03/05/2012 10:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

For Another One's Son

There is, before us, every morning, an abundance of miracles. The fact that each of us is alive presents us with a nearly statistical impossibility. The beginnings of life come from millions of unlikelihoods that meet in a singularity to multiply mysteriously and become you, or me. And very shortly we are walking in the world.

But we quickly forget about the miracle of just being alive. We might not even have ever recognized it. But we do know that we want more of life. We even expect it. We've come to believe we should all have health and long decades of happiness, money, good weather, wonderful friends, happy, and curious children. And if we are fortunate, and these things come to us, most of us acquire the wisdom to understand the sweet gift we have been given. The odds have once more been defied. And worked in our favor.


But let's acknowledge that no matter how much we love. How much we care. How hard we try. The world and its workings are beyond our ability to truly control. Or even understand. Life grants us our comfortable delusions. And we cling to them. And we believe them to be real. But often they are not. Love does conquer everything. But sometimes not when we need for that to happen.

Our children, of course, are what give our lives their greatest meanings. But they also spur our greatest fears. We tremble when we release their hands for their first steps. And we shrink with anxiety the moment we walk out the door leaving them at day care. Or with a sitter. The school bus comes one day and they climb up those steps and are gone to the beginning of their own lives. We've lost a little more control. Then comes the first sleepover. And a date. Or a school trip. And then they are off to college. This all happens in an instant. And if we are lucky, it all goes well and some day we get another son or daughter by marriage. And even grandchildren.

But a prophet once said that, "Our children are not our children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself." Life will make its own choosings. We know the world has chaos and darkness that puts us all at grave risk. But we also know that there is beauty in friendships and landscapes and a night sky and a wildflower and newly fallen snow. A silent moment of personal faith. These are things that bring most of us joy.

But we do not all see the universe through the same lens. People who look through a different set of eyes cannot see these happy things. They sometimes have a view they don't like. And will not share. This is not a bright, shining object they are drawn to. It is, instead, a troubled talisman they cannot turn from or deny. The world is too much for them. The paradoxes and mysterious objects and emotions of life frighten them. They don't understand how anything fits together. Of course, none of us does. But most of us reach acceptance. And then happiness, either in spite of the mystery of everything. Or because of it. But there are those we love who are troubled by what's coming at them. Or what they think might be missing from the world.

We can usually see this happening. We reach for them. We offer a hand. But they take their solace elsewhere. And they will not let us follow. They cannot explain what it is they know that we do not. They can only try to find a way to lessen their hurt. And that is where our loss begins. It does not mean they can't feel our love. And appreciate it. They just don't know what to do with it. And they worry about what we might expect in return. Even though they love us as greatly as we love them.

Every life, of course, deserves celebration. Especially of those we love. One man has a son for 21 hours. His best friend has his son for 21 years. Neither is sufficient. It's just what we are given. There is little to be understood from that beyond the miracle of the first breath. The last breath, I believe, knows its own time. We cannot forestall its moment no matter how hard we try. Nor can we find easy acceptance of that moment.

"Everything is necessary," Cormac McCarthy wrote. "Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall."

I remember a bright sunny morning on the banks of the Missouri River. Men had gathered with horses to recreate a part of American history. They were to cross the high plains and the Rocky Mountains in the old way. And in their path their horses hooves would trod over the souls of 6 people who had died for every single mile trying to make it west and know a dream of success on the frontier. But the pastor reminded all of us there in the rising sun that we were celebrating the "sheer joy of just living." And that was regardless of any outcomes of our endeavors. What we might think of as achievement and failure.

So this is what we have. The sheer joy of just living. We might not feel it now. But it is what we are given. A set of years. An accumulation of moments with one another. We honor that time with friends and families. We memorialize it with love. But we cannot ever know how this all came to us. Either by grace. Or chaos. Or that simple statistical improbability of being born and then walking in the world. We have all this for a while. We don't know how long. But it is a wondrous gift.

And what we love about it all will last forever.

Also at