"I Love My Life"

I don’t know why it is but my nightstand drawers routinely get filled and then overfilled with the weirdest, most random stuff, until finally I cannot close them anymore. This morning became “clean up” day, and aside from finding scores of broken pencils and no sharpeners, a paper I’d written for an Anthropology class 15 years ago, a worrisome number old invoices, some snarled up threads and a small tube of toothpaste, I also found a little card Buster had made for me when he was about 5 or 6 years old. On the front is a big, happy smiling face, and inside he had scrawled, “I love my life!”

It’s adorable, and it warms the heart. And it is also a little poignant, too. At 20, Buster is not the fresh innocent who views all of his surroundings and himself with affable awe. Now, he knows a few truths about the world, and about himself. He knows he is capable of hurting, and of being hurt. He is capable of being overly trustful and naive, and also of betraying the trust of others.

The hard lessons of life teach us things we’d rather not know, especially about ourselves. Too often, the thing we hate most in ourselves is what we project onto others, which just increases our cynicism and our loathing of the world – a loathing which ricochets back onto us.

It is a happy world when you are five years old, when it is easy to say “I love my life.” Nowadays, Buster will tell you that he still does love his life, and himself, but he has some regrets, and wishes he could have a few do-overs.

Which means his is progressing normally. Who among us does not wish for a few mulligans, whereby our past actions are discreetly erased from the scorecard and we are given a chance to go back to re-play those holes?

In Chapter 38 of Isaiah, line 17, we read the healing and cleansing line: “…you have saved me from the pit of destruction, when you cast behind your back, all of my sins.”

That’s a wonderful image, isn’t it? God takes the sins we acknowledge to him, in our contrition, and with exquisite mercy he flings them behind his back, so they no longer stand between us and him; our failings can no longer impede our meeting, and all that is left is for us to trust enough to leap into God’s ever-waiting embrace.

To do that – to really trust God enough to make that leap – requires that we love ourselves enough to believe that we are also lovable to God. And that we love our messy, imperfect and difficult lives.

It also requires that we “hate” our life enough to let go of illusory control, in order to surrender it, wholly, into the divine hug of acceptance; “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Such a fan of paradoxes, God is! When we are weak, then we are strong. When we really love our life, then we can relinquish it; then it is an acceptable gift to God. A hated life is not a fit gift for anyone.

Chesterton, who lived a long life that never seemed to run short on wonder, wrote in his poem, “Evening”:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

Recently Al Lieter, who had a respectable pitching career in Major League Baseball, recalled his disbelief at moving from the minor league to the majors. I’m paraphrasing, but in essence he said: “I couldn’t believe I was getting to live out my dream. Every time I stepped onto the mound, I knew what a gift it was, how much I loved it, and how easily it could all be taken away, so I was grateful for every minute.”

The foundation of joy, I am convinced, is gratitude. And gratitude can only come from awareness. If you are not actively aware of the good things in your life, if you refuse to recognize them, or take them for granted, then you cannot feel gratitude. And if you have nothing for which to feel grateful, what have you got to be happy about?

I have known people who never appreciated the great gift of mobility until they were crippled by arthritis. I knew a man, once, who never appreciated being able to raise a cup of coffee to his lips, until he suffered a brain accident, and could no longer drink without help.

Thanksgiving is not just for turkeys. Optimally, it is a state of mind. And since “a thought is a thing,” daily thankfulness becomes a state of being.

Buster’s lovely card reminded me of a time when my Li’l Bro Thom wrote to me, “sometimes, I hate my life…”

He was singing a Psalm of the Common Man, which I then blogged about in 2006, and repost here, because although I still have thirty tabs open that I mean to share, I still don’t feel like writing politics…although probably you should be aware of this.

THE PSALM OF THE COMMON MAN

For the past few days, I know, this blog has been a little on the edgy and skittish side. Those of you reading me must have developed an image of me tap-tap-tapping away at my keyboard, hair askew, wild-eyed with a caffeine overdose, hyperventilating and unable to focus.

And yeah, that image would be just about right.

