Somehow over the long winter a year ago, my favorite tree died. I loved this tree in particular because of the way one of its branches spread in a curving arc outward, reaching toward me from above like a benediction. I loved the sound of its whispering leaves and the songs of the birds it sheltered. But I guess I’d begun to take its blessing for granted, because I didn’t realize its life had gone until late that summer when every other tree had finally filled out with their lush green leaves and this beautiful tree remained barren. It stands there now with only a few thoroughly dried brown leaves still clinging to its desiccated limbs, a skeleton left unburied.
One day in another winter’s storm it may fall, eventually to be overgrown by vines and shrubs like a greening shroud, but for now it stands stark and naked against the life around it. I still feel a pang of grief when I look at it. I miss the gentle sense of blessing it gave me.
This may be how some things end in our lives: unnoticed at first, then startling, then sad, with a feeling of loss that lingers in memory.
As I sat down to write this, not sure what needed to be said, these are the words that came to my mind. “Slip slidin’ away.” You may remember them from the once-famous Paul Simon song (of Simon and Garfunkel fame). I didn’t realize, until the song came to mind and clarified it for me, what I’ve been struggling with lately. It’s the sense that I’m losing hold of the things I’ve been reaching for.
Simon sings of a man’s fear that in his passion for attachment to a woman he loves he will lose his sense of his own life. He sings of life not working out the way one wants, hopes, or dreams that it will. He sings of a man who longs to explain himself to his son but who walks away leaving it all unsaid instead. Then at the end he sings this:
“God only knows, God makes his plan The information’s unavailable to the mortal man. We’re working our jobs, collect our pay, Believe we’re gliding down the highway, When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.”
Opportunities lost, hopes unrealized, a fear of losing (abandoning?) our chance to do what was needed to reach our desires. Losing time, freedom, a sense of one’s self, a chance to deepen a relationship, or the chance to grow the meaningful life that we didn’t realize we wanted. So much of our lives we think we have an endless amount of time to work it all out, and then the nearer we get to “our destination” we discover that we’ve been moving in the wrong direction. Like a car on a snowy hill trying to get to the top, we find ourselves sliding away instead, and we can’t stop the slide.
I’ve not lived the life I hoped for. I have lived my life as well as I could, given who I was and what I was given. I’ve lived a greatly blessed life, given a goodly share of talents and opportunities, and I’m grateful for it all. But… now I feel that I may not have enough time left, enough health, enough chances, to accomplish the desires I buried for so long while pursuing the path that I took. So I find myself tempted to give up, to let go of the hopes and forgo the efforts required to achieve them, to just let myself slip and slide away. Procrastination is one of the symptoms of that. Self-indulgent, unproductive leisure is another. Giving in to aches and pains of the body or just to sloth of the spirit is another.
I’ll never know what prompted Paul Simon to write the lyrics to his song, but they’ve given me a fresh incentive to try again. With or without hope of success in getting exactly where I wanted to go, it’s worth the effort. Sometimes on a snowy hill I’ve been able to stop my car from sliding and by praying, shifting into 2nd gear, challenging the engine, and refusing to give up, eventually the tires took hold and I’ve actually gotten to the top.
Only God knows how my life will end up, whether I’ll ever get my book written or indeed anything published, but one thing is certain: unless I am determined to keep on going I’ll never get there. So I fight against the slide-away and I live in hope. I wish the same for you. Peace to you in this season of renewal and endless possibilities.
Last night I watched on television the Notre Dame Cathedral being engulfed in flames and was overcome with a deep sadness. I live in America, many thousands of miles away. I’d seen the Cathedral “in person” only once, on a trip to Paris in the 1970’s, but watching that extraordinary building burn yesterday I felt the loss personally. I was a little surprised by the depth of my feelings, to be frank. Continue reading “Our Lady of Paris”