Posted in musings, poems, quotes

success

It’s easy to feel like a failure when you don’t have a clear picture of what your success would be.

In the academic sphere where I work, success is measured as the achievement of either a PhD and a professorship or a competitive job in the biotech industry. And here I am with a bachelors and seven years of experience as nothing more than a technician, without even a good salary to show for it. Does that make me a failure?

When well-meaning adults see talents they admire in children, they often forecast futures of greatness related to those talents – so a musical parent might overpraise her musically inclined children but ignore the athletic achievements of her other child. One of my friend’s moms always said that she thought I could find a cure for breast cancer. But I’m not pursuing that path, and will probably never have a scientific breakthrough to my name – does that make me a failure?

Many of the moms I admire online and in person, advocates of respectful parenting and unschooling, both Christians and not, emphasize the difficulty of raising children with freedom and dignity when both parents are working outside the home. And I’m caught between my desire for their best and the exercise of my own skills and gifts. I’ve worked their whole lives, so far – does that make me a failure?

I still don’t know what success looks like for me, or what it will look like for my children, but I found a poem this week that gives, I think, a good foundational definition to build on.

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Posted in musings, poems, quotes

remembering Christmas

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendor is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all –
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate –
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

Christmas is past, but it need not be forgotten. How do we move forward from Christmas and carry it within us as we go? Chesterton hints at the answer here, I think: that it is to continually throw ourselves downward, as did God Himself in the Incarnation, in love, service, sacrifice, and humility. It is those who are afraid of falling who fall in the worst way possible; those who cast themselves into the downward rush of grace will find they have nothing to fear in even the farthest fall and the greatest humiliation. One of C.S.Lewis’s most powerful images comes to my mind, here, from The Great Divorce: that of the great waterfall in Heaven, thunderous and beautiful, which is more than just a waterfall, standing as one crucified, pouring himself over the edge in glorious self-giving.

That is God. That is Christmas. And that is how we ought to live in God long after the songs and nativities are packed away and out of sight: because His plunge to servitude and sacrifice doesn’t end with the season.

Posted in musings, poems

side by side in the common good

What is the duty of the person who sees injustice, oppression, or need, and has some ability to protest or make amends?

Is it to step daintily around the problem, hoping that the filth and blood will leave your feet unstained?

Is it to click a few “Likes” on a Facebook page, or write a vaguely angry status, and then move on to happier thoughts without even a prayer?

Is it to give thanks for your own more comfortable situation, and avoid the suffering that your happiness may not be lessened by their pain?

Of course not.

It’s easy to see that, on paper; it’s harder to see it happening in your life, everyday, in the major decisions and the small choices: in your quickened steps and averted gaze as you walk past the homeless man with the cardboard sign; in your fear of personal heartache that prevents you from fostering or adopting a child in need; in your unobtrusive isolation from the other in jobs, neighborhoods, and churches made up of people who look and think like you. Every little thing builds up, until one day you have completely blinded your mind and numbed your heart to the ache of the world around you, content in your own personal happinesses, and you don’t even realize the small and withered thing you have made of yourself and your life – your one precious and beautiful life, that could have been a source of good to better the whole world.

In the 1950s, a poet named Maurice Ogden wrote a poem called The Hangman about a village where everyone is murdered, one by one, by an ominous hangman of whom they all live in fear. Each time another is hung, the rest of the villagers sigh in relief and continue with their lives, until at last only the narrator of the poem is left – and he realizes that the hangman has now come for him as well:

“…’I answered straight and I told you true,
‘This scaffold was raised for none but you.

‘For who has served me more faithfully
‘Than you with your coward’s hope?’ said he,
‘And where are the others who might have stood,
‘Side by your side in the common good?’

‘Dead,’ I whispered; and amiably,
‘Murdered,’ the Hangman corrected me.
‘First the alien, then the Jew…
‘I did no more than you let me do.'”

“Side by your side in the common good” – for we are not solitary and independent creatures, no matter how much our culture values individualism and autonomy. We need each other. We need to receive help from each other, and we need to give help to each other, both for the common good of our community and for the private good of our own soul. It is so easy to let our fear and our desire for comfort and convenience shutter us away from the needs and gifts of other people, especially people not quite like ourselves, but it leads to broken homes, neighborhoods of strangers, and the general fragmenting of society that is so painfully being put on display this election season.

I write this not as someone who is living this out well, and has the answers figured out. To be honest with you, I’m only just beginning to see how my own fear and selfishness have prevented me from following God boldly in the midst of a broken and hurting world. Will you come join with me, hand in hand, to learn again how to share our hurts, carry each other’s burdens, and sing each other’s songs of joy and of lament?

Posted in musings, poems

Peace coming

When will there be peace? When we look at one another and say,

“You are different from me, and I respect those differences. There is beauty in them.

“You are the same as me, and I rejoice in our sameness. There is beauty in it.

“Let us embrace each other, brother, because there is more that binds us together than divides us. You are human and I am human: you are my brother and my sister, my mother and my father, my daughter and my son.

“Let us sing in unison; let us sing in harmony; let even our dissonances be part of a greater beauty in our human song.

“Let there be peace, and let there be more than peace, between us, for this baby is come on Christmas Day for you and for me, in all of our individuality, to weave all the disparate threads of our stories into the great story of humanity, to lead us in the way of peace.”

Posted in poems

summer rain

raindrops falling

on the concrete, on the street

springing off the surface of the swimming pools

we catch them on our tongues

dancing in the downpour

rejoicing in summer’s reprieve

the world is new again

we are new again

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