I apologize if I’ve seemed a bit out-there. While I was under the pressure of a couple of deadlines, Christmas and family commitments, I let email correspondence and other concerns go rather to hell and then this week I looked up at it all and felt like I was the proverbial hapless clerk about to be flattened by a pile of files.

All of this was apparent in my writing which, for a few days, has been uneven and unfocused. My Li’l Bro Thom – a fellow who understands the concept of high stress and yet manages, through faith, to deal with it and still remain sane and reasonable – noticed.

“You’re writing like you need ritalin,” he joked.

Normally, I would have laughed, but when a criticism is really on-target, even if it is offered gently, it can really sting, and rather than laugh I emailed back an unhappy emoticon and a pathetic, “go ahead, make my day even worse.”

“What’s wrong,” he responded.

There followed a rambling email that was the equivalent of a harried woman blubbering and waving her hands about like a demented emu. I spilled!

“My husband has a job opportunity that is very exciting but will mean more travel! I’m becoming a sentimental goose who keeps seeing her grown children as cute 6 year-olds before her eyes – how did my life go by so quickly! And I don’t think anyone is even reading me except my Elder Son’s Sweet Girlfriend – and I think she only reads me because she’s mystified by me, or something. Sometimes I feel like…all I’m doing is writing words and words and they don’t matter. I know you were joking, and any other day I would have laughed…but I just feel so out of sorts. And I got my hair colored and I’m SO grey, all of a sudden! You men don’t understand what it’s like!”

“You need a retreat,” he counseled.

“Yes, and chocolate,” I concurred, wondering if Buster had any about for his Eagle Scout fund-raiser. “What about you,” I asked, feeling immeasurably better for spilling, and knowing he is carrying a very heavy load in many ways. “How is it all going?”

“Well…we take every day as it comes, right?” He wrote back. After going into some details on a family matter that is causing him real grief he concluded:

Sometimes, I hate my life

But mostly, things are good.

I looked at those words for a long time and then wrote back, “David could not have written a better psalm.”

One of the greatest things about becoming a Benedictine Oblate is that we are encouraged to pray at least some part of the Liturgy of the Hours (aka The Divine Office, aka The Opus Dei) every day. Immersing oneself in the psalms is a remarkable experience because within those 150 poems resides the entire human condition in all of its lunacy and sorrow, its agony and rapture and woe. To read the psalms daily is to be reminded that no human expression of feeling is unique to the rest of humanity, that our interpersonal kinship is not really narrow – rather it is as broad as we allow it to be.

We live in a very polarized age wherein we too often and too-willingly segregate ourselves with an “us good, them bad” mentality. That is not new, of course. Humans have always drawn their lines of demarcation between themselves and others – mostly either because of ethnicity or language or creed. Lately, as ethnicities blend and languages fade, the lines seem increasingly to be drawn mostly over ideologies disguised as creeds. Or creeds disguised as ideologies.

It’s distressing to see. It is terribly distressing to watch what appears to be an inexorable move toward national self-destruction in the pursuit of “squashing the other side,” when in fact both sides are America’s, and an America without healthy discourse and respectable, honorable and loyal dissent will not need an outside enemy to render her impotent and eventually inconsequential.

The truth is, no matter who we are, no matter what our economic situations, our familiar realities, our backgrounds, our educations, our failures or our potentialities – beyond all that separates us, beyond our own drawn lines, we are all the same. In our quieter moments, we sing a nearly silent, common psalmody. It is the Psalm of the Common Man, and everyone sings it, no matter how “uncommon” they believe themselves to be:

We take each day as it comes
Sometimes I hate my life
But mostly things are good

Mindful people try to be grateful for the good things in their lives, but it is easy to overlook what is positive and dwell on the negative – to lose sight of all one has, for the want of what one seems to lack. It is an ancient part of our human condition; it existed in Eden, after all.

In a monastic house, psalms are chanted by the community in turn. They sit dexter and sinister, right and left, and each side takes turns, verse by verse, down the psalms.

Left and right, they sing. They weave psalms and canticles, readings and collects, prayers and praise into one marvelous whole, and in doing so, dexter and sinister – united in purpose, and in understanding – become one.

We take each day as it comes. Sometimes we hate our lives. But mostly things are good.

All together, now!

