Saturday, May 01, 2010

God's Ways

I remember sitting on the curb in front of our house on Surrey Lane. I was five, maybe six years old and Bobby my friend and Jimmy my twin were sitting next to me. The curb was very close to the ground back then. It was much easier to sit on it. It has moved somewhat since then. I should try it sometime but there are not many curbs around here.
We were watching a line of ants moving near our feet. They moved in a single row and were obviously going somewhere from someplace and had a way of knowing from whence they came to where they were going. And the sky was blue and we were wearing shorts and the kind of sneakers, I think they were called Keds, that they do not sell anymore. I am sure we were not thinking about the meaning of life, or what lay ahead. We were very young and our thoughts were as young. It was a dead-end street and we knew a lot of people on that street and I guess it was easier to know people back then. There were a lot of kids, and we got to know their families through them. The kids were outside for a good part of the day, for that is where we played and got to know each other. We had no idea back then as to what that meant, the getting to know other people. It was just a natural thing that happened, like breathing and blinking. Its importance was as real back then but we were not at an age to need words for it. But it came, the friendship, and it was ours and good nonetheless.
My world back then was already imbued with Catholicism. Not everyone on Surrey Lane was Catholic and that lack of the “true” faith already placed “them” in a kind of suspicious light. We were told in school that they could not be saved. We knew that there was one Jewish kid and all the rest of the non-Catholics were lumped together as Protestants. Little did we know that there were also Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Quakers and a whole world out there of pagans, infidels, apostates and lapsed people. We would find out about these much later. But they were already there, waiting be discovered and labeled. It would take me a long time to realize that there is something good about the YMCA and the Salvation Army. But the nuns did not tell us that back then.
Time passed. We moved to New Jersey and I remember sitting in the car with Greg, my friend from those days. We used to drive all over town on summer nights and then park in a place called Bond’s where all the kids used to hang out. We sat there and talked but mostly looked at the passing cars and people as they cruised through the parking lot. We tried to look cool, talk cool and act cool. Well, everybody did back then. It was the cool thing to do.
Years passed and I was in my thirties. Coolness had long faded as an appeal. Maybe what it gave way to was a search for meaning, for some kind of intelligent mode of being on the planet. Time changes things. Surrey Lane and Bobby were distant memories. Jimmy was killed in a car accident and Greg had long since married and moved to California and I think he is still out there, somewhere near Los Angeles.
In my later and maybe more mature years my best friend was Frank. We are still friends but we live far apart from each other. I liked to sit in a big Mall with him. He was easy to be with and we never had to fill the silence with words. So we sat there and had French Fries and soda and watched the people pass by. Skinny people, fat people, old and young people. Believers and non-believers, heathens and the alleged pure of heart.
We were priests, me and Frank. Set apart, sort of, from the rest of humanity and sitting on chairs in the big Food Emporium, watching people pass and wondering about salvation and often grumbling about religion and other priests.
Time passed. Frank left the Roman Catholic version of priesthood and became an Episcopalian priest and got married and is living the truth as best as he knows it and I am glad about that. I may give him a ring later. Or write a letter to him. We still keep in touch and I miss the Mall experience with him. It was the closest thing I had to a curb and sunshine, those years with Frank. I live in a Trappist monastery now, am a monk and I sit every morning for half an hour in our beautiful but darkened church and think, maybe pray, about things. Is there a difference? I do not know. I often I think of Bobby, Greg and Frank and Jimmy and wonder about them and things in general. I thought about them this morning and about curbs and cars and Malls, about love and friendship, passages time, death and loss. It can really hurt if I go deep in myself with all that. I cannot get back what is gone, and I miss it because it was so good. I never looked for it or asked for it. It all came in due time, at birth, as a twin, and then on curbs and in Malls and cars.
I cannot get all that specific about the meaning of life. That may surprise a lot of people, since I am a professional and “degreed” religious. But perhaps those traits have made me ponder all the more this mystery of life and how truly unfathomable it is. Ants can move faithfully in a straight line. I have moved so waywardly. But in spite of that waywardness, whatever meaning there is came to me and I am glad about that. And the gladness soothes the hurt a bit. It eases the ache of loving, chatting, and losing. All the while I was drawn into friendship, that wondrous gift I found on lowly curbs and in the higher hills of Georgia.
And so I risk a prayer on this cloudy and early May morning. Or, perhaps it is a mere thought, which I ask rise as prayer. Were you there, God, on that curb, with my twin and my friends, and, as the years passed, with Greg and everyone at Bonds, and, even later, in all those people at the Mall with their different shapes and persuasions? If you see the world, you do so with all the eyes that have ever gazed and wondered. If the best you offer me is friendship, you sure have been generous with it. I trust that. I can see with it, in a lasting way. And I think more is to come. It will come without my asking for it or planning it or even hoping for it. After so many years, I must say that I have learned that friendship is the one abiding and good thing in life, if not the very best thing. How simple a thing, really, and how “there” it was all the time. I did not know it but that does not seem to matter.
Good things do not come because we have to know about them.
They arrive, as near as children sitting near each other on a curb, watching the ants go by, and not yet realizing that even the smallest of creatures have a place they need to go ahead of them and are guided by the God who created them.
God gives ways to all things.
We grow, and are given friends, and get to where we need to go, guided by a love given everywhere we go, revealing itself through the ways of friendship.

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