I spoke with three people on Sunday whose life-as-usual had dead-ended. For two it was a life-altering illness. For the other it was a lost job. It was a typical Sunday, really—I suppose I stopped and talked to twenty people between three services, a parish picnic and a hospital call. These days, world unsettled as it is, more and more people talk to me about how the life they just expected to carry on, hasn’t.
Last week a woman was telling me about a client. In her consulting, she works with people who used to do one thing for a living, and it’s ended. Over. Now they have to do something else, or not pay the mortgage, not eat. The client was a “name” I knew. I’d seen his byline every week in a famous newspaper. Or I used to, anyway. Now he was trying somewhat frantically to do something new. “It’s amazing,” the consultant said to me, “how you can be on top of the world one day, and the next day you have nothing but a folder of all your old successes which no one cares about any more.” (Reminds me those lines from Robert Frost, “No memory of having starred/ Atones for later disregard,/ Or keeps the end from being hard.”)
There are a lot of people—famous and ordinary—who are at this juncture. The way forward is blocked. Frost again:
The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down in front of us is not to bar
Our passage to our journey’s end for good
But just to ask us who we think we are.
If you can only regard the crashing tree as a horrible mistake, an injustice that must be removed so that you can be on your wonted way, you will miss the power of this moment. You may throw yourself into getting rid of this “obstruction” and fail, only to end in bitterness. Or you may in fact succeed and get back on your way, but your success will be pyrrhic. This is an occasion to ask who you think you are. Is this the right road anyway? Have I been racing madly, mindlessly on this way? Is this a sign that a new path is about to open? Can I trust that?
Where we go, the path we take, is almost inconsequential. What matters now is how we go. God can bless and sanctify a thousand different paths for your one life, but only if you take the crashing tree as a moment to ask who you think you are.
Yes, David, very good. It’s not the obstruction but how we respond to it–that’s the key.
Reminds me of another Frost poem I know you know. It’s the one where a couple in horse-drawn carriage is interrupted in their nightime ride through a “pitch-dark, limitless grove.” This time there’s no tree in the road. This time, a man comes out of the darkness and stabs and kills the horse, and then as quickly as he’d come, disappears again into the darkness. The stunned couple sit for a moment. And then this is their conclusion: “We assumed that the man himself/ or someone he had to obey,/ wanted us to get down/ and walk the rest of the way.” And that’s the way the poem ends.
No drama. No hysteria. But immediate, sudden and radical acceptance of the gift the obstruction gave. I have imagined the couple, walking contentedly, arm in arm, on the dirt road home.
Susie Middleton says
Acceptance is the key. So hard to do–to be okay with where we are right now and to have faith that change brings opportunity. Wish I could send this to a few people!!