Friday, June 26, 2015

Walking, and Pondering the Meaning of Life

Yesterday morning, I took my usual walk--the daily four-mile walk that is part of my grand plan for making my osteoporatic bones become more healthy--along the shore of Lake Champlain.
It was a glorious morning here in Chazy, NY--sunny, breezy, not the least bit humid.  Not long after I set off, I saw the happiest sight: two young boys in swim trunks and life vests, newly released from school for summer vacation, playing on the rocks on the shore of the lake, watching their father install a dock.  I smiled, thinking how wonderful it is to be a kid in the summer, with nothing but freedom and fun ahead for the next couple of months.

But then I realized that the boys' father was submerged up to his shoulders in the lake as he worked, and he'd left a small four-wheel all-terrain vehicle idling up on the side of the road, right near the rocky spot where his boys were playing.  And right away, my imagination began to run away with me, creating all sorts of terrifying scenarios.  What if the four-wheeler's gear shift suddenly switched into "drive" on its own, and mowed down those boys?  What if they ran away in fear and tripped on the rocks, falling head-first into the lake, unconscious?  What if I needed to try to save one of them, because their father became incapacitated himself?

As these thoughts rushed through my brain at break-neck speed, I decided that yes, I would gladly risk my life to save those young boys--complete strangers to me, but my brothers in Christ.  Even if I died doing so, I thought, that would be okay.  More than okay, in fact, for that might be just the selfless action that could help this sinful soul of mine find its way to Heaven.

Wow, right?  Sunny day, happy kids squealing in delight at the water's edge, with their dad right nearby...where did these dark imaginings come from?!  And these grandiose thoughts of heroic rescues?

Anyway, I moved on, trying to clear my head of scary images.  And I started ruminating on an aspect of myself that I'm not particularly proud of.  While moments ago I had contemplated dying to save young lives, I was struck by the thought that I have had a lot of trouble lately dying to self when it comes to dealing with someone who is actually very close to me, someone I love.  I was reminded of a passage from one of my all-time favorite novels, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair.  The heroine of that story, who has a conversion experience after a near-tragedy and promises God that in return for His mercy she will give up the man with whom she is having an affair, is writing in her journal about the inconsistency of her feelings: how can she tell the Lord that she wants to suffer as He suffered on one hand, and yet not even be able to stand spending a couple of hours in the grating company of her husband (whom she has never loved the way she loves the man she gave up) on the other?  Yikes.  "That's me," I thought.  "I SAY I want to carry big, heavy Crosses; but then I don't like the small, light ones God sends me--and I can barely lift them, much less carry them."

I was also reminded of the admonition in C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters:  "Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  So true.  And just as Hell can be reached by small sins, repeated over and over until they separate us from God, so too can Heaven be reached by small acts of mortification and self-sacrifice--by practicing St. Therese's "Little Way of Spiritual Childhood."  Anyone, no matter how small, can practice this "Little Way," I remind myself of this all the time.  And then I pass up perfect opportunities to do so.

With my head in the clouds, I walked a tad farther than my usual two-mile mark, so I checked the GPS on my phone to see how far I was from my mom and dad's house.   I saw that I was 2.1 miles from "home," so I turned around to head back.  And that's when I saw it: a signpost.

I've seen a lot of interesting historical marker signs in my walks around Chazy (some of which I shared with you in this recent post), but I'd never seen this one--and I would have missed it entirely, hidden there in the trees by the side of the road, if I hadn't walked too far, too busy pondering the meaning of life to turn around when I usually do.  Right as I changed directions, there it was.
It was like a sign.  Literally.  And it overlooked a small Catholic graveyard--just what I needed to see as I was contemplating life and death, sin and redemption.
Talk about a reminder of the true meaning of life: that the purpose of this very short one we get to have here on earth is to live in such a way that we can be with God in the next one, the one that lasts forever.  That's the goal, and if I want to reach it...I better learn how to carry my little daily crosses with greater faith, hope, and most of all LOVE.

[On a side note: I loved seeing that this area was the site of the first Catholic church in Northeastern NY, built in 1790.  If you read Erin's Ring, you know that it is in part the story about Dover, NH's first Catholic church (home of the second-oldest parish in the state), built in 1830 by Irish immigrants.]