“Is it Okay If I Really Like Life?”
A few observations and reflections as a summer holiday draws to a close…
My son is convinced that he has discovered gold in the sand. We are at a beach and he sees little flecks of shiny sediment as he digs and builds on a hot summer afternoon. He tries to imagine ways that he might extract this “gold” from the piles he has collected. He asks about how the gold miners panned for gold back in the olden days. He takes a Frisbee and swishes the sand around. He fills up an old discarded coffee cup with his sand, wanting to bring it home. He is convinced there is gold in there—treasure that he, alone of the thousands who have tramped up and down this beach, he alone of the innumerable kids who have built sand castles in this exact spot—has managed to discover.
“There’s no gold in this sand,” I tell him flatly. He is not dissuaded. He sighs and looks at me with something like pity or exasperation. You just don’t understand…
I sit and I wonder what it would be like to be so alive to the possibility in things. To believe that there really could be gold in the middle of a nondescript patch of sand on an ordinary beach…
Sitting on a grassy hill looking out at the ocean on a glorious Tuesday evening, I see an older couple meander down the path in front of me. Late seventies, perhaps? Maybe eighties? With no small degree of effort, they make their way to the bench. They are wearing bathing suits, and their skin hangs in folds in all the places we younger folk are desperate to prevent skin from hanging and folding. He settles into the bench and looks out at the water. She laboriously sits beside him, a few feet of space between them.
They sit and look out at a beautiful summer evening on the water. She awkwardly shuffles over a bit, closer to him. Initially, he seems to think she’s lost her balance and he tries to help her to her initial position. But she has not lost her balance. She is nestling her head on to his shoulder. He looks over at her and smiles before slowly adjusting his position to make it easier for her to lean on him, and raising his arm to put it around her.
She pulls herself close as he smiles and squeezes her tight. I just sit and stare at them for the longest time.
We are walking along a busy Vancouver street today, close to where we used to live when I attended graduate school in the city. The smells and the sights and the sounds—the innumerable different little restaurants and markets—it is all just as I remember it. But my kids barely remember. They were so young. They tolerate this nostalgic walk that their parents want to take, but maybe just barely. They are teenagers now, and barely tolerating your parents is just what you do.
We walk by an old man sitting cross-legged in a doorway, playing a harmonica with an upside down hat containing a handful of quarters, nickels and dimes sitting in front of him. We walk by, but a few paces later my son pulls me aside. “Dad, do you have any money? I want to give that man some money.” I give him a few dollars and watch him walk shyly back to the man in the doorway. He leans over and puts the money in the hat. The man looks up and offers a broad, toothless smile. They talk for a bit, my son and the man on the street. When he comes back, I ask him what the man said. My son smiles at me and says, “He said, ‘thank you, sir’… and then he said ‘God bless you.’”
My son seems very pleased. I look over at him as we wait for the light to change. He’s still smiling as he throws an arm over my shoulder and we begin to cross the street. And I am smiling too.
In the comments section of a recent post about a world where bad things are always happening, a conversation started around the question, “Is it ok if I really like life?” It’s a good question. It is permissible to be happy in a world where bombs drop on innocent children, where people starve and die of preventable diseases, where there are always so very many things happening that make so many people so very unhappy? Can we who do not suffer smile and laugh and play in a world where people are routinely crushed by the weight of evil and suffering?
I frequently wonder along these lines, too. I don’t have a comprehensive answer to these questions, but as I think back on these everyday snapshots and others that I didn’t mention here, I have to think, yes, it is ok if we really like our lives, even when others do not like theirs, even when the badness so regularly threatens to overwhelm the goodness. I think that wherever and whenever we can notice and celebrate wonder, love, and compassion in this world so full of their opposites, God must surely be pleased.
Yes, God surely must smile alongside us.