“There’s No Such Thing as an Uninteresting Life”
Every Tuesday morning, a group of older gentlemen—anywhere from 5-15 guys, some from our church, others from another local Mennonite church—gather for coffee and conversation at the coffee shop across the street. The topics vary. Politics, history, current events (yesterday’s wildfires near Lethbridge, for example!), family, and, yes, church—any or all of these and more could find their way into the discussion on a typical Tuesday.
I don’t make it to coffee every week, but I try to drop in every now and then to touch base. Today I arrived a bit late and noticed an empty seat beside one of the men that I haven’t often had a chance to visit with. I grabbed my coffee and settled in. Over the course of the next half hour or so, I heard a fascinating story of an earlier part of his life. I heard of how, as a twenty year old, he had been taken as a prisoner of war, how he had initially been told he wouldn’t have to fight and had been put to work building bridges for the German army, how he was then forced closer to the front lines delivering ammunition, how he was taken to the military hospital in Berlin after being wounded in battle, how he had seen many of his friends killed in front of his very eyes. I heard about the incredible hardships and deprivations of life as a prisoner of war, about the fear and uncertainty of those days, about the gratitude and joy he felt when he was allowed to go free. It was an incredible story.
“But I’ve taken up too much of your time,” he said near the end of the story. “No, no!” I replied, “it’s a fascinating story and I’m very glad to hear it.” “Well,” he said, “I think that we maybe don’t tell the stories of our lives enough anymore. Maybe my story sounds interesting and impressive (probably more impressive than it was!), but all of our lives are interesting. There’s no such thing as an uninteresting life.” I enthusiastically agreed, still trying to process some of the really remarkable events and experiences he had described me.
But later I began to think about this some more. Is there really no such thing as an uninteresting life? On the face of it, sometimes our lives can seem spectacularly uninteresting. A quick glance at our family’s super-saturated fall calendar and the looming crush of routines and obligations can certainly drive this home. Get up, make breakfast, and off to school/work, and bible study and sermon preparation, and music lessons and volleyball practice and evening meetings and more meetings and errands to run, and forms to fill out and fees to pay, and did you remember to practice your piano? and is your homework done? and I wonder if there’s anything good on TV tonight and did you see so and so’s holiday pictures on Facebook? and, wow am I tired!—it’s time to collapse into bed because tomorrow it’s all going to start again. Rinse and repeat. Sounds like a congested life, certainly, but interesting? Hmm…
I’m hardly the first person to periodically wonder about the treadmill-ish feel to modern life. And, of course, I do think that there is meaning and purpose to be found in the ordinary routines of life. And I am certainly not longing for the horrors of war to add spice to my life (God forbid! Even re-reading that last sentence feels perverse or sacrilegious or offensive or… something!). But still. I spent a day off yesterday trimming a tree, putting a compost bin together, playing soccer on my son’s X-Box and watching the US Open tennis final on TV. Interesting? Impressive? Well, not really.
So, what makes for an “interesting” life? Is it a sufficiently exotic collection of experiences? An impressive enough set of accomplishments? The quantity/quality of our relationships? Maybe. Or, perhaps an “interesting” life is, more importantly, a function of the attitudes, dispositions, and character that we cultivate and the ways in which we learn from whatever events, experiences, and relationships happen to arise out of our unique location in space and time.
Maybe an interesting life is, at least in part, a grateful life. On a number of occasions during this morning’s conversation, my older friend expressed how profoundly thankful he is to live in Canada, to live free from the violence and trauma that characterized his younger years. He wondered if kids today really appreciate what an enormous blessing this really is. Indeed. I wonder if adults appreciate this—if we ever pause between status updates and tweets and the myriad entertainment and recreation options with which we fill our peaceful days to ponder how truly remarkable it is that we have what we have and can do what we can do. I wonder if any of us who have never known war can really appreciate what a gift it is to live in a land of peace.
It can sound trite, I know. “I’m so thankful for the blessing of living in a free country where we always have enough.” I remember cringing at such sentiments when I returned from my trip to Colombia this past spring. “I’m sure those who are suffering are very glad that you are grateful for your plenty!”, I somewhat self-righteously and hypocritically grumbled to myself. But my morning conversation was a good reminder that gratitude is not an inappropriate response to goodness. Whatever else might go into making for an interesting life—generosity, compassion, and love, for example—simple appreciation for time, for space, and for the gift of lives to make interesting would surely be near the top of the list.