#34 — Chance and Meeting

“We want everything that has value to be eternal.”

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“Now everything that has a value is the product of a meeting, lasts throughout this meeting, and ceases when those things which  met are separated.”

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“That is the central idea of Buddhism (the thought of Heraclitus). It leads straight to God.”

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“Meditation on the chance which led to the meeting of my father and mother is even more salutary than meditation on death.”

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“Is there a single ting in me of which the origin is not to be found in that meeting? Only God. And yet again, my thought of God had its origin in that meeting.”

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And looking at our children, I have to think it was more than chance that led to my and Kinga’s meeting, but doesn’t every parent think that?

Lent 2012: Day 30

There is always one bright thought in our minds, when all the rest are dark. There is one thought out of which a moderately cheerful man can always make some satisfactory sunshine, if not a sufficiency of it.

Sometimes, I wonder. Some of the students I work with on a daily basis seem to have few bright images in their minds. Life is a constant crisis for them: everything from someone bumping them in the hallway to a perceived injustice from a teacher sets them off. They wear a scowl on their faces most of the time, and life seems to be one big trial for them.

Faber, in the quote above, is speaking of the belief in a joyous afterlife, but sometimes I wonder about the usefulness of that hope for someone who’s already lost all hope for a happy life here and now, and all by the age of fourteen.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

Lent 2012: Day 28

Conversation often turns into an excuse to discuss oneself, and talking with someone who seems to have a knack for turning the conversation back to himself is exhausting.

The unselfishness of speedily and gracefully distracting ourselves from self is also singularly difficult to practice.

Yet it’s somehow a natural conversational occurrence. Whether it’s a sincere desire to help someone by sharing a similar experience or an unconscious competitive streak, we hear a story and we want to add something from our own lives into the mix. Resisting this urge is critical for what Faber calls “kind listening. But like many other kindnesses, it involves a degree of self-sacrifice.

I think of the Girl dating at some point in the future — within the next, say, 25-30 years — and one of my most deeply held requirements (as if I’d have any say) for any young man interested in her would be that he show the ability to listen. It’s a rare gift these days, and I fear it will be rarer still when the time comes.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

Lent 2012: Day 27

There is also a grace of kind listening, as well as a grace of kind speaking. Some men listen with an abstracted air, which shows that their thoughts are elsewhere. Or they seem to listen, but by wide answers and irrelevant questions show that they have been occupied with their own thoughts, as being more interesting, at least in their own estimation, than what you have been saying. Some listen with a kind of importunate ferocity, which makes you feel, that you are being put upon your trial, and that your auditor expects beforehand that you are going to tell him a lie, or to be inaccurate, or to say something which he will disapprove, and that you must mind your expressions. Some interrupt, and will not hear you to the end. Some hear you to the end, and then forthwith begin to talk to you about a similar experience which has be fallen themselves, making your case only an illustration of their own. Some, meaning to be kind, listen with such a determined, lively, violent attention, that you are at once made uncomfortable, and the charm of conversation is at an end. Many persons, whose manners will stand the test of speaking, break down under the trial of listening. But all these things should be brought under the sweet influences of religion. Kind listening is often an act of the most delicate interior mortification, and is a great assistance towards kind speaking.

One of the curses of teaching middle school is multi-tasking one must do during certain times when a student is trying hard to clarify something that happened in class — homework, a proofreading trick, a comprehension check, or any number of little things that might require some additional explanation. And these moments come, often enough, as I’m standing at the door, supervising students as they change classes. Hardly the time to be able to listen kindly.

I once had a young lady terribly upset — unbeknownst to me — because of this. She felt I was never listening to her, that I never had time for her questions. She was a most studious, hardworking girl. It took a while to work out, but I learned, again, the value of kind listening.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

Lent 2012: Day 26

After a beautiful day yesterday, it seemed only appropriate that this morning begins with rain — a drizzle that suggests an afternoon movie and, if we’re lucky, a nap. But by noon, it’s sunny, and the backyard calls.

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There, we find that the cabbage in the backyard planter, growing since sometime in October or November, has reached the point that putting off consuming it would be almost wasteful — at the very least, it would hint of sin.

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So what’s a Polish girl to do but make a surowka out of it — basically, a vinegar cole slaw. The Girl helps with the sauce/marinade. But that only keeps us busy for so long: our newly discovered park is only four miles away, so K packs some fruit while I entertain the Girl in the swing, then just before four, we head out.

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We take a different route, with a trail head buried in the back of a Little League park I’ve passed almost every day for five years. Who knew?

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Same park, different sights.

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A quick stroll through the woods brings us to the lakeside and a small observation platform built out into the water.

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With the temperature and the amount of green, it’s difficult to believe that spring is still technically two days away. And from what I’ve been reading, it seems to be the same situation through most of the States.

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“If it’s this warm now, what will it be like in August?” people wonder, as if weather had a cumulative effect.

