New Year's Reflections from Paris

After lunch yesterday, Eliot and I took the longish walk to Pere Lachaise cemetery. It's an eerily beautiful village of the dead, and it was an evocative place to spend part of the last day of the year.

As we walked among the tombs and headstones, I pondered questions like: 

"What needs to die before I die, so that, before I die, I truly live?" 

"How can awareness of the ending overcome my hesitating at the threshold of beginnings?" 

"How much will the things which seem to matter so much now will matter when my life dwindles to a handful of days. How much will any of those things matter to anyone else a year after my ashes have been scattered into a flowing river?"  Ì 

 

These weren't morbid thoughts and melancholy feelings which descended like yesterday's late afternoon freezing fog. They were sobering, to be sure; but getting sober, if you're drunk on illusion and fear, is exactly what you need. 

The questions weren't new either, though being at Pere Lachaise at this point in my journey clarified their significance and heightened their intensity. 

What I felt was rising resolve, surging freedom, and dancing joy. 

"Faith, hope, and love endure--these three--and the greatest of these is love. Love never ends." Faith and hope energize us for love, and love confirms that the risk of faith and the dare of hope are wise to take. Ask Heloise and Abelard, whose lovely burial place I finally saw decades after I learned their story.

Increasing the flow of  genuine and authentic love is life's purpose. I understand that people take issue with that kind of statement, seeing it as dangerously simplistic; but, for me, "genuine" and "authentic" mean beauty, truth, goodness, and Jesus. There's nothing simplistic about it. Love is, to paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes, the priceless simplicity on the far side of complexity.

As I stood in front of the grave of Jim Morrison and, later, of Gertrude Stein, I thought how that neither of them now cares a bit what others think of them; and, perhaps, I looked for their graves because they managed not to care much when they were yet alive. Pop psychologist Jess Lair once wrote a book called "What You Think of Me is None of My Business." That kind of attitude might be all Morrison and Stein had in common. In whatever way each of them developed that uncommon wisdom, we can learn it as we travel with Jesus along the path marked-out by faith hope, and love.

There's a lot we don't know about the year ahead (that's always true but it seems truer than usual just now). Who knows what a Trump presidency will mean for the United States and the world? Will our divided nation find its way toward reconciliation, whether or not the politicians lead us?  And will lead, either with our elected officials or in spite of them? What about healthcare? Will the crisis in Syria continue to devolve?

There's a lot I don't know personally.  How long will I be able to live--not just survive--with cancer? Can I let my focus be on "what is?" and "why not?" rather than on "what if?" and "when will it be."

Here's what I want to do, day by day, in the year which begins today:

Care less (about the trivial and superficial) and care more (about the significant and the meaningful. Silliness and laughter can be both, by the way). 

Tame my cynicism (Reinhold Niebuhr's phrase).

Live "under the aspect of eternity" (Spinoza), relating here to Here and now to Now (When I saw poet Paul Eluard's grave yesterday, I remembered his line, "There is another world and it is this one.").

Cultivate courage to speak and to live the truth as I perceive it. Truth migh be in for more battering as truthiness gets mixed with trumpiness.

Be joyful and "swift to love." That phrase comes, as you know, from Henri Frederic Amiel: "Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdending the hearts of those who are traveling the journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind."

Bonne Annee!