It has taken time for me to learn why I am a slow learner, and to discover that’s not all bad. I forget slowly, too. There’s a slow leak in my brain, according to a neurologist who assigned me to tests in a noisy cylinder, tests with needles and even fill-in-the-blanks tests. I didn’t need medical machinery to remind me how many times I had made wrong decisions. Wrong decisions, even when they are made with good intentions, are still wrong. Somebody has to pay, and that’s where the wincing begins.
It can be a mistake to change jobs and move to an unfamiliar city. How about taking a job that require lots of days out of town? What about promises not kept, games and picnics and holidays missed? Don’t forget careless financial decisions that squeeze family budgets. All of those errors fit on the tiny tip of a titanic iceberg of bad choices. Penitents sometimes think they are their only victims, overlooking the pain to kids, spouses, parents, pals, co-workers, neighbors.
Most of my friends are Christians, Buddhists or nonbelievers. Anyone may have an agnostic moment because of events or the lack of events, or maybe boredom, but believers have the advantage of knowing they are not alone and that even the most confounded life is worth living. Life is never lived alone. It is awful that lonely people don’t know this. There’s a radiance emanating from each of us that wants to embrace others. Some respond with a radiant radar of their own, but others brace themselves and electrify their fences.
For years I’ve described the ways a rare and incurable disease has worked its way from a small tingle in my legs to loud jingles here and there. It is called multiple system atrophy, MSA. Symptoms and the speed of their movement are not the same in all patients. I’m lucky enough to be writing this at age 90, more than a dozen years after I was diagnosed and decades after the symptoms began to appear. I started keeping my balance with a walking stick around 1970 and with a rollator by 2005. I acknowledge that I’m lucky, but then again I’d have been luckier not to have any disease at all.
Then I remember. Life starts with a jolt. Saints have endured torture and painful diseases. Life is nifty in many ways, but life also is tough. Ask Christ Jesus about that.
But Christ shows us that satisfaction comes from passing on the blessings that come to us, and doing what we can to overcome the bad luck of ourselves and others.
Did I mention how lucky I am? It is true. I’m lucky that you have read this far. I’m lucky to have been shown that mistakes open the way to corrections, that the mistakes called sins may be forgiven. I’ve reshaped my reading of the Daily Office to fit my shrinking attention span, the length of time I read before I doze off. Reading all of it would require starting yesterday. And thank God for the Kindle, which recites the Daily Office out loud, so nobody knows when I forget the words.
It doesn’t matter if I forget the words to my daily reading of fiction. I just finished reading a Western and today I’m starting Patricia Cornwell’s new novel, “Depraved Heart.” I’ll soon know who Dr. Kay Scarpetta is sending to jail or the morgue. Maybe she’ll find that missing cure for MSA.
Words come and go. My daily reading includes The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune online. The mail carrier brings the New Yorker, America, Esquire, Catholic New World, Commonweal, Sports Illustrated, Scientific American, New York Review, the Progressive and a bunch of additional favorites. MSA makes it a challenge to hold the magazines with flexible fingers, especially Foreign Affairs and other heavy ones, and shrinking type is a bother.
Life makes time for meditation, especially prayers for victims of disasters, crimes and sickness, appreciation for family and friends, the cooling of global warming.
Remember the password: Aloha.