Life - A Gift, and Maybe a Surprise

LIFE is a gift. (Did you ask for it?) Unwrapping it, on the other hand, is a do-it-yourself process. Sometimes we also discover that some assembly is required.  

This letter invites you to think about two stories—perspectives by two brothers on the unwrapping-plus-assembly experience we all deal with every day. These will be followed by Reflections, which I hope you will also enjoy! 

Story One: Walking Distance: finding creativity through space

The first story is a musing on creativity, distance, and perspective. Click the image below to read it (opens the blog from Occasional Chaos in a new window.)

Story Two: A Silver Lining

The second story considers an early lesson in honesty with a lifelong return. (Click the image below to open the Columbus Dispatch story in a new window.)

Part Three: A Reflection

These stories came to my attention within days of each other, as if crying out to be connected, and so possibly open up a new reality.   

“Yeah?” was one skeptical response. “One tells about walking in nature, the other spotlights a youngster in a coin shop. How would anybody tie two such different stories together?”

Actually, I’m not the one to pull them together. They exist in connectedness; it’s the way the world works. Creativity—the point of the first story—and honesty—the heart of the second—are like brothers or sisters. They’re part of the same family. And that has been true ever since the world began.

Think of it this way: water lapping at the shoreline, the scudding clouds overhead, even your pet dog—all exist outside the realm of what we call values consciousness. The lettuce in your salad never bothers its head over questions of creativity or honesty. For us humans, however, it’s very different.  We keep raising deep-probing questions, often beginning with Why? or How? or Who? or even Why not? And when we ask and struggle and seek, scientific insight, technological advance, faith and ethical action are never far behind. Searching for creativity is key to who we are as human beings.

So is honesty. In more primitive times, let’s say you have just lost your last livestock. No insurance company comes to your aid; they haven’t been invented. No supply of food will appear from a freezer—same reason. With the prospect of seeing his children starve and painfully die, many a luckless herdsman surely did the one thing he could do: grab somebody else’s food. It is in that context that we come to understand a loftier law: Do not steal. Respect other people’s property. Give back what does not rightfully belong to you.

Did I say creativity and honesty belong together? Actually they are part of a larger family: respect for other people and for the Earth, a sense of solidarity with the whole creation, or cosmos, an eagerness to side with truth and justice and mercy and hope and transparency rather slip back into ways of supposing “I am so important that it doesn’t matter that I cheat on my exams or in business, or how I get whatever I want.“ Many people stand out along this upward path: Moses, who brought us the Ten Commandments, setting the cornerstone for a civil society. Jesus of Nazareth who, in his unwrapping the gift of life effectively announced, “The past is prologue. Get ready for what’s even now on the way. Out with the old walls of narrow nationalism and ethnic identity, of sect and social class and petty politics; the time is here to welcome the New Day in which all are accepted as neighbors and can participate in the good life.” Mohandas Gandhi, St. Paul, the Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela also stand high in my esteem. As does Madeleine Barot, who in World War II France rallied people of faith to resist the Nazi invaders, so saving countless Jews and others from the death camps.

Who would make your list of nominees?

Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned astrophysicist, summarized it well: ”We are just an advanced breed of monkeys adrift on a very average star, but we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.” To which I would respectfully add, Surely, Professor Hawking, our human destiny is not just to understand the expanding universe—which after all is only a small fraction of all there is to know; our goal has also to do with our unique ability to co-create the world. Simply to understand the universe is of little ultimate value if in the meantime we destroy our rented planet and kill off vast numbers of its people. Sometimes wisdom is to be found in test tubes and telescopes … sometimes also in the quiet advice of a mother to her 10-year old child and in the thoughts of a mature couple marveling at nature, sowing the seeds of humility and reaping the shared benefits of creativity. In that process, we can see people linking their lives with a nameless sage whose words have passed the heady test of history:  

When I contemplate the endless stretches of the universe,
The moon and stars you shaped and set in place,
I ask, What are we, mere mortals, that you give us a second thought?—
Caring even for our helpless little ones!
Yet,  despite our puniness, you have made us just less than super-beings—
(poised between the divine and the devil!)
Wow! You have invested us with uniqueness and special honor ….

*Adapted from Psalm 8 by WLK

Finally, in Full Disclosure

Did you discern even a hint of creativity in this blog? If so, it’s time to add honesty to the mix. The two life perspectives you read were created by my two sons, Gary and Chris. The first—Gary’s—was featured as a blog in his Occasional Chaos series. Gary’s professional experience is in the computer software industry, spanning international technical services and marketing. He has created a small business venture editing technical material for publication. Chris’ perspective was written as a tribute—well deserved—to his mother. When the Columbus Dispatch learned of it they called to ask permission to share it with a wider audience; here we continue that effort. Recently retired, Chris was C.O.O. in Ohio State University’s Department of Surgery and is now a Board member at Otterbein University and a volunteer fundraiser for cancer research.

In addition to Chris and Gary, this family photo has sisters Sue and Jackie. The Mother Chris identifies as providing a valuable life lesson is front and center.