A Gift of Light, A Gift For The Soul…
There is something about the darkness that has always made people want to gather together to celebrate the return of the light – the winter solstice, Chanukah, Christmas. We seek the company of those we love and cherish – our family and friends, both close and those we remember annually, if only to say, “I really do love you, I just don’t tell you often enough,” or “I’m thinking of you.” And it’s nice to receive those messages in the mail, to know that you are thought of great distances away at least during this time when the light returns to take charge of the day.
Gifting is a part of this season, perhaps exhaustingly so. I hear people complaining about all the shopping they have to do or how they have mastered shopping via the internet. But gifts can be treasures, especially if you know exactly what a person wants. Those are the gifts that are the most fun to purchase and to anticipate giving. It’s an absolute delight to watch someone you adore, like your nieces or nephews, open their gifts and know that they wanted exactly what you gave them (even though you haven’t the slightest idea what that video game is or how to use it.) No matter, they do.
But then, beyond the gifts of the “want” category are the gifts of “need” – what do people need to receive? I am not speaking of the “needy” of society, for the needs of the hungry and homeless have no season. Their needs are constant. But so are the needs of the soul. Gifts for the soul should be given during this season as abundantly as gifts under the Christmas tree or around the Chanukah table.
What is a gift for the soul? A truth that penetrates into your entire being like a liquid silk so profoundly that your entire life is renewed is such a gift. I decided that I would share a gift for your soul with you – I say “share” because this is my favorite, a truth that guides me, reorients me on difficult days, and reminds me of my interior life when my external life becomes chaotic. Among the many writings of the great Catholic mystic and intellectual, Thomas Merton, was his journal. As a Trappist monk, he spent a great deal of time alone, even away from his fellow monks, living in heritage, in meditation, in prayer, refining his soul. I love his writings and have been moved by so much that he has written. Yet, sometimes it is that one sentence, that one phrase that captures you, that leaves you breathless for hours, for days….for the rest of your life because of the purity of its truth. One day while he was looking across a field during the month of June, he wrote about how lovely the sky was, how gentle the breeze was, and noted that bulls were lying under a tree in the corner of the field while the day lilies swayed with the wind. He had walked through the woods that day and paused at some point on his walk to look at a goldfinch and then to stare at the tall oak trees – and then he noted that he had heart palpitations and shortness of breath. Could he be aging, he wondered, adding, “not that I care.” He cared about the beauty that he noticed, because as he noted most of all, “This day will not come again.”
This day will not come again. This day will never come again. These beautiful flowers, this gentle breeze, this sunset, this particular alchemy of nature will never gather together again in this perfect unity. This day on earth shall never come again.
That one sentence – that one magnificent truth: This day will not come again – was all I could bare to read that day. I could go no further. I had to dwell on that truth. I had to let that truth penetrate into my soul slowly and make its way through my mind, through my heart, through my wounds and into my bones. I had to give this truth room to reshape my relationship to life itself, for I knew it would have its way with me. I looked out of my office window, wearing my “Merton truth” immediately. Unlike Merton who viewed open fields and sleeping blue hills, I was in my office with a desk full of papers. But instantly, they were not papers but messages from people trying to reach me, to be in contact with me. I let the paper melt and felt their names and their vibrations; I opened to the sensations of their souls and thoughts, “I’ll get to you now, I promise.”
How much will fit in this day that will never come again? How much can I fit into a day that will never come again? I asked myself those two questions as I ran down the stairs to get a cup of coffee… I must prioritize if this day will never come again. Prioritize… the thought of it started to give me a headache and I realized I was going about this the wrong way. I took a deep breath and thought of my loved ones, my late brother, my late father, and my very-much-alive family, and my friends. The power of this truth is meant to inspire the quality with which I engage each moment of our lives together, not to reordering the chaos on my desk. Why didn’t I think that deeply when I was younger and still had my father in my life? Why? Because I thought every day would come again – and he would be there for every one of those days. I thought my brother and I would grow old together the way that siblings are supposed to grow old together, birthday after birthday. But those days did not come again – they ended and all too soon.
That “this day will not come again” went so deeply so fast is because I already had lived this truth, but what I realized that day while reading Merton was that I still wasn’t living this truth. We all know what it is lose someone we love dearly and wish we could have said this or that or wish we had just one more day… but if we had been living and practicing that truth, “this day will not come again,” how differently would we feel now? Of course we would miss them, but would there be the unfinished business that so many carry?