Related:
The Pursuit of Happyness and George Bailey
Plain, Ordinary and Decent Things

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • newguy40

    Reading the first part of your post reminds me of my own “family time capsules” that I come across when cleaning drawers, closets, storage spaces…. Coming across old photo’s and kid’s “masterpieces” from second grade are a true blessing. A reminder of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

  • http://plls.blogspot.com s1c

    As I approach the day that b-fly leaves for college in your fair state, I also wonder where that small blond girl went, but I am buoyed by the fact that she is indeed becoming a young woman that I can be proud to know and cherish. It seems like only yesterday she was sitting on my lap singing silly songs and writing sappy poetry. Today she is a beautiful 18 yr old who is looking forward to taking on the challenges of her life.

    As for the polarization of the public life, I think that is the way it will be from now on, unfortunately. After 8 years of constant daily knee capping by the press, the other party and at times the McCains, Grahams and others inside the GOP at GWB which led to the anointing of our present president and the majorities in the House and Senate which must be maintained by those in power, well, I am just not optimistic about a change in the tone or rhetoric in the near future.

  • http://none Ron Sebree

    I just thought I would take this time to share 3 of my favorite prayers of the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer (1928 edition).

    A Collect for Peace.

    O GOD, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    A Collect for Grace.

    O LORD, our heavenly Father, Almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day; Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by thy governance, may be righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    A General Thanksgiving.

    ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; [*particularly to those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings for thy late mercies vouchsafed unto them.] We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may he unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

  • http://www.reflectionsbykris.squarespace.com Kris, in New England

    wild-eyed with a caffeine overdose

    That gives a great visual! I think many of us are quite, schizophrenic, in our writing lately. The world has never been a particularly peaceful place in a general sense and that’s not getting better. Nor will it, I know.

    I find these days that, at least in my own life, I don’t strain at gnats as much as I used to – but that the things that do get under my skin are not insiginificant and do have the threat of large impact.

    And I don’t think that’s because these things are suddenly just more prominent – I believe these things are happening at a greater rate and pace than ever before – at least in my humble world.

    That being said – life is darn good. My husband and I both work for the same Fortune 100 company that is, thankfully, doing extremely well on its own. No gov’t. money needed. Conservative decisions lead to that kind of stability in this economy – or any other. This gives us the werewithal to do the things we need to do or largely, want to do. We have health issues like most people who enter their mid to late 40s – but nothing life-threatening so long as we take care of ourselves. Which we do.

    Life is good. Warts and all. My family has a motto that I live by every day – We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time. It was borne out of near tragedy and pretty much informs everything my small family does – as individuals and as a group.

  • Andrew B

    I came into the game late, “inheriting” a pair of wonderful teenage step-children when I was 40 years old. Now, 7 years later, I still find myself in wonder at how they have grown, bloomed and moved on with life. I can only guess how my dear wife must feel.

    You are very wise, Anchoress. Life can be hard and cruel, but mostly it is sweet. This was brought home to me recently, when my family gathered to bury our beloved brother. He was a handsome, witty, charming, talented man who made a complete hash of his life. We could have wept, and I am sure we each did on our own, but we gathered together, feasted on lobster and clams, and laughed until our sides ached. May it ever be thus.

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    I have no children, only the beloved offspring of my dear sister Linda. I well remember when her son was just 7 or 8 years old and we went out to dinner at a fairly nice place. Without hesitation he picked up the menu and ordered escargot! We asked him, “Do you know what that is?” and he said that he did. When his order came, he proceeded to devour it and ask for another. We drew the line at 3 portions! Now he is a career Navy guy with two little boys of his own! Tempus fugit for sure! But thanks for writing something that unearthed that sweet and smile-provoking memory, dear Anchoress. It’s been a fraught day!

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    We take each day as it comes. Sometimes we hate our lives. But mostly things are good. Nice words to live by!

    Nowadays when I get depressed and like Buster and other humans I sometimes also do. I simply remind myself that I am just a single incomplete complex spiritual cell encompassed by God’s Loving Embracing World and someday during Eternity, I will be studying this incomplete reality cell of mine as “IT” keeps going round and round in order to be a God and Embracing myself over and over again during Infinity and Beyond while keeping The Endless Love of Our Heavenly Father’s Grace in Our Hearts.

