, blessed be our hearts, blessed be our learning, blessed be our friendship. Blessed be. Amen.