Ronald Rotheiser issues a challenge in his Forgotten Among the Lilies, and it’s worth taking up as a summer test. Prompting us to have a good look in the mirror, he says:
“Scrutinize and examine, look for signs of ageing, but spend that time looking into your eyes. What do they reveal? Are they tired, unenthusiastic, cynical, lifeless, lacking in sparkle, hardened? . . . Is there any fire there? Does passion still burn? Are they weary of experiencing, incapable of being surprised? Is there still a young child buried somewhere behind them?”
It used to be that such insights were directed to those reaching senior years, but not anymore. There’s been too much research telling us that depression, loneliness, mental illness and a quiet desperation are now the troubles of all ages, as society carries on at a particularly rushed and harsh pace. Life seems to be getting tougher to manage and that has solid results on each of us emotionally, spiritually, physically and, yes, mentally. In Rotheiser’s observation, the fire for life can go out and along with that our sense of purpose and hope.
This summer, right now, people are at cottages, on boats, lying in the sand, at a bar or restaurant, or watching the moon shimmer on the lake, and they are taking stock of themselves. Summers have that kind of effect. Most people don’t just wait for summer to get a tan; instead they use the slower pace, the warmer climate outside, the lapping of the waves and the call of Nature to move into times of introspection.
The signs of physical aging – the pains, wrinkles, loss of energy – are but a part of the human journey, facing every generation in every age. But it’s what goes on behind the physical evidence that tells the true tale. While bodies age, spirits have great capacity for renewal and inspiration. Yet, they too can have the life sapped out of them, bringing on seasons of age, fatigue and loneliness.
That’s why Rotheiser challenges us to look into our own eyes – they will provide a true account of where we are at this moment of summer life. Do they still reveal indications of curiosity, wonder, delight, love, with spiritual and emotional awakening? Such things don’t die unless we permit them to deteriorate.
Modern life, with all its brokenness, failed relationships, disillusionment and personal failure can be tough to negotiate and overcome. But the point is that such things can be managed, introducing us to new growth and opportunities. Our eyes show that too and that’s what we should be striving for this summer.
In her novel, Stone Angel, Margaret Lawrence has her protagonist look into a mirror and with insightful and experienced language describes the moment:
“I stood for a long time, looking, wondering how a person could change so much … So gradually it happens. The face – a brown and leathery face that wasn’t mine. Only the eyes were mine, staring as though to pierce the lying glass and get beneath to some true image, infinitely distant.”
It is our task this summer to move closer to that “infinitely distant” image – the true us. Nature builds within its own cycles that movement of healing, forgiveness and renewal. Everything about it – warm rays, gentle water, sand between the toes, magical sunsets, teeming wildlife and abundant flora and fauna – has the capacity to refresh to soul, to rediscover our uniqueness and to focus once more on what truly makes us tick.
In my upcoming London Free Press article, I talk about a marvellous insight offered by Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran: “Desire is half of life; indifference is half of death.” Summer living is all about which half we choose.