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Cumulative effect or not, there is a cumulative effect of all this walking: a tired, fussy girl who’s ready to head home and get some food. We make it across the largest bridge in the park just to sit long enough to decide it’s time to head back

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counting and noting the steps along the way.

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And what does this have to do with the twenty-sixth day of Lent?

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With an end like this, does it really matter?

Lent 2012: Day 24

[Sharing kind words] involves very little self-sacrifice, and for the most part none at all. It can be exercised generally without much effort, with no more effort than the water makes in flowing from the spring. Moreover the occasions for it do not lie scattered over life at great distances from each other. They occur continually. They come daily. They are frequent in the day. All these are commonplaces. 

Just ask my students. And my wife. And my daughter.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

Lent 2012: Day 22

Kind words will set right things which have got most intricately wrong. In reality an unforgiving heart is a rare monster. Most men get tired of the justest quarrels.

If I could teach my students one extra-curricular lesson, it would be this. I have calmed furious students (sometimes furious at me, most often furious about something some peer has done) with a few kind words so often that it has become almost instinctive: “Get the kid away from the situation and say something kind.” A smile helps as well.

Yet they re-enter the same quarrel, sometimes only hours later (occasionally, even more quickly), and I can see a certain Sisyphean fatigue in them as they fuss. “A calm answer…” I mutter to myself, wondering if I can teach that by example alone.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

Lent 2012: Day 21

Criticism — being mean, in a sense — can be fun. We seem to show off a bit of our mental acumen. “Good one!” people cheer on when someone makes a particularly wittily barbed comment. It’s what “the dozens” is all about. So giving up that potential scoring comment is a form of self-denial — a big idea in Catholicism.

Faber explains it better:

The practice of kind thoughts also tells most decisively on our spiritual life. It leads to great self-denial about our talents and influence. Criticism is an element in our reputation and an item in our influence. We partly attract persons to us by it. We partly push principles by means of it. The practice of kind thoughts commits us to the surrender of all this. It makes us, again and again in life, sacrifice successes at the moment they are within reach. Our conduct becomes a perpetual voluntary forfeiture of little triumphs, the necessary result of which is a very hidden life.

That seems to be a good definition of magnanimity.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

Lent 2012: Day 20

[W]hat does all this doctrine of kind interpretations amount to? To nothing less, in the case of most of us, than living a new life in a new world.

In a sense, that is what Lent is all about: taking steps to create a new life from our old life. We give something up; we take up something new. Old habits die — at least for a while — and new ones take their place. And in the midst of our ordinary lives, we find an extraordinary renewal.

At least in theory.

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Habits, once the settle in and unpack, tend to stick around, but that has the obvious bad side as well: in trying to break a habit, we’re trying to break out of a prison we’ve built and fortified and re-fortified all by ourselves, without much conscious thought. So I wish I could say I’ve been trying to employ new, kind interpretations to acts I previously would have chalked up to idiocy or malice. In the end, I’ve found myself consciously thinking, “Well, I should try to have a kind interpretation of this driver’s actions, but such idiocy as he’s exhibiting doesn’t really call for kindness!” As if. It’s like the cigarette smoker shaking out another stick, knowing full well she will regret it as soon as she touches fire to the tip.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.

Lent 2012: Day 19

When it looks like this, you have to get out.

Early Blooms

Especially when you discover a nature reserve that’s less than five miles from your home. Having lived here almost five years and only now discovering it is something of a source of embarrassment. All the times we could have simply hopped into the car and driven a few moments on a sunny spring evening for a quick walk — a shame to admit, I tell you.

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Our first day out, with the Girl looking for clues (scribbles in her flip notebook), there’s only one way to take the afternoon:

Taking Notes

Lots of new sights — the Girl hasn’t seen a bog in a while, and its soggy nature is fascinating, for all of twenty seconds. There’s simply too much to see, and it’s sensory overload.

The reserve is home to numerous birds, for which we search constantly — some of us more effectively than others.

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We reach the fuss point, though: the Girl is tired — “BolÄ… mi nogi!” — and hungry. It’s time to head back.

Return

The other trails will wait.

Nests

Dinner waits, and no matter the beauty of the walk, we march on through.

Reflection

We pause only long enough for a frustration-laden picture.

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But boy was that chicken afterward good…

Lent 2012: Day 18

We must rise to something truer. Yes! Have we not always found in our past experience that on the whole our kind interpretations were truer than our harsh ones? What mistakes have we not made in judging others! But have they not almost always been on the side of harshness? Every day some phenomenon of this kind occurs. We have seen a thing as clear as day. It could have but one meaning. We have already taken measures. We have roused our righteous indignation. All at once the whole matter is differently explained, and that in some most simple way, so simple that we are lost in astonishment that we should never have thought of it ourselves. Always distrust very plain cases, says a legal writer.

The quoted excerpt is from Father Frederick Faber’s Spiritual Conferences, excerpted here.