Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Detour on the Journey of Life

I'm going to go off on one of my rabbit trails this evening to discuss a personal experience that had some meaning to me. If this is not your cup of tea, then tune in again later. I'll be back on message regarding other "questions of policy and value within the public domain" soon enough. (I owe this phrase to one of my heroes, Prof. Jon Ericson, whom I hope tunes in from time to time.)

My family took me on a short journey yesterday, which was altogether unplanned. My wife found our minivan sitting quietly in the garage with a pool of pink fluid underneath. She was not shocked, since she had seen the same thing the day before after receiving assurances that the matter was fixed. Hoping the third time would be a charm, she took the vehicle back to the repair shop and called me.

That's where my detour begins: I was needed to take them from the shop to the Bethany Lutheran Home in Council Bluffs, where she and the kids were going to put on a short program for the residents. I did not plan this trip, but I left my work and gathered my cheery kids, along with their violins, music, and dance costumes, into my small car. The journey was on. I was not expecting much, and in fact I was a little miffed that the mechanic's work had not been completed as desired. Although I always like to see the kids growing through experiences like this one, I did not realize that I was about to expand a little, too.

The folks at Bethany are wonderful. They do a great job working with people in their oldest and most vulnerable years. The residents soon began to assemble, sometimes shuffling, sometimes rolling, into place in the dining room. After a short message from a visiting pastor (who spoke on abiding in God's love - something which no doubt means different things depending on the stages of one's life), the music began. It was not the best music from a technical standpoint, as young violinists still have much to learn. But hearing (or just seeing) music played by a child is an intangible benefit that cannot be duplicated though a CD version of world-class artists. The residents liked it, and they politely applauded after each number. The smiles on their faces displayed their joy in that moment.

In the middle stage of life, you find yourself focusing much on doing and achieving. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as you have gifts to share with the world and you need to make your light shine, not hide it under a bushel. Our season of productivity may not be as long as we would like, and we need to make hay when the sun shines.

But for many of these folks at Bethany, that time of doing and achieving had passed. They were now in a stage where the treasure they accumulated and the status they achieved presumably meant less to them. Their primary physical needs were being met, and a big part of their life goals and desires involved having people who loved them nearby, a prospect that for many was, I am sad to say, not realized as often as it could have been.

I'm glad for this experience. Sometimes the detours we are taken upon become the most memorable parts of the trip. We need to remember how fragile and brief life can be, as we focus on our doing and achieving. Loneliness pervades the lives of many of our seniors. If you know an older person who cannot get out much any longer, would you please visit him or her this week? I think the experience may be a blessing to you. It is likely to be a bright spot in an another person's life. And of course, we may be that other person in a few years.


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