Life’s Seasons

To everything there is a season,
    A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, 
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace.
 -Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
This is as true today as it has been since it was written, centuries ago. There is a sadness to this passage, but also a comfort. It is a reminder that, if the season in which I find myself now is joyful and easy, it will not last. And if the season in which I find myself now is difficult, it will pass.

Life changes, and with it, we change. The things that used to satisfy us, the things we used to desire, we desire no more.  Things we did not used to understand, we now appreciate. We have all been told that one of life’s certainties is change. We have also been told that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I say the more things change, the more we confirm that the driving forces behind that change remain the same. Some things are universal beyond the basics of food and shelter: our desire to be understood, to be deeply connected to others, to be seen as who we are. I would propose that changes to our individual lives and to our society (present technological advances being a perfect example) are all efforts to achieve these desires.

So our lives are made up of chapters, each distinct. And while some are overwhelmingly happy and others disparaging difficult, I’d say that most are a unique combination of treasures and challenges. It’s easy enough to wish the hard ones away (and wish them good riddance when they’re over), but it’s much harder to stop and embrace the good chapters, or even the good moments of the mundane chapters. Advice abounds for surviving rough patches, most of it basically saying to just hang on; it won’t last forever. But what about advice for appreciating the moments of bliss? More importantly, how does one hang onto these moments? 

I suppose this is why people take pictures or videos, write journals, or create scrapbooks. We attempt to capture a moment in such a way that an image, a passage, or a sound will bring back the bliss of that moment. It’s as if we–I should say I–want to collect all the good stuff of life and put it somewhere to be accessed and enjoyed over and over. Sometimes we succeed in capturing these moments, but I would venture to say that even this is not enough. 

We don’t want to remember that moment, we want to return to it. We want life to be now just how it was then. We want to return to that chapter, that sweet spot, and stay. Right there. Not move.

Life will not comply with this desire, of course. And in the end, we wouldn’t want it to. How stale a life that would be if everything was always good and nothing ever challenged us, pushed us, stressed us. We know this. Our lives are made up of chapters. Each chapter, each time, will end, to be followed by another. That’s just the way it is. 

My challenge is to recognize each time as it comes, and to live it. If in nothing else, life will always be rich in change, both welcome and unwelcome. I will still try to capture the good moments, of course, because I do love my camera, and I do love the pen (keyboard?). But I will not pine for those moments. As a Christian, I know that life holds wonders and joy far greater than any collection I could store up, because there is much I do not yet know and much I have not yet seen. While I work to reach that life,  I will still appreciate the good times for what they are, be grateful for them, and when the time comes, let them go. 

Family

There is this running theme in my life of which, until recently, I’ve been only peripherally aware. It can be labeled, simply, family. Like the pattern on a grandmother’s tablecloth,it has colored much of my experience and worldview, though I’ve never closely observed it. Think for a minute about family, and this may come to mind:

“Family and friends.”

“Big on family.”

“Family man (or woman).”

“In the family way.”

What do all these phrases conjure?

Perhaps it is my own growing family, or perhaps the dynamics of an ever-growing extended family, but this past year or two have prompted in me a reexamination, or perhaps a new discovery, of the word, “family.” I happen to be one of those people whose family plays a large role in her life and whose holidays consist of large, chaotic gatherings that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But not everyone is like this: while some people love their families, others dread having to spend holidays with theirs, or at least merely tolerate it. Still others never grew up living with, and sharing genes with, the same people year after year, and don’t consider themselves to have a family. But for those of us lucky enough (lucky in my opinion, anyway) to have had that experience, there is something undeniably strong about the bond that unites us. Is it because the members of our family have seen us in every state and mood?
Perhaps.
Is it because we’ve shared the mundane, from sharing toothpaste to figuring out who does the dishes?
Maybe.
Is it because, no matter what is going on in our life, and no matter what belief we hold, what life we may have committed to, or what phase we may find ourselves passing through, we always have to interact with these people, either daily or at holidays?
Possibly.
It is, perhaps, all of the above. The doubly strong combination of longevity and proximity make family relationships among the deepest many of us experience in life.

And yet, we have no relationships in our lives over which we exert as little choice as we do over who is a member of our family. After all, who would willingly admit a blood relation to that wacky uncle, or that sibling or cousin or grandparent with the really extreme ideas?

Because our family keeps us close to people we might otherwise never have connected with, we hear and see their perspectives on life and its circumstances. Those perspectives may be different from the ones that most of our friends–the people we choose to associate with–hold. That bankruptcy, terminal illness, divorce, job loss, failure, or crisis of faith…you understand them differently when you hear about them from someone inside the situation. Being a part of a family is like having front row tickets to the world’s most dramatic stories: jealousy, love, devastation, triumph, and joy. And, just like from the fictional plays where these dynamics are played out, we obtain wisdom from these new dimensions. Family relationships are rich in part because they give us understanding.

There is another aspect to the foreordained nature of family relationships. With some members of our family, we may be close enough to know about their circumstances but not influence them. With others, we may be close enough to know and to be asked for advice–or to give it anyway. There is a correlation between how close we are to someone and how much we want their decisions to match what we would choose, were we in their shoes. And this is where the heart of the experience lies. We care very much about this person, and we want her to make the “right” decisions in life. Obviously, the advice we give is brilliant and sage and should be followed immediately. Oh, the shock and frustration when it is not heeded! What happens when the ones we love choose to take a different path, one that moves them away from us, either literally or figuratively? I’m not there yet, but I’m sure parents reach this stage, and rather reluctantly. There is a delicate balance between loving a family member and giving him enough space to make his own decisions. Mature is the person who can allow a loved one the space she needs but still work to keep their relationship open, loving, and even close.

Working towards this kind of harmony is a challenge. Understanding a perspective that may not be comfortable to understand is a challenge. And though I cannot claim to have mastered these challenges, I have learned enough in my adult life to know that in the striving, there is a richness and a life that I would not trade for anything.