It’s going to be warm this weekend

July 2, 2010

Our first weekend in Saint Louis was the weekend of July 4th. We had been married a week … a new life in a newly adopted city … and everything was fun, new, fresh, and filled with excitement and anticipation.

Saint Louis gave us a warm welcome. In fact, every 4th of July in Saint Louis is either hot and muggy or hot, muggy and rainy. Quite a shock, actually, for two people from the land of the people with “blond hair and blue ears,” (a comment made by Lou Holtz when he left Arkansas in 1984 to coach at Minnesota).

The 4th was on a Saturday in 1964, and the go-to fireworks display in those days was at Francis Field on the campus of Washington University, one of the venues for the 1904 Olympics. Riverfront displays would have to wait until after the Arch was completed in October of the following year.

That first year for us was also the bi-centennial celebration for the City of Saint Louis, and a special flag was flying from poles everywhere.

In addition to a new life and a new city, the Monday following that first weekend was to be my first day at work and the start of my professional career. Lots of change at one time: the two of us had graduated from college, gotten married, and moved away from home (the first time for both of us) over a period of a little more than 3 weeks. And then the need to get to work to earn a living. An adventure? You bet!

So, here I sit many years later, on the other side of both of our careers, and well into our retirement years. And it’s going to be warm this weekend … very warm.

I’ve been reading the writings of Thomas Merton off and on over the past few years. James Finley’s book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, has been a useful guide, and I just finished my second reading.

There is a quote from Merton on page 144 of Finley’s book that spoke to me this morning:

There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.

“My existence, my peace, my happiness,” I get that. All the living and loving since that 4th of July weekend many years ago has been the beginning of molding and drawing forth a self I was not seeking, nor could I have imagined.

Career ups and downs, family joys and sorrows, reading , learning, exploring, engaging, have helped me understand the importance of others and the seeming insignificance of what Finley calls the ego-self.

He says, with a quote from Merton, that the ego-self’s “existence has meaning in so far as it does not become fixated or centered upon itself as ultimate, learns to function not as its own center but ‘from God’ and ‘for others.’”

I’m not so sure I would understand what that means if I had stayed within my comfort zone over the last 20 years. Encountering people in areas outside of my comfort zone has exposed me to many circumstances of great deprivation, discouragement, loneliness, poverty, psychological dysfunction, addiction, obsession, feelings of abandonment and despair. What can one do in such situations but grow in awareness and sensitivity of the lives of others?

There are times when my only reaction, my only response, has been to simply listen. I am either employing good pastoral technique, or I am struck dumb in the face of such hopeless situations. It is difficult to discern which in any given moment.

Retirement presents, to me, a clear choice between simply keeping busy and having something to do, something that can contribute to continued growth in myself as well as in those whom I encounter.

I am grateful I am able to choose the latter. It seems to me that making that retirement choice, or even realizing that there is a choice to be made, is the work of God’s grace … allowing the Other to help me see things differently.

Being comfortable and playing in leisure when so many are truly suffering all day and everyday doesn’t mesh with my understanding of what we are called to do in this life. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy fishing, a good book or movie, stretching out and listening to music, going for an early morning run, enjoying a meal out with friends. But keeping things in perspective and maintaining a balance are important to me.

That’s what I’m thinking about as we enter this weekend of celebration and remembrance. I just put our flag out by the front door where it is blowing in today’s warm Saint Louis breeze. The red, white, and blue against the trees and sky is a thing of beauty and hope.

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