Reflections on the Gift of Life

I suppose that since I’ve entered that segment of life that the institution for which I work designates as, “Phased-Retirement”, I might be accused by some as having too much time on my hands. These thoughts I set forth here are indeed a product of that free gratis that I like to call, “time for reflection.”

Only six weeks have passed since my new phase kicked off, and already I have to say – I love it! Not because I like not going to work. I actually love teaching at the university level. But more so because the time has allowed me breathing space for reading, traveling, exploring various ideas and other avenues for fulfillment – all those things that work and a savings account can create for someone. Now with these degrees of freedom, I’m truly faced with those sweet existential plumbs known as, “choices.” The feeling is one of having new paths thrown open before me. One might call them beginnings. And beginnings have always excited me. These fresh choices of new beginnings have helped me realize something else that I tend, unfortunately, to forget much too often.

Life is a gift. And it’s one I believe that we need to delve into it with everything we’ve got, however we define that for ourselves. We are here; then we are not. Whatever one may believe transpires afterwards, this space-time reality we’re in right now is the one we have – for right now. I can’t help but wonder what I’m called to do with this time.

But there’s another side. How many countless millions of people face circumstances in which it’s hard for them to fathom life as a gift? They see no place that life can take them; nor do they have a view of a future where there might be possibilities for delving full-throttle into life. They exist now in places all over the world where oppression, disease, and death are the rule rather than the exception. History is replete with their horrifying stories from Gulags and genocides to famine and starvation. There “choices” are about mere survival. And then there are those who have faced such horrifying circumstances, yet emerge from them with a full-blown belief that life, yes, indeed, is a gift. It seems sometimes that those who have experienced the darkest of times can emerge from that darkness with the view that life is worth all the choices we can muster. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Viktor Frankl, Elie Wiesel come to mind as examples of those who garnered strength from shattered circumstances. There are many others, and their stories have been told. I remember a line from the movie, Doctor Zhivago, uttered by Julie Christie’s character, Lara: “This is such a terrible time to be alive.” My present circumstances, to be quite frank, are easy. I do not live in what I perceive to be terrible times. Yet harsh realities are all around: terrorism, war, Ebola, an economy on the edge of an abyss. Situations can change in the blink-of-an-eye. Yet it doesn’t take catastrophes for me to easily forget the gift of life. Taking life for granted is a human flaw. I hope that my present circumstances, blessed as they are, do not blind me to the fact I must take hold of the advantages I have to obtain the kind of life I want for myself. Given human nature, blessings can lead to complacency. And wrapped in complacency, I can let slip by, unnoticed, all the incredible opportunities and amazing paths for discovery and experience that life has to offer. It’s an easy thing to do. Complacency is an easy chair that beckons lazy bones.

Time compresses the living. It seeks to teach us that it always surges forward. It doesn’t pause, stop, nor turn back. At first it seems unending, wide, broad, flexible, and deep. But then it begins to bear down on one with the question: How much of it do I have left? It’s not a question that anyone can answer, so I’m not sure that it’s one worth asking. What is worthwhile is the pursuit of life and all that it has to offer and throw at us. Time compresses the living always. We just don’t notice time until something makes us notice it. The full engagement of life is as important for an eighteen-year-old as it is for me at sixty-seven years old. Time bears down. One day we turn around and it slaps us in the face with the raw fact that it always has been working that way. While time is never-ending, on this side of time, we are not. If we are blessed with having “choices”, we had better look into what it means to make the best of them.

What do you want to do with your life? What dreams do you hold that set your soul ablaze when you think about them? What values do you hold to your core that you want to define you by the way you live them out? What wild ideas do you have that you would love to take hold of and race after, even when everyone else might be saying, take caution? Caution, advice, and wise counsel are necessary things for living. But take care that words of so-called wisdom come not from those who kill dreams. The killers of the dream are all around us. Sound wisdom helps us discern those we can trust from those we can’t when it comes to seeking help with our life decisions. But at the crossroads of living, the choice of which road to take belongs to each one of us alone.

Life is a gift. Step into it as one. And discover all it has to offer you. If you are blessed with having choices, seize them, weigh them, and then make them. And never stop learning from them. The gift of life is what you have now. All that lays before you are your choices to make of it what you will.

I suppose that at this phase of my life, such thoughts as these emerge from that pull that calls me to reflect on the signposts that have marked my paths. But to reflect on what kind of life you want for yourself is worthwhile at any phase of life.

Meanwhile, time bears down.

John V. Jones, Jr. Ph.D., LPC-S/October 14, 2014