On this Sunday morning
On this Sunday morning. There is a chill in the air. The autumn sun filters through the leaves that are battling to hold on to the chlorophyll as each leaf dies in a glory of color and it falls off. Eventually each leaf, on its own, no longer sustained by the community of the tree, meets its own personal death. Death is personal, isn’t it? In the end all the relationships, all that you thought you did, comes down to the ground to be swept away and be burnt in a heap of leaves. As I see the leaves fall it reminds me that we too will fall, some sooner than others, and when the fall comes will there be regrets, at the moment when the fall comes, will there be a moment of satisfaction that claims, “hey that was a good innings, had fun.” What is a good innings? As I sit on this wrought iron picnic table and watch the leaves come down, I wonder. What have I done for me lately? Many may have this question, but we do not want to confront it. Because we are caught up in the way we are perceived. A bondhu put it well recently, “you've been born with a kind and deeply caring heart. YOu like to help people in extraordinary ways. Some people can misinterpret that trait in you.” Indeed the misinterpretation, mine, and theirs. Can it be simplified into the troubling question that a learned colleague and bondhu asks, “what would your life be like if no one acknowledged your existence?” When you voluntarily retreat, even for 24 hours, and you realize that for that time period, some of those you care for may not even notice that you are gone. What will your life be like if there is not a single message on WhatsApp, when you realize the redundancy of yourself, the complete irrelevance of your existence. I tell my students to turn off their phone for 24 hours – message no one – see what happens. They shudder. Deep inside we all have to confront the terror that a twenty-four hour retreat can slowly become a complete retreat, at that moment it forces the engagement with the question” “What have you done for yourself lately?” We are trained not to ask this question. An irony of the way we have created our connections. Sometimes the disappearance of this question leads to the false sense that whatever we do for others is indeed meaningful, and the ability to answer the question, “Where Art Thou?” is more vital than answering any other question. Then, sometimes the realization sets in, that when someone is seeking you it is only for transactional reasons. Once the transaction is over, the “Here I am” response is forgotten. The one who desperately asked the question just a moment ago, now goes away satisfied with the completion of the transaction. The regret is mistaking a pure transaction to be anything else – friendship, adoration, love – anything other than the “quid pro quo” of the Silence of the Lambs. It is only when there is evidence in the other direction, that a transaction becomes a relationship where the “Here I am” has a resonance other than the transaction. I see it with my students. In my calling, I have always believed that it is my duty to be there – present and available – and only once in a while there will be that single student – after several semesters of transactionals, who will actually ask me the question, “How are you doing today?” A question that is increasingly disappearing in a transactional World. Perhaps it is the “white hair” that is writing today while the teenager wants to keep believing, like all teenagers do, that it is not all transactional. At such moments of conflict between the white hair and the teenage, you wonder whether Campbell was right in saying, “Just shine your light for everyone to see.” Or whether the more appropriate position is what a bondhu stated to me recently, that Campbell’s light only leads to “complications and unforeseen challenges.” Sometimes time will tell. You wait. Sometimes you will know in 24 hours, sometimes you will not know in a lifetime. And then the autumn sun starves out the leaf and it falls. After that, it really does not matter.