This past weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a workshop at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachusetts. While I was there, I had the additional treat of addressing a group of young adults (18 – 23-years old) who are in a study program on campus. I rarely have the opportunity to chat with young adults, but I do know that they often hear hype-talk about how they have to go “out” there and “achieve, accomplish, and acquire.” These young people were magnificent and they wanted to know what advice I had to offer them. As I looked at their gorgeous faces, I thought, “Am I really the older one in the seat being asked advice?” And then I thought, do I give them advice or do I give them wisdom? I decided on wisdom, thinking, “What would I have wanted/needed to hear at their age?” I told them that at their age, for all that they have come to value, they have yet to come to value the most precious thing they have. None of them could guess what that precious thing was, though they put their hearts into trying. They guessed truth, health, love. I finally said, “Nope. Your most precious gift is time. You have the gift of time. Yet, even that gift is an illusion because I may outlive half of you. Youth is no guarantee of a long life. You have yet to value your own life and its brevity, its mortality. You need to know – at least know because you have to grow into the wisdom of this truth and all that it implies: ‘This day will not come again.’”
I told them to use that truth as a guide for both an inspiration and a candle through the night when times become unbearable. Yet even the darkest moment is subject to the truth that “it may not come again.” The darkness must leave eventually, inevitably. When you look upon a day of darkness or sorrow, then tell yourself, “This day will not come again,” because it will not. It has come once, and it is gone. There is as much comfort in this great truth as there is a sense of being on constant “awesome” alert – meaning on alert for an encounter with “awe” – to the awakened soul.
Later that day, following the end of my workshop, I went to dinner with a group of very dear and special friends. It happened to be my birthday and some of the people in this small group had traveled to this workshop not really to be in the workshop so much as to be with me on my birthday weekend. As the dinner evening passed, I continued to glance at the faces of each of my beloved friends at the table, looking deeply at every line in their faces, the way they were dressed, the way the smiled, laughed. I couldn’t tell you what one of them ate or drank – not that I pay attention to that anyway – because my attention was fully on recording in my memory the dearness of each of these precious friends, one of whom is a treasure who has been a part of my life for almost thirty years now, another who helps to make my work possible and thus walks through my world with me each day as a dear soul companion, and yet another forever enchanting friend whose outrageous sense of humor keeps me spell-bound, and yet another has given so much of his earth talent, along with his heart and soul, to make my garden a place of joy for me. Mind you, no one noticed the inner ritual occurring within my soul, but all I could think about (no doubt due to the lecture earlier that day with the young adults) was that, “This day will not come again.” I would never be gathered again at a dinner table with these same people, celebrating my birthday. I knew that, I saw that, and I wanted my soul to appreciate the magnificence of it, the gift and the sadness of it, so I slowed down the motion of that evening as much as I could by watching each person with such love and care. I wanted to remember all of us, as we were that night when we celebrated my birthday in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Every particle of your life falls into proportion when you look at your life through the power of a profound truth. Not one moment of your life can ever stand up again in the same order. All the ducks in a row must change their positions according to priorities that matter, beginning with the grand truth, “This day will not come again,” therefore… therefore, what? That is for you to answer. Therefore, what?
Beyond the sentiment of that, in truth, therefore, how shall you order your interior life? What thoughts do you want to hold in you, given the truth that this precious day is not going to come again?
What you rise in the morning, think, “This day will not come again. How shall I appreciate it? How shall I spend it? Graciously. In self-pity? In service? How… devoted to myself or to others? – Perhaps to both.
Look at the faces of the people in your life – your children, your partners, your friends, your co-workers. Think when you part with those you love, “I must part loving you with all my heart because this day will not come again and tomorrow you may not see me, I may not be here or you may not be here. But we are here now on this day and I can hold you on this day and tell you that I love you.”
What will you do that is of value this day with your precious gift of life, of who you are? What sort of friend shall you be to your friends, for you may never speak with your dearest friend ever again. Each phone call could be your last.
Do not let the sun go down while you still hold anger in your system because this day may not come again and you may not have the opportunity to realize how useless that anger is to you.
Look upon each day carefully and in the guiding and precious words of my personal saint, Teresa of Avila, seek God-in-the-details of your life, for God is everywhere to be found. Like Thomas Merton, who wrote of the presence of God in the soft breeze of a summer day and in the beauty of the lilies, expand your definition of the presence of God to include God in the mysteries of your life and not just in moments of intervention or in times of gratitude or in prayers of petition. Mysteries are rich soil; these are the territory of the unknown, the times of silence in which you are more likely to scream, “I don’t know what to do or where to go.” Then go into the mystery and not away from it, for like each day, that mystery will never come again. Mysteries are good… and unlike earthly mysteries, divine mysteries are not for solving, but for following. It’s good not to know where you are going sometimes. The truth is you have no idea where you are going on this earth – don’t kid yourself. Every now and again you get the gift of the illusion that you are in charge, that you are in control – but here’s what’s true, even on those rare days won’t come again all that often.
Nothing comes again and everything repeats itself. Such is the paradox of the divine. But the nothing that does not come again is all of earthly matter – our moments, hours, and days together. So as you gather together during this season when the light returns to penetrate the darkness of the winter months, and you embrace family and friends through all the celebrations of the holiday season, see them through the lens of your soul, through the fire of divine light.
This day will not come again.
Copyright © Caroline Myss