Monday, January 24, 2011

An extraordinary teacher

"Pain rearranges our priorities."
~Kenneth E. Bailey,
author of Jesus through Middle Eastern eyes

Our culture seems moderately obsessed with the idea of planning ahead for the future (an ironic juxtaposition with our cultural need for immediate gratification and bottomless pit of credit card debt). Retirement plans in our twenties (or younger?), stocks and IRAs and 401K plans and the like. It's not that uncommon for me to be talking with someone about their goals for the future and to hear some version of, "I want to work my butt off until I'm forty or fifty-something and then retire." It's then, they explain, that they'll do the things they really want to do; when life will be good and sweet; when they can finally travel, study, relax, enjoy family and friends, enjoy the things they have acquired. And honestly, I respect and admire people who can seriously dig their heels in and work hard toward a goal, who can responsibly plan for the future. But this idea of an inevitable future waiting for me I no longer relate to.

Mr. Bailey hit the nail on the head for me in four concise strokes of his pen: Pain rearranges our priorities.

Please don't misunderstand me. I hate to be a downer or sound morbid, but the question begs to be asked, "How do I know I'll actually make it to retirement?" How do any of us know? Isn't a bit... presumptuous, even prideful, to think we have any day beyond today? I'm all for planning, and I'm not advocating a life of fear and dread. If anything, I'm advocating, put a little away for the future, but give yourself fully to this day. It's not a new or noble concept - many famous quotes address this idea - but it can be a hard one to open the door to and invite in, not as a guest but as a resident.

For me, when the unexpected pain hit - my Dad's death - my priorities were nearly turned upside down. Even today, nearly two and a half years later, this idea of living today, of embracing the rearranging that pain did to my priorities, is not an easy one to let take over my life. I'm learning, though. There are things much too important to put off. There are relationships far too priceless that I'd rather enjoy today, not knowing how long we'll be in each other's lives. Suffering is not our friend, per se, but to borrow from Bailey once more, it is "an extraordinary teacher."

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