There are seasons in one’s life when a thought just seems to chase you. No matter which way you turn, it is spoken to you in a fresh context: the passing comment of a friend, a book you are reading, a poster, or a segment of a film all echo the same thought. Its profundity and starkness in relation to present thinking hits you in stages, as you slowly realise that this is more than a passing thought, that the idea is an important part of your journey. Some of them hang around for quite a while, and become significantly formative in one’s thinking.
One such thought, dressed in a variety of clothes, first invaded my world as I shared with a dear lady over a period of eight months after she was diagnosed with liver cancer. In her last days she was resident in a palliative care unit. One visit shared with her was a painful one as she shared the futility of sitting each day passing time, waiting to die. Although everyone was looking after her with wonderful care, the passion for life found no place for expression. She needed something to give meaning to each day. In her comments I heard a common human voice searching for meaning, born of a realisation that life is about more than simply passing the days, regardless of he state of our health.
So much of what we call “making a living” seems to be little more than making money. Lives which are predictable, often repetitive, lacking any remarkable features. We may recognise a beauty around us, yet never finding a beauty or passion within. We often meet people, but never actually get to know them or share with them beyond the superficial. It is remarkably easy to live as if we will never die, and die as though we never lived.
In an exchange that took place with his mother every vacation during his college years, renowned author Chaim Potok recalls a formative moment in his own life. His mother wanted him to be a brain surgeon, considering that he was wasting his time wanting to be a writer. After all he could keep a lot of people from dying that way. Over the years this pressure mounted until one day Potok exploded: “Mama,” he cried, “I don’t want to keep people from dying. I want to show them how to live!”
Jesus came not to save us from death, but to release us into life: “I have come that you might have life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
Over the years we have accumulated experience and techniques to postpone death: we live longer, we die from fewer diseases (at least in the West), and we live more healthily. Yet at the same time we have lost the ability to truly live. How can we rediscover this passion?
November 14, 2004