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Fragility

Ian ravaged Florida and the South, and now its gray remnants have chilled October’s start in New England. Everywhere, human fragility is on full view: the rescued and the homeless after the storm, gun violence bleeding into shopping centers and the aftermath of football games, assaults on city streets and the omnipresence of physiological trauma. Fragility characterizes human nature and life; what is today may not exist tomorrow. Traversing time without an inkling of that Fragility is hardly possible. In facing that, we meet both Fear and Faith. The first may be crippling and the second somehow comforting. Both come alive in multiple iterations in each life and both rest at the heart of human fragility. Fragility, Fear and Faith are somehow inextricably intertwined.

Paul’s second letter to Timothy offers a passage that speaks to that powerful combination: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” In the midst of the suffering that inevitably appears, of the failures of relationships, programs, projects and plans, there is the promise that love still exists and that God somehow is present and is offering that strenghtening of Fragility. But the truth is, positing that conviction that God exists and is present in each of us, God’s grace needs the vehicle of humanity to become visible. It is the kind word, the patient resonse, the poverty of waiting and the firmness of action that enables Fragility to slip from the tentacles of Fear to the profundity of Faith. And while a bit of Fear may be healthy and harbor resilience, when Fear conquers Fragility, Faith can slip into the black hole of unknown. Making Faith visible, responsive to Fragility and Fear, belongs to each of us in the tenor of our days and the tightness of our time, in the never-to-be-repeated interactions and in short and long-term connections and interactions. It is about simply being who we are and realizing that is all any of us can be. The Gospel underlines that message today in its steady and simple assertion that humans have responsibilities to one another.

And so it is that there are, even in the midst of calamities, the green shoots of new life peeking from the perilous rubble. Fragility may arouse fear but draws forth Faith as well in those tiny green shoots. The dazzling gift of hope and grace may come in tiny bits of conversation at discount gas pumps over lost family members, in classrooms with high school kids confiding identity, in kitchens and dining room discussions about what’s happening in the world. There is the Cajun Navy coming to the rescue and the volunteer firefighters who keep showing up and the medical teams that leap into action with emergencies. There are the quiet ones who kneel in pews to whisper of the world’s cares and do so with the full acknowledgement of their own fragility. There are the observant ones who silently and simply offer a hand to the overwhelmed and underserved. Each one offers a flicker of the light of Grace in a cold, unwelcoming space. Each is open to fragility in others, in self, in humanity.

Narratives

The first time we met was in a southern Connecticut on a property tucked snugly along a meandering road. The driveway was a windy, rut-filled trail with the woods as sentinels on either side. At the end, or perhaps the beginning, there was s sun-filled expanse and a simply framed home surrounded by welcoming gardens. Her frame was tall and narrow; snow white, close cropped white hair framed a round face, and her blue eyes popped with mischief and a calm curiosity. She wore a plain brown dress with a white collar and one hand rested in a deep pocket while she fingered the three knots on her cord belt. Hospitality spilled from every word she spoke. For me, there was an irony in her kindness and her unequivocal warmth of welcome. She was, after all, a contemplative, a monastic, and she had chosen a life of living the Gospel in the fullness of the tradition of St. Clare. In my ignorance, warmth and hospitality were not expected at all. The demands of their life, I reasoned, placed limits on such things; it was an unexpected surprise that opened decades of conversation, learning and friendship. And it was the way I learned something about the pervasiveness of stereotypes, the power of narratives, and our human capacity to adapt.

From that initial contact, I realized that stereotypes are not confined to race, class, ethnicity or gender. They apply to religion, to the persons who practice faith, to those who minister, and to those who observe. More importantly, enclosed religious women invited me to see the rich personalities, the deep strengths and the simply human personalities that chracterize all humanity. The monasteries, I learned, are microcosms. Flaws and foibles were as visible as kindness, generosity, compassion and empathy. Above all, there was laughter. Enclosed religious women live and share humanity in simplicity and self-awareness, juggling emotional conflict and rational differences like everyone else. They taught me, a lifetime adventurer in the world outside their own, to see my own world daringly differently, and to trust in the strength of a shifting narrative.

