When I’m having a conversation with somebody I often preface my comments by stating something to the effect that I am basically a journeyman with a prodigal background and that, while my intentions are good, my consistency of focus is more fallible than not. The main reason that I make this disclaimer is because I don’t want my reliably poor decisions and character faults to distract from whatever truth God may choose to reflect off of my twitching countenance for someone else to see. While my soul is at peace, my body, brain, and nerves are often not.
My life experiences, so far, have taught me a little about humilty and a good deal about perspective. One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned can be summed up in a quote from Marcus Aurelius: “The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make of it.” Very little in this life is permanent. So, how can I deal with it?
I was born in March of 1976 and put up for adoption. By June of 1976 I was in the home that I would grow up in under the care and supervision of my adpotive parents. In 1994, however, my parents began a long and difficult divorce process that wouldn’t be resolved until several years later. Through a combination of that process and my older brother’s runaway exit from home and family nearly a decade before I learned that having a cohesive and whole family to cling to throughout life is not guaranteed for everyone.
In January of 1996 I learned that a person’s home and belongings can disappear in an instant. It was -6 degrees farenheight in upstate New York at about one in the morning when I returned home from work to find my house engulfed in flames, though, fortunately, with my dad standing safely outside along with members of six local fire departments. It was so cold that night that the pumps on the tanker trunks were freezing up and hindering their efforts to control the blaze. We were very fortunate to have homeowner’s insurance and a lot of generous friends and family help us to get through, but, again, it was an eye-opening time in which I learned that material things that we put so much effort into acquiring and keeping really are temporary and fleeting.
Probably the most significant lesson in my life began to unfold in October of 1998 when an previously unknown tumor in the pineal gland of my brain ruptured and I had to be hospitalized in the intensive care unit for several days. The subsequent VP shunt insertion surgery, radiation treatments, biopsy, and eventual surgery to remove the apparently and fortunately benign tumor made a stark impression on me and my appreciation for the more subtle, yet frequent, moments of beauty that are available to us each day.
Through these experiences and others I have learned and experienced what it means to be truly alone. I’ve also learned how weak I can be in such moments. Life, indeed, takes on a different perspective when your belongings have gone up in smoke, your home is gone, your family has disolved, and you’re not optimistic that this next Christmas won’t be your last.
As a result of these lessons I have a much greater appreciation, than I might have had otherwise, for the true stability and peace that comes from placing one’s hopes on something that is endless and invincible. Events written about here that I realize could be interpreted by a random reader as ‘Woe is me’ complaints, instead, had a very real and longstanding impact on the worldview, hope, and peace that I now have.
For me, the loss, pain, loneliness, and what I interpreted as betrayal, was a critical step in the learning process of finding out there really is joy, peace, and love to be gained and experienced in this life and beyond.
Now, as a husband and father of two, I am certain that the great appreciation and fondness that I have for my life is more than it would have been had I not experienced what I have in the past. I needed to be left in the dark so that I could realize that there was a light.
“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know that it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.” -C.S. Lewis