Monday, June 13, 2005

The meaning of life

Tonight, I got an email from my brother and friend Rick L. over at a new life emerging. We both "met" a fellow blogger in England who's been sober a while, and yet has continued to struggle with demons from his past that have affected him in powerful ways. Rick pointed out a recent post by our mutual friend, which just all-but-screamed out frustration and anger - with life, with having to struggle, and for the seeming lack of care or concern from God as he understands God.

I'm sure that it's just coincidence that not two hours before I read this fellow's digital screm, I'd picked up Robert Fulghum's classic book It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, and was breezing over some of the stories I'd sticky-tagged in it for when I needed to find 'em. (Fulghum paints some amazing images - some hysterical, and some touching almost beyond description.)

The following are Fulghum's words - and yet they are also a testimony to my own life, and to the Power that has both saved me and driven me into the wilderness, time and time again.

Just to set the story, Fulghum is a younger man, studying Greek language and culture in Greece for the summer. Alexander Papderos had founded an institute devoted to healing the wounds of war on the island of Crete. At the end of a two-week conference, Dr. Papaderos asked, "Are there any questions?" And Fulghum, half-jokingly, asked, "What is the meaning of life?" Papaderos said, "I will answer your question," pulled a small round mirror out of his wallet, and said these words, which touched me deeply again after reading my friend's post. These are Fulghum's best remembrance of Papaderos' words:
"When I was a small child, living during the war [WWII], we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.

"I tried to find all the pieces and put them back together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy, and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine - in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

"I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light - truth, understanding, knowledge - is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

"I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the black places in the hearts of men - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."

And then he took out his small mirror, and holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of daylight streaming through the window and reflected them onto my face and onto my hands folded on the desk.
Now, you could choose to believe that at a time when I continue to struggle with "what to do with the rest of my life," that I picked up a book written 15 years ago, which I probably haven't looked at in four or five years, and found a testimony of what I hope my life could become in the decades-old memories of an encounter with a Greek peaceworker transcribed by a Unitarian minister two years before I got sober.

It could all be a coincidence.

It's also remotely possible that a tornado blowing through a junkyard could deposit a fully-assembled 727 airliner at the end of it, too.

But let's face it - how many times do you have to throw the parts of a bicycle into the air and have them come down by chance as a bicycle?

There is a Power greater than me - a God who has rarely given me what I wanted, a God who has rarely saved me from humbling, if not humiliation, when it's been necessary. But I believe that's also a God who loves me, and accepts me (even when I cannot), and has freed me from bondage (even from the things to which I continue to chain myself).

That Power - that Person - is not a genie, or the Shell Answer Man. That God rarely answers the question "why?" but almost always answers the question "what?" or "what next?"

What I need to focus on - starting in about 5 hours - is how I can reflect the Light of the World into the dark places of people's hearts - and how this Power will help me accomplish the work and play of this day.

If God can do this for me, God can be present to you. I know this to be true.

This is for you, Spencer...and also for my friend Drew. This may not be a prescription of how God will reach you - but it's a promise that in listening to you, and praying for you, God managed to reach me, yet again. And if it can happen for me, there is definitely hope for each of you. Peace, brothers...and sisters.


Poor Mad Peter said...

It's for all of us, Steve. Thanks, man.

Spencer said...

Thank you.

It's people like you that make it worth carrying on.


Rick said...

Right on, Steve. Beautiful.

Mychal said...

One of the things that was interesting about the soon-to-be-defunct television show, Joan of Arcadia, was that the things God told Joan to do seldom made sense to her until afterwards.

Something in scripture, isn't there, about Naaman being asked to something so God will cure his leprosy? Naaman is not happy with what seemed to him to be senseless direction and goes off in a huff, until a servant points out, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!" [II Kings 5:13]

Years ago a friend and I were discussing something we were both worried about. After tugging at it for a long time, I said, "Well, I guess we just have to leave it to God." "Oh, yeah!" my friend said, "Like he's done such a good job so far!"

He was (I'm pretty sure) joking. But that does sum up my attitude a lot of times. Like Woodie Allen saying he thinks of God as an underachiever. Yeah, like Woodie Allen's [or I've] done a great job so far...

Bar Bar A said...

Steve, amazing post, it seems to have encouraged Spence, I know it engouraged me. I just added another book to me ever-growing list: Robert Fulghum's "It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It:

:) God bless ya, Brother!!!

poor_enabled_teenage_ham said...

inspirational steve mate
let god be with you

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, Steve. I have to admit, I've shared your blog several times as a real life illustration, and to relate Fulghum's story. One example, posted on a harvard site: "Blogging is a most fascinating form of conversation with the replies coming as if by "snail mail" or via telegraph (dot dot dash dash dotdotdot), and never really knowing who it is that is replying to your broadcast of ideas. Blogging, indeed, is a writer's dream to engage people's imaginations and get them to think, perhaps, just a little bit differently than they did before reading your blog. Blogging reminds me of Robert Fulghum's "The Mirror" in which he relates his story as a young student who jokingly asks his Greek Professor "What is the meaning of life?" The answer, of course, is profound and will astound you. Take a look at: The Mirror - "I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world..." If you read this story, then you can easily draw the conclusion that blogging is a self-made mirror upon which we can focus our minds and shine it into the dark places of some people's minds and sometimes bring about a small change for the better. Yet, in another fascinating way, blogging is also a self-reflection, a mirrored image of ourselves, reflecting back to us via our own written words, betraying or illuminating who we really are and what we believe about ourselves. Who do you see in your mirror? I've been in the substance abuse field for many years, and have worked with addicts, addict's spouses, and their children. What I strive for so diligently is to be there at the exact moment when an addict's light switch is finally "flicked on," and they face their denial and addiction for the first time as if seeing themselves for who they really are, as if in a mirror, for the very first time. At this moment, the light of understanding floods into them, and they know that they must inevitably change or, perhaps, die from their addiction. I enjoyed reading your entry. Thank you. Warm regards, Gary Drug & Alcohol Treatment Centers and Directory

Keep up this great blog. I enjoy reading it.