On Saturday morning I had coffee with a woman who became a dear friend when I served in Newton – it was good to catch up, as well as to have someone to pray with, if only briefly before our shared foodstuffs. From there I went to see one of my faves in Newton, a now 96 year old woman whose outlook on life, whose spirit and humor, have always blessed me. Her first question was “Are you permanently on vacation now?” Yes, I told her, “I am now retired.” Second question was this: “What will you do with your life?” I wrote on a notepad (because her hearing is poor) “That’s a REALLY good question!” And after she read that she told me she had already forgotten the question – and that gave rise to laughter from both of us! She then gave me this pearl of wisdom: “Do what makes you happy.” From the lips of God…
Interestingly the chapter I had read yesterday morning before these visits was the one called “A Time to Laugh.” The author, Joan Chittister shares that the writer of Ecclesiastes “…was talking about that airing of the soul, that breath of the spirit that comes in the irrepressible awareness of the incomprehensible, the impossible, and the disjunctive – a dog who can play cards or a God who cannot play golf. Laughter marks the moment when all the rules of life fail and the world does not end, when the playing field of life is leveled and serfs laugh at kings and queens take pratfalls in farmer’s yards, when children confound their parents and the little people of the world win the day.”
She observes that one of the obstacles to the presence of laughter in life comes with preoccupation with perfectionism. Guilty! I understand that we are each formed by genetics and by environment – and in that curious mix we make our response to life. I do not believe my mother “made” me believe I needed to be perfect – the well behaved child who did not require correction or did not create aggravation, but nonetheless I internalized that feeling. And shaking that sense of doing all things right, without error, is a life’s work to undo. Chittister says “These are brittle types who cannot afford to take anything lightly for fear they find themselves more human than marble.” I continue to try to learn the freedom of flexibility that knows I can fall, fail, falter –and not break, and indeed not break hearts or undo the world in that bending. She continues, “Once we learn to laugh and play, we will have come closer to understanding our laughing and playing God. The God of ridiculous promises is a God who laughs, a God to be laughed at and laughed with, until that moment when all pain washes away and only the laughter of God is left to be heard in the heavens.”
My 96 year old friend observed yesterday that when we get together we always find things to laugh about, to laugh from deep within. And she observed that if we could not do that, we would crumble in the face of the challenges of life. I pray I might – like she has already – learn this lesson well.
(Note: I have added three new poems to the poetry page - including one for dog lovers!)