Tuesday, March 17, 2009

in honor of a friend's fiftieth birthday

Several years ago, our pastor said something in a sermon that has stuck with me for a long time. I don't remember what the sermon was about, and I don't really remember precisely how he phrased it, but at one point he said that there are two attitudes toward our existence: we can choose life, or we can choose death. We can choose to nurture and sustain ourselves with things that are life-giving, or we can choose to self-destruct in whatever ways work for us. I've thought about this off and on since he said it, sometimes pretty intensely. It's become a good touchstone for me in making certain kinds of decisions, large and small.

In context, if I remember right, he was making the point that to choose Christianity, to choose Jesus, is to choose life. I know him (our pastor) pretty well, and I know that is true for him. But in my past, Christianity was not about life, it was about dying inside, a little at a time, every time someone cut me off, ignored my questions, acted in a way that was patently not "Christian" and yet confidently claimed the label "Christian" for what they were doing.

I don't think choosing life is always exactly what we expect. Sometimes it depends on the situation. Sometimes choosing life might mean ending something-- a relationship, a job, a commitment-- which is a death of sorts. I can imagine a time when choosing life would mean rebelling against repressive authority with a blaze of anger, but another time when that same act would be destructive and deathlike. Maybe sometimes choosing life would mean eating healthy foods that promote physical well-being; other times, choosing life might mean eating a big slice of flourless chocolate cake drenched with real whipped cream and raspberry sauce. (not that I'm prone to do that sort of thing, of course). Sometimes it depends on your personality. Maybe for one person choosing life would mean dropping everything and travelling the world, where for another person, choosing life would mean deepening one's ties with the people where you are, choosing to commit to actions that renew your current situation.

And in a way, I think you can apply "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends," here. Sometimes you choose a "death" of some sort in order to help or support the people you love, which renews your commitment to life.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently in connection with getting older. My friends and I are all approaching 50. Some of us will reach it sooner than others, but we're all getting there at exactly the same speed: one day at a time. There's no doubt here: you lose a lot as you get older. Your knees start to go, or your back, or whatever. Your stamina disappears. Taking care of your skin goes from 30 seconds of slathering on some moisturizer after your shower to a twenty-minute routine that still doesn't do enough.

But the thing that has bothered me most has been the loss of potential. When you're twenty, you can go in any direction. Almost all paths are open to you. But by the time you're in your late forties, the number of paths you can still choose has dwindled to a very few. It has been very hard for me to let go of some of those paths, to realize with contentment that this is it, this is how I've chosen to live my life and many of those other paths are no longer available.

But there are also some things that you gain. When I was in my twenties, and even for the better part of my thirties, I didn't really know how to choose life. I didn't know myself well enough or the world around me. But now I do. I'm still learning, of course, but I have a pretty good idea of what things will feel life-giving to me, what situations will nurture my soul. It's a good feeling. I can't exactly claim that it makes up for not being able to do the treadmill without aching knees, but it comes pretty close.

I typed this last weekend while out of internet range, using notepad. You can tell. on re-reading, it sounds a bit disjointed and lacking in coherent thought. But I'm posting it anyway since it's been awhile.

p.s. Whatever choosing life means, as far as I'm concerned it doesn't have much to do with abortion. I can imagine a situation in which choosing to complete an unwanted pregnancy would mean choosing life, but I can also imagine situations where there are no good alternatives where choosing life would mean ending a pregnancy. just thought I should say that to clarify since the phrase "choose life" is so often bandied about in that context.

1 comment:

  1. Aunt Bea,
    Welcome Back!!

    Sometimes choosing life is simply a choice to see the cup as half-full rather than half-empty. Even this choice has its ying and yang. Sometimes there is more life in the honesty it takes to admit a cup is half-empty than in continuing to delude one's self into seeing it half-full.

    I keep trying to convince myself that 50 isn't overwhelmingly depressing. Your blog helped. : )