Last weekend I had three encounters with three people that left me mulling how we manage to face our days when we come to the understanding that so much of what happens to us is beyond our control.
I met three people from three different parts of the United States. One was contending with unemployment, the next with environmental disaster and the third with war.
These circumstances are not of their making; their circumstances resulted from economic and political decisions people made in places far from their own homes. While their stories caught my attention and made me realize we all are subject to forces beyond our ability to control, they made me wonder; how do we journey through life carrying this knowledge?
The first encounter happened Saturday morning in our local barber shop. While I waited for our 10-year-old son’s turn in the chair, I struck up a conversation with a man – I’d guess he was in his mid-fifities – who was having his hair cut. His adult son was in the other chair having his hair cut. He shared how he was unemployed despite many efforts to find work. His daughter was unemployed. So too was his son-in-law; in fact they had been laid off the very same day.
The son in the chair beside him was a recent college graduate who only had managed to find work in construction. He was thankful his wife still held a job. This encounter left me humbled about my own bout of unemployment and also deeply moved by his sense of optimism in the face of so much financial difficulty.
Then Sunday, my family attended Mass with a dear friend who was visiting from Louisiana. After Mass, we chatted with my parish priest. My girlfriend described how birds which had just been taken off the endangered list were now back on, thanks to BP’s oil spill.
With pain in her voice, she described how abandoned Louisianans feel by the federal government. They felt that first during Hurricane Katrina and now in the aftermath of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “They’ve written off Louisiana,” she said. Then she spoke of her run for a local school board. Despite the sense of abandonment, she was trying to make a difference in her own community.
Later that day, my sons and I went to lunch with family friends. We met in Bridgewater, New Jersey at the Olive Garden. I sat across the large table from a 29-year-old Army veteran from Missouri who had spent 27 months in Iraq. During the course of our conversation he vividly detailed an experience he and his wife had had between deployments.
They were driving through the Florida Everglades on a six-day vacation, listening to the radio news because nothing else was on. This is how he learned that deployments to Iraq were being extended from 12 to 15 months. He said he turned to his wife and said “Did we just hear that?”
What he communicated to me was the overwhelming disappointment that he learned such an important detail about his future not from his supervisors at Fort Hood but from a radio report. He went on to serve his country and now has returned to civilian life. He said he was delighted to discover the skills he gained doing logistics in the Army had helped him land a good job.
All three of these folks I met happened to be Catholic and I can’t help but wonder if their faith imbues them with the understanding that God calls each of us, by name. I recently had the privilege of meeting Apolonio Latare III, a seminarian in Rome who grew up near where my husband and I are raising our own sons. In a recent blog post he talks about: “the personal nature of man as well as the notion of duty being a personal calling from a personal God.”
Humanity has always been subject to forces beyond its control; warring nations, financial hardship and so on. What helps us transcend the difficulties of this life is the knowledge that our God willed us into being from nothingness. His love for every person is effusive and in some ways, unimaginable. Our Lord says,
Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.(Luke 12:6-7)
What these encounters helped me to realize is that amid our earthly struggles, losses and disappointments, He is always calling us by name.