Bittersweet memories follow the Queen’s casket as it winds through the streets of Edinburgh. Loss and outrage linger together for long moments and still the world spins on. It happens in each of our lives: the specter of death and the divergence of memories and recollections. Still, the world spins on. And sometimes, death has the power to unite as it did on Sept. 11, 2001. Death can somehow deflect the strains of a primarily self-centered world to one where shared grief binds seemingly disparate parts and re-orders the collective sense of who we are and what our priorities can be. Living in the world of “what can be” requires passionate attentiveness to now, to this moment which is somehow carrying us into the next and into the future beyond that. Death then, is inextricably part of life and growth. For all its finality, death is actually the sentinel of new beginnings. That applies not only to monarchs but to each of us exploring the journey. It does not in any way diminish the emotional trauma of mourning, that powerful sense of loss that so clearly haunts the bereaved. New beginnings surround us, beg for time and attention, expose the ironies and the choices that fall within our limited purview.
New beginnings are what life is all about: the rising sun, the birth of a baby, starting school or meeting a roommate. Each signals the loss of what was to the reality of what is. Each opens a plethora of options involving attitude and action. Purpose frames the motivation for decisions, and so there is a keenness to be aware of what matters, to choose wisely. Knowing what really matters as an individual, a member of a family, a team, a community or a nation enables, empowers, those actions, choices and decisions. Life’s circumstances become the backdrop as each person individually navigates that path, defines identity and chooses when and where and how to act. The best part of it is that mistakes are okay; adjustments can be made. Improvements can happen; things can get better. Each of us is a big deal; each of us matters. Each of us can make a difference to somone else.
It is in learning to love one another that we tiptoe on the periphery or somehow stumble into the depths of the love that God has for each one of us. It is not predicated on any action of ours; it is not withdrawn in anger or dissolved by inattentiveness or dissipated by disappointment. Instead, it is constant, consistent, caring and comforting. It embraces the best of who we are and what we decide and choose. It accepts the rest of us, encourages us to become better and more. The profundity of that gracious gift is sometimes lost on us. And yet, Paul’s story and the way he transformed his life speaks through the ages. He wrested goodness from horror as he began to perceive life, the world and its people so differently. He becomes the poster child for transformation, and his journey weaves together those themes of death and life. His was the path of new beginnings. His is also the promise that each of us is forgiven mistakes, can choose differently, and can dare believe in the presence of God. New beginnings are conceivable, possible. “What can be” awaits each of us. Every day.