Their narrative, rooted in the hills of Assisi and the centuries of evolution since then, has a startling clarity and an ourageous conviction. There is the palpable Franciscan charism wound through the vision of Clare of Assisi, for women called to lives of prayer and poverty, relying fully on God and gently nurturing one another. Striving to celebrate the presence of God in the world and one another, their individual stories are grafted to one branch of a bigger tree. And they live, thrive, in the sharing and re-telling. In that way, their story inspires others and the tree of stories grows deeper and more intricate roots even as the branches spring with newly born blooms and color. Here, the message, the narrative, derives a multi-layered complexity that mirrors the realities of human life. They steadily gaze into the mirror of eternity and practice the attentiveness to God in hours of prayer and are equally cognizant of the multiple and profound ways God is present to others living outside the monastery. Sharing and gathering stories refines each life; the perspective of the contemplative monastic, the narrative, bears crediblity. Their lives elevate the importance of story and narrative exactly because they live so far outside other stories.

Finally, theirs is not a life of stagnation but one rooted in acute attentiveness to the ebb and flow of life. Repect and trust are fundmental to the life and to the narrative. And for those of us living so distant from that contemplative monastic experience, respect and trust are more than equally necessary. When we first met, when we shared those initial conversations, I had no idea what sharing a story really meant. She taught me it is really about simply being human together; being attentive to the presence of God means being attentive to one another, to those who cross our paths. Kindness shows respect and trust builds over time. Warmth and hospitality on a hot summer day were just the unexpected prelude to a life-changing friendship. The narrative continues.

On the way

A certain discipline draws me here each week, to the space to reflect, remember, think and write. It was impelling at first, the seed of an idea. Born of life’s experiences and the scurrilous scandals suffered in the church, it was intended to be part narrative and part apologetic . It became a path to wrestling with the realities of human limitations, perspectives on faith’s existence, purpose and impact and the goodness and hope that spills out of individuals everyday. In searching for the relevance of Scripture passages to 21st century thinking and being, in wondering about the ways to practice faith in a world so shifting social norms and ideals, very simple lessons emerged. Life is short, and opportunities are not endless. Kindness is at the heart of Christianity and Catholicism. If we dare believe there is a Creator God, and each of us shares in that mosaic, then we also mirror that to one another. So how do we do it?

Every sunrise is born of darkness; there is a soft and sometimes pounding cadence to the universe of natural life. For human beings, the act of rising, of realizing that we are here (or still here) is a moment of choice. What to do? How to do it? Who and how do we want to be and how do we want to be perceived by others? What is our purpose in each encounter? Can we dare to become better persons? Search for ways to make a difference? Really see the world around us, behold the persons who cross our paths? Do we have the confidence, the strength to move forward? How do we live belief?

I learned that finding a way means recognizing that we are only “on the way”, that there is a real differnece between journey and destination, and that what we say and think and do does matter. It matters ot self and others, and each action is captured in time.

Time is the gift we are given at birth; we can accept it with judgment or gratitude; we can live it with suspicious fears or openness and truth. We can acknowledge moments misspent and time lost, and we can grow. Time is neither enemy nor friend; instead it is the grace that allows us to explore our questions and the curiosities of this world, to find the courage to love and the respect that breaths life into relationships, families and communities.

In essence, that respect for self and others is the cornerstone we build on through the increments of time. It allows us to see one another, famed and flawed such as we are, and it allows us to learn from one another. Respect enables us to capture glimpses of the God who is alive in us, to celebrate all the diversity we possess, and to noursih one another’s needs to grow. Respect allows us to share the intricacies of what it means to be human and to find beauty nestled in every soul. Respect allows, promotes and generates the practice of kindness. And every kindness reveals more and more of the God who is everywhere.

When I started, it was a discipline, writing purposefully practiced. Instead, it became a discovery of the simple truths that sustain the gift of life through increments of time. It opened my eyes to what I see every day, and it taught me to observe differently, to connect fearlessly, to stretch out and reach out, to trust. The discoveries are just beginning.

New beginnings

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.

