By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF
I’ve never been one to dread birthdays. I don’t view them as milestones that that I’ve passed, that I now have one less year to live, but more of an opportunity, perhaps, to do things a little better this time around. Hopefully, grow into a bit more wisdom and maturity.
This year seems somewhat different. I suspect the physical changes I’m experiencing have a bit to do with it. Arthritis is no longer a mild occasional disruption, but more like a constant companion. Perhaps, too, our discussions as a congregation, of how we can move into a very uncertain future, how we continue to witness to our Gospel mission, how we live our Franciscan values – all this plays into my more reflective mood.
The past few weeks I’ve been haunted by a poem written by Langston Hughes, a poet of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 30s. It keeps resurfacing, challenging me:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
As I reflected on the poem, I recalled a saying of Pablo Picasso, “It takes a long time to become young.” (He also famously said, “The world today doesn’t make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?” But that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog!) Both Hughes’ poem and Picasso’s statement challenge me to look at what I choose to let go of, and how my purpose in life gives my life meaning and keeps me young.
Another thing that keeps one young, according to Abraham Joshua Heschel, Jewish rabbi, theologian and philosopher, is wonder. “The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to wonder.” How do we keep alive that wonderful capacity of children to look at the world with fresh eyes?
Jesus saw his mission as imparting life – in abundance. Not only heavenly life, but living the fullness of our humanity and our reflection of divinity (that wonderful tension within us!) here on Earth.
What do I want for my birthday this year? To live abundantly, gratefully, compassionately. To always hold fast to my dreams, to keep my dreams alive, in front of me, challenging me, despite everything. To face life with a sense of wonder and gratitude. To thank God for the beauty of others, especially those who have suffered greatly and whose suffering leads to deep compassion for others and deep joy. To praise God for creation, for its beauty, yes, but especially for it simply as gift, supporting us and making our life possible. To look at life, to look at the world with fresh eyes. To become young, to stay young, forever young in spirit.