    I hear ya sinner vic! Been there and done that! :)

    God Bless,

    Peace

  • http://searchingandpondering.blogspot.com gemma

    Reading the first part about cleaning out your drawers reminded me of our favorite thing we used to do at work…at least the ladies. We would bring in the contents of that bedroom drawer, the one that never got cleaned out, and have a contest. Who had the oddest assortment of stuff? Obviously we would only do this once in a blue moon and obviously I am dating myself because who works together for that long anymore anywhere? It was a hoot though and whe had a display table in the break room and a vote box. Don’t remember what the winner won or if anyone ever owned up to their contributions but it was a looked forward to event in the office. Thanks for the memories.

  • Lacey

    You often tap very neatly into what I need to hear during a given day. In this case, you brought to the front of my mind a message I think God is trying to hammer home with me lately:

    “To do that – to really trust God enough to make that leap – requires that we love ourselves enough to believe that we are also lovable to God. ”

    This is now the fourth time I have heard almost those very words (or something along the lines of “first, you must understand that you are beloved of God”) in the last week. Apparently it’s something He wants me to get. Thank you for being His messenger today (and on several other occasions, as you are for many others, I suspect).

  • dry valleys

    I was glad when I moved out of my parents’ house as it gave me a chance to impose order on a place. My parents are really disorganised & have all kinds of incredible stuff they can’t possibly have any use for.

    Also, my brother’s old room is still almost exactly as it was when he moved out 10 years ago. It’s like a museum to how teenagers lived in the 1990s!

    I don’t even live there- but whenever I come by for a visit I itch to throw things away & angrily ask them why they’ve kept such pointless stuff. In my brother’s old room, for example, it can’t mean that much to him or else he’d be making use of it. But there’s all this about sentimental values.

    But maybe I’ll start getting sentimental when I wear on a bit :)

  • Joseph Marshall

    the lines seem increasingly to be drawn mostly over ideologies disguised as creeds. Or creeds disguised as ideologies.

    This is an extremely telling little notion. And what it tells me is why you and many of your readers can only seem to retreat into the political fantasy that you are somehow being “squashed” and “kneecapped” or that your dissent is being called “disloyal” in a political atmosphere that is “unhealthy”.

    There is no “disguise”. A creed is the intellectual kernel of an ideology and an ideology is the logical extension of a creed into political action. A creed is what you believe about the world, and ideology is what you want to do because you believe it.

    Even where the illusion exists of an ideology without a “creed” all you have to do is look more closely and the creed is apparent. The classic example of this is Marxism, which appears to be all ideology and no creed. This is not the case. The creed is the “materialist conception of history”–essentially as unprovable as any other creed.

    Conservatives have a creed but the last 30 years never forced them to develop an ideology: “family values, personal responsibility, limited government with lower taxes, public safety through strong defense, and maximum personal freedom”. This sounds just fine as a creed, and since 1980 all conservatives have largely had to do to retain de facto political dominance was to repeat the creed over and over enough to mesmerize 50.1% of the public.

    That time is gone. Because the creed no longer convinces. And if conservatives want a place at the table, they will have to develop an ideology.

    The problem is that the creed itself leads to a self-contradictory ideology. In the world of political action, “family values and personal responsibility” are not compatible with “maximum personal freedom” and “limited government with lower taxes” is not compatible with “personal safety and strong defense”. The first years of the 21st century are a monument to the failure by a completely dominant conservatism to turn the creed into coherent public policy.

    Now what I really don’t understand is how even this can support the fantasy that your point of view is somehow being called “disloyal”. The constant questioning of the “loyalty” of liberals is a refrain that I have literally heard from the cradle back in the Eisenhower Administration. And I am older than most of your readers. But if anyone has questioned the “loyalty” of conservatives recently, I’ve not heard it.

    And as to your being “squashed”, in a world where standards for such things are set by places such as Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, and North Korea, we all should be clear that nobody’s dissent has been “squashed” by anything worse than private economic attack against one’s livelihood ["blacklisting"] and sets of severely raised eyebrows.