For our time…

Near the front door of the church, there is a simple tribute titled “In Memoriam”. Our pastor’s picture is centered there followed by his date of birth and then date of death, just days ago. The modest simplicity and humble way he wanted it. The backgound is gray, and that too seemed oddly appropriate. He was a person who grasped and then articulated that ours is a time of change with the seemingly black and white certainties of earlier eras finding the reality of gray in every day life. For me, he was a person who evinced real comfort with the conflagrations in community and the church because of a profound faith and a contentment with the sense of being caught in the channels of time. He celebrated the signs of vitality and hope in the current moment, and he subtly invited me to do the same.

I learned from him to notice that in the midst of crisis, there are sprouting seeds of hope and renewal. He could sense the power of losses due to the plague of scandal, and understood the crush of that for both individuals and institutions. Without judgment, he was able to embrace both and determinedly work towards making a difference. He celebrated the creativity and energy of the laity in his parish, and he recognized his own limitations and boundaries. His humility fostered the strength of resilience, of hope, for the parish and for people in general. There is change in the life of the church in the 21st century and he was able to inspire people to trust in the journey that is faith. Catholicism, he taught me, is alive and visible if we choose to notice. And we each bring something unique to the moment; the narrative will be what we make it. In every age, human personalities, cultural practices and economic realities have played a role in generating the narrative. Ours is no different.

Amid discouraging conversations about the collapse of Catholic culture and school systems, the loss of vocations and the gambling, financial, exploitative practices and sexual scandals that have characterized the history of the recent church, his voice was one of simplicity and courage. Catholicism is about faith in a God whose love for each human being is endless. It is about being part of something greater than self and acknowledging the limits of who we are in gracious kindness to one another. It recognizes the uniqueness of each one’s call and our unlimited capacity for fault and failure. It is about knowing that we are stronger together than we are alone and trusting that God’s existence, presence, is the constant in our being. Catholicism invites each of us to carefully consider who we are and what we are about, why we do what we do and how we can become better for our own sake and the sake of others. Faith can open doors.

He knew all that, and he shared it in each of his encounters. He knew and understood that he could not control the reactions or interpretations of others, but he could be faithful in every moment, every encounter and every choice. He knew that his was a temporary presence and one that impacted and affected others. He was humbled by that. In so many ways, he reminded me of the medieval craftsmen who chose not to sign their creations as it was “all for the glory of God”. One life. Well lived. Ended on August 29, the feast of the Passion of John the Baptist. Like John the Baptist, a messenger for our time.

Choosing Kindness

He has a soft voice, an easy demeanor and a welcoming manner. “Kindness,” he said, “takes no effort. Meanness takes planning and choices. If it doesn’t, that is just evil.” He spoke in the softest of tones with an incredulity about the choices made to be mean. He listed them with an alarming rapidity: media posts, distortion of truths, neglect of one another, conscious manipulation of others….And so he invited thinking about the place and practice of kindness in a world coping with change, cruelties, coercion and contradictions. Kindness has no frame save civility and courtesy and has no template save the context of the current moment. And yet, its presence flavors every interaction and somehow spills into the next moment. There are examples everywhere.

The 4 year old who takes a treat and asks for one for her twin. The waiter who graciously rearranges chairs to accommodate a wheelchair. The truck driver who pauses to let a compact car squeeze out of a driveway. The cashier who produces a coupon for just the right product. The neighbor who picks up packages, and that guy who holds the door open. It occurs so often we hardly realize that those little miracle moments are occurring, and the roar of social media highlighting the worst of us so easily overwhelms the best of us. The goodness is there, little reflections of the light of life that glows in each of us. And the truth is that kindness demands an attentiveness to each other and to the needs that exist around us as well as our capacity to respond effectively.

Kindness and humility are at the core of what it means to be Catholic, what it means to be human. Sometimes, both are as elusive as they are needed. Being a Catholic offers encouragement on that pathway to kindness and humility in a meaningful way. The Gospel and readings point to the richness of putting others first and not seeking reward or recognition for self, just making good things happen by being fully present in the moment and responding. Practicing kindness is about becoming who we really are as a person and then as a community. Maybe it is easier than we have thought or imagined. Being able to recognize failing in kindness is actually part of the reflection that empowers the next act of kindness. Ultimately, acts of kindness are the clear statement that it is definitely not all about me. Instead, it is about us and who we can be together. Kindnesses are the gentle acts of recognition that, threaded together, create the image of who we really are as persons and as a society.

