Wednesday, August 03, 2011

My Kind of People

Anyone who can operate a library with an impressive, ever-changing inventory in the year 2011 with an old-fashioned card-catalog is my kind of people. My guess is that they are no longer able to order these precious catalog cards because every few days a new list would appear on the adjacent table with titles, authors, and dewey decimal numerals. No new cards. I was thrilled to thumb through those ancient drawers, watch the dust mites rise from each one, and smile with child-like glee whenever I would discover another gem of a volume to peruse. I cannot remember the last time I had to pull the card out of the back of a book, write in my name, the date, and leave it in a box on a table. A library and a bookstore in the same building that run on THE HONOR CODE? What kind of world had I entered? Oh, yea. A world populated by my kind of people.

Anyone who can enter a dining hall, choose one's food, utensils, beverage, dessert, find a seat at a table, pray, eat, dispose of one's used items and food scraps, and retire from that dining hall without speaking a word is my kind of people. There was none of the inane small talk that always happens when we find ourselves encircled by unknown people: what's your name? where are you from? what do you do? how many children do you have? seen any good movies lately? read any good books? isn't it a shame what happened to so-and-so? how about those knuckleheads in Washington? Nope, none of that.

Some people read. Others, like me, journaled. Actually, I don't recall seeing anyone else journaling or taking photos in the dining room... but the fact that no one seemed to think I was strange for doing any of the strange things I like to do while eating, the fact that such deep honor was given to silence meant that I was safely surrounded by my kind of people.

Before and after meals, during and following rainstorms, in the heat of midday, in the cool of the evening hours, we took turns occupying these chairs, sitting in these portico archways, reading, writing, praying, just staring off into the distance. Naps. Snacks. Coffee. Silence.  Some people walked in the rain. Others pulled their chairs back and stayed dry. Some pulled the chairs out under the trees. Others made regular adjustments in order to stay in the sunlight. Rosary beads shifted in gnarled hands. Book pages flapped in the breeze. Pens clicked. As did my camera shutter. These self-contained, seeking, silent people were my kind of people.

Just outside the front door of the center where I stayed, there was a path leading down a hill towards the Jesuit cemetery. Just outside the back door of the center was another path that led down towards the same cemetery. I thought: it doesn't matter which path you take from this building or even in life. We are all headed down that hill. We all will end up at the foot of that hill. The question is - which path are we taking? How is the journey going? 

There has been a fair amount of talk in evangelical Christian circles lately about heaven and hell and whether or not anyone will be in hell throughout eternity. Books have been written. Videos have been made. Arguments and counterarguments have heated up, cooled, and reheated again. Is there life after death or not? Where will you be? Where will I be? Who decides? Who knows for sure? How can you know for sure? 

The truth is that none of us knows exactly what awaits us. We read big books and little books and ponder and interpret and decide and try to win other people over to our side of the debate with withering logic, guilt-inducing tirades, and babbling nonsense. We believe what we believe. We try to disprove what other people believe. But in the end, we have to wait until the end to see for ourselves what the end will be. 

As I walked those two paths down towards, into, through, and away from that cemetery several times last week, I spent very little time thinking about whether or not there was life after death. I was far more concerned with how I will choose to live life before my death. Will I spend an inordinate amount of time wondering about a future that I know very little about or spend my time being here, being present, loving the ones I love, forgiving the ones I judge, and forgiving myself for spending so much time judging so many instead of loving them? Will I love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, love my neighbor, and finally learn to love myself? Or will I dedicate my few remaining years to finding ways to hate people I don't like or understand, justify my mean-spirited wishes for the suffering of those whose opinions I disagree with and whose life stories I have no idea of, and top all that off by hoping that they spend eternity in hell? 

People too busy figuring out how to live this life for the greater glory of God and the greater good of those around them to worry about whether or not their theology on hell is right - those are my kind of people.

Saint Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, the one who faithfully prayed, wrote, read the Bible, served his community, shared his vision of God and his understanding of God's Word to a few faithful companions during his lifetime and whose legacy has affected many generations of men and women in the past 500+ years - now that man was my kind of people. I am enormously grateful for his witness to the love, mercy, grace, and creativity of God and for how much he has influenced my life.

Willing, loving, present, available, obedient, transparent Mother Mary. She became more of an inspiration, a role model, and friend to me this past week. A woman whose heart I want to understand better and whose gentleness, courage, and strength I pray to attain.

And her son, the one whose name brings me peace, whose stories give me wise counsel to follow, and whose life, death, and resurrection give me hope, whose never-ending forgiveness and never-changing love - the one with the biggest and most sacred heart of all - Jesus and his sweet mother, Mary, are my kind of people.

Every morning, as I waited my turn to go forward to receive the eucharist, I would watch the men and women before me in line. Some limped. Others pushed walkers. Some wore thick glasses. Some smiled. Some looked somber. Some bowed. Some stood upright and strong. One or two were younger than I am. Most were markedly older. Some were priests, some nuns. Most of them, I had no idea who they were or what their stories were.

One morning in particular, I spent much of the time of the liturgy thinking about the fact that I knew only three people in the room, and two of them I had met only briefly before the retreat began. I knew nothing about most of these people. And in silence, I was not likely to learn much any time soon. As I watched, as I thought, as I prayed, I became convinced that I know precious little about anyone in my life. There are always far more stories than we ever have time to tell, and the majority of the ones we tell are crafted and delivered in ways that make ourselves look pretty good. There will always be secrets held closely, embarrassing moments never told aloud, painful ones never broached, and more stories forgotten than we would ever have the time to tell. And I realized that it doesn't matter. It never really has.

What matters is that whoever you are, wherever you come from,
as I walk, as you limp,
as they sit, as we pray,
as she eats, as he travels,
as we all work, as we all live,
as we love, as we die,
whatever we do, we are all one people.
One kind of people: all wanting to be loved,
remembered, honored,
cherished, chosen.

That day in the moment of receiving the bread and the cup,
the symbols of the one body broken for us,
I realized that we are all one body, broken, wounded, bleeding internally.
Each of us. All of us. Without exception.
I realized that they were all my kind of people.
As are you.


Launa said...

Gail, I love this love this love this. Then again, you are my kind of people. Exactly.

And, as you know, I firmly believe that Heaven (and Hell) is where we find it, and create it for those around us.

Sounds like you found your slice of Heaven.

Lisa said...

This is amazingly and profoundly beautiful!

Amen. And Amen.

Tricia said...

The true salt of the earth people. Our entire world needs more silence. Thank you for sharing such a personal treasure.

Monee said...

Beautifully written.