I am cleaning out the basement. I have a plan. To prevent myself from being overwhelmed by the accumulation of twenty-eight years, I have plotted it out in small sections and I'm trying to make my way through one section a week. This is the second week, and so far I have produced about twelve bags of trash, six bags of clothing for the City Mission, and several neatly stacked file boxes. The Christmas materials are well organized and marked, and the camping equipment is at least in one place. I think that the full job will take twenty weeks. And that means twenty weeks of pondering. As follows:
I found a sentence written by a sixth grade Josh in the context of an assignment to write about his family. "So far our family life has been twelve years of delight!"
Last night I read this blog post, a powerful homily and meditation on the topic of suffering. I've been pondering that. Anyone who knows me would know how deeply this sentence resonates with me: "I have been so angry with God I would not even talk to him for stretches of time and I derided God for his lack of power and his lack of concern. I have poured out my heart far from the kindest of ways because I wanted to let God know of my supreme frustration and my utter doubt in God's care of me and my loved ones."
I found some photographs Josh took when he was in high school, some that I don't recall at all. Like me, he was much enamored of the nearby cemetery. One of his images is of a huge monument with the name "Bond" carved on the side. He mounted the photo for an exhibit, and underneath it he wrote, "Oh, James . . . ".
This morning I read this post, and I've been thinking about it a lot, too. I am always astonished by the fact that there are people who make it to midlife without experiencing much in the way of life's harshness and bleakness. Of course, they are a very small minority of the world's population, but in the western world there seem to be a lot of them. I wonder whether I am assuming too much here; perhaps there is more that meets the eye. And then I remember the good friend, a wonderful mother and gifted artist, who has experienced so much heartache in the past 15 years, and her weary assessment one day as we walked: "Life has been such a terrible disappointment." And I know that she, like me, would be horrified by the little poem that appears in one of the comments.
There are a few records of family trips in the basement (most of them are in albums upstairs). We tried to introduce our children to as much of the natural beauty and human culture and human need of this world as we could. Canoe trips in Canada. The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Hikes and overnights in national forests and parks. The view from the top of St. Peter's Basilica. Volunteering deep in the city for Habitat. The Orchestra. The agencies with which they volunteered as Montessori middle school students. Old Faithful. Starfish along the Atlantic Coast. We tried to show them everything. We tried to involve them in as much as possible.
I have been wondering, as I've sorted and discarded and saved: Has God been treating me in the same way as I tried to raise my own children? Has God been trying to show me everything, life at its most joyous and life at its most sorrowful?
I would have called that good parenting.
Has God been trying to offer me the experiences of both the mountaintop vistas and the sludge at the bottom?
There's a contemplation toward the beginning of Week Two of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises about that . . .