“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.
The lighter note, the other side of the coin, may be part of self control. Hope is always in order, even if we are not optimistic. And let me give again this quote from Ellen Davis,”Ecology and Theology” (Duke Magazine, Jan./Feb., ’05), in which the wider application may be heard:
“Although I cannot honestly say that I am optimistic about our prospects, I am not aware that optimism plays any important part in the life of faith. Hope, however, is critical.”
Hope is bright and godly. Perhaps like seeing the gold in the sand as in early Havilah, the joy of marriage and companionship as it was at the beginning. Mary’s hope and prayer for wine at the wedding.
It’s ok to have vision.
So well said. Thank you for sharing this quote and your thoughts here, Martha.
I hope its okay to really like this post. Great way to start my week and the pre-view of the next “semester” of life. It’s not only okay to love life even when there’s so much pain in it, it’s absolutely necessary. Commanded, even:
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Thank you, Shirley, for this reminder of the words of our Lord…
Just this morning in my prayer book I came across Paul’s words to the church in Rome:
The reference to “joy” stood out to me for obvious reasons. And I was reminded that the context in which these words were written was not always cheery and sunny either. The kingdom of God has always grown and taken root in the midst of the pain and violence of the kingdoms of the world. Whatever else they might be, righteousness, peace, and joy are not responses to circumstances that would make them obvious (at least not always), but choices made in light of convictions about what God is doing in and for the world.