Sunday, February 25, 2007

No Regrets

I got a note from a longtime friend this week. He's turning seventy, and he's not happy about it.
It's just horrible, terrible, awful turnin' the big 70. . . . I finally now
regret many errors, miscalculations, oversights and mistakes of my youth that
was taken for granted and pass by too swiftly.
My Lenten readings in Job have me now entering into the debates between Job and his friends. And I've found over time that whenever I read Job I don't know quite how to be there for my friends when they fall on hard times. In the abstract, a lot of what they have to say makes sense. And in the abstract, who doesn't enjoy a stimulating debate on the meaning of life and the question of suffering?

Of course, Job isn't dealing in abstractions; he's lost his family, his wealth and his health, and it appears he's lost his patience as well, along with his sense of decorum. When someone expresses regret, or even bitterness, at the way his life has turned out, you want to reassure him that he has, in fact, lived a good life. You want to grab him and shake him and tell him that if he doesn't like how his life has turned out, then he should change it. You want to introduce him to a nice, pretty lady to take his mind off his troubles--and, quite honestly, to give him someone else to pester with his problems. You want his troubles to end because, quite frankly, you want this awkwardness to end.

Some awkwardnesses, however, don't end easily. The loss of a loved one, the trauma of past abuse, the systemic conditions that convert minor mistakes into inescapable conditions--these are lamentable occasions, and they're meant to be lamented. Laments are no more fun to watch and listen to than they are to perform, but they're part of the world we've inherited, and they'll inevitably be part of the world we pass on.

I read a tasty little Latin phrase about Jesus: he is pro-me, which means, in English, that Jesus is for me. That in and of itself doesn't change a person's condition, but it does give a hint as to where God is in the midst of a lament. He's not listening or half-listening or looking for a way out; he's singing along.

Would that I could consistently be for my friends in the way that Jesus is pro me. Life wouldn't necessarily be any easier as a consequence, but I, and my friends, might have an easier time finding the melody in the midst of it.

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