    Be that as it may, I can personally say that the present administration and I share a creed: “proactive government in the public interest, to promote the general welfare, and to establish a level playing field for all”. And I think that virtually everything the current President has proposed to do is both the logical extension of that creed, and is, as well, internally coherent and self-consistent.

    The advantage of this is that, for the moment, a majority of the public actually wants the government to do things that are coherent and self-consistent, rather than merely to sit and congratulate ourselves on how our “character” makes it clearly unnecessary to either discuss or act on “issues”.

    In other words, at the moment the public wants an “ideology” as well as a creed, and not merely a creed alone.

    Liberals have both. Conservatives don’t. If the public wants action, arguing that we should do nothing “on principle” simply is not convincing discourse.

    Just because its not “convincing” doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with its “health”

  • Ruth H

    You hit a lot of chords that are common to a lot of us in this post.
    First how fast the children grow! My first great grandchild is on the way, it seems like just last week when the dad was such a cute little guy. He is 26 and in the USAF. It seems like just few years ago all my children were at home with us.
    It has been 25 years since the last one left the nest.
    On writing and writing and wondering is anybody is reading. I’ve just begun that. You can imagine my relief when my sister put a meter on it a week ago and already it is up to 390. So now I’m thinking, “Who are these people?” I guess I should get a grip instead of that Ritalin. :D

  • http://jmbalconi.stblogs.com MissJean

    Interesting commentary, Joseph, but I want to know one thing: What is in your junk drawer? What lovely oddities have you found forgotten in your pocket or on a sidewalk that made you smile and think?

    I hope you don’t mind me asking.

    As for me, I found a bookmark given to me by a child now dead and it reminded me to call her sister.

  • Pam

    As you can see, Anchoress, plenty more than just the Sweet Girlfriend are reading you! Thanks for the frequent reminders about gratitude–you are so right. Hope you’ll take comfort in the fact that you yourself provide lots of comfort and, yes, joy for your readers. Thanks again for taking the time and making the effort.

  • Elizabeth H

    Trust me, what you write is being read, and is making a difference in ways you will not see until God plays the full video in heaven. (Yeah, I’m a geek & use geek metaphor…!) I haven’t commented before, so please forgive me for not previously at least “waving hello.” I have very much enjoyed your writing, though, and it has often caused me to ponder or pray, so count those as beneficial ripples from your written stones cast upon the Internet waters. (Ok, that was a really tangled metaphor, but I hope it helps.)

    In short, thank you for your time & efforts. They make more of a difference than you know.

  • Left Coast conservative

    You’ve made my quote wall – “the foundation of joy is gratitude” – The Anchoress.

  • Sarah Kuvasz

    Dear Miss A,

    The Buddhists essentially believe all life is suffering. Think of the world when Guatama Buddha was walking thru India. Think how sweet your life is in comparison.

    My life is indeed sweet now. I haven’t had an involuntary dissociative trance since last Friday when so many prayed for me. I’m finally moving to be near my boyfriend. And, I have you to read everyday.

    Thank you , God.

  • http://jscafenette.com Jeanette

    God takes the sins we acknowledge to him, in our contrition, and with exquisite mercy he flings them behind his back, so they no longer stand between us and him; our failings can no longer impede our meeting, and all that is left is for us to trust enough to leap into God’s ever-waiting embrace.

    One of the marvelous things about God is His perfection. If one accepts His Son and confesses his sins God even has perfect non-memory.

    What a wonderful God we have. The Only God. There is none before Him and none after Him.

    I don’t even eat an apple without thanking Him for giving it to me because without Him I am nothing.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Amen! Amen! Amen! Father, Son and Holy Spirit, “ONE” God Forever and Ever! Amen!

    I hear ya! You really think so sinner vic? :)

  • Piano Girl

    I’m a big believer in gratitude…today I’m grateful for chocolate!!! The coming week is going to be beyond busy taking care of a hubby who is having yet another surgery because he hasn’t taken care of some health issues, and I do think I will stock up on some lovely chocolates today to help me get through it all. ;~)

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  • erica

    this is for when you feel no one hears your words — I needed this today. Your words reached in and pulled my out of the pity party pit. Now I have the strength to go on. Thank you


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