While we bemoan the negativity of social media, the bullying and violence erupting all over, the scandal-ridden Church and a polarized society, there is celebration to be found in the reality of contemporary practices. The teenager opening a door at a weekday Mass, the priest who leans over to bless a child, the grandparents who are holding hands….Kindness is everywhere. Choosing to practice it, to create and re-generate it, is the call issued to all Christians.

Narrow Gate

There are decades wrapped into her wrinkles, tragedies and triumphs trapped beneath the crepey skin and watery eyes. For the first time, I realize the weight of the world she’s lived in and the critical impact of each event in her life on the next. Tears spill from her eyes and words relay her anger and fears. After her father’s death, she believed she, too, would abandon a family one day as he had done. And so she avoided relationships, commitments, defining purpose and fell into next steps as time marched through the years. He died when she was just 15 and 65 years later, words shaped the anguish anew. Now we are sitting in her living room, and her sharing allows a new empathy where our lives intersect, a connection that did not exist before. We are of different generations in one family and the sharing matters. She matters. For those moments, we have entered the narrow gate, dared to chose the opening rather than walking along outside the wall. The conversation opens up the opportunity for more.

Afterwards, I realize the corporate family memories have gained new dimensions. It is not about who is right or wrong, or which memory is most accurate. It is more about receving the reality a person defines, believes in, lives by. In receiving it, learning it, there is the chance to enter the space another lives in, to mitigate the aloneness and to tenderly carry the burden together. There are multiple benefits for the speaker and the listener: awareness and acknowledgment, remembering and recognition, courage and change. A shared narrative means the distinction of black and white strokes of judgment find the haziness of shades of gray; the past has a new filter that reshapes those black and white images. Lingering there with the story ignites flames of humility and generates a warmth that could not have existed before. It empowers the understanding that each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done and far less than the best thing we have ever done. Stories of lives lived assure us that being human is complicated, events and contexts shape circumstances beyond control and yet there is a precious fragility to be understood, embraced and strengthened by mutual acceptance and the tokens of love that life can offer.

Slipping through the narrow gate is something to strive for. Illusions that we live on one side or the other are simply that. Everyday, human beings have the chance to walk through that gate. Somedays we will find the unfolding of a holy moment in a random conversation; other times, hours of frustration and aggravation will crowd every rational thought to the edge of sanity. The point for the Christian is to continue striving for the narrow gate with full grasp of how challenging that really is, and the sense that the striving is actually what matters. Failing is okay; succeeding is to be treasured. Learning someone’s story is not about judging, condemning or undermining other, but about recognizing flaws and foibles, weaknesses and brokenness and still seeing, accepting one another. It is about getting past who we are to really see and know another. There are dreamers and visionaries who walk among us, hard workers and first responders, deeply needy and overwhelmingly talented persons. There are the selfish and narcissistic, the giving and the crowd pleasers, the humble and the hurried. All human. All complicated. All alone until the narrow gate is passed through.

Stereotypes

Sterotypes exist, and they exist for reasons. Like everyone else, Catholics are prey to the reality of stereotyping, and even within that huge umbrella of Catholicism, there are stereotypes about different groups within the whole. It was ironic to me that the realization of that was delivered by a Poor Clare, a contemplative monastic, who challenged me to see the persons who lived behind the walls or wore the veils or crosses, who were anything but stagnant and submissive, reactionary and judgmental. There was a particular moment that exposed my own prejudices. This is that story.

They walked arm in arm, their simple brown dresses swaying with each step and their laughter drifting back to the car. Removing bags from the trunk, I was in awe of the ease of their presence and the ready depth of their conversation. They were two contemplative monastics, one from NYC and the other Chicago; their lives had radically different turns. It had been decades since their last visit. I was simply the driver who delivered a lifelong New Yorker to this quiet corner of Ohio. My passenger was a Poor Clare of NY, and she was visiting a Byzantine rite Poor Clare monastery. Seh had met Sr. Philothea years before at a meeting and friendship was nurtured through handwritten notes of limited frequency. Now they swung into a vibrant conversation comparing the past and preparing for the future. The tone was rich; readiness and optimism brimmed from every word and belied the many decades of their lives.

Over dinner, they opened trajectories of thought and questions that were fascinating. What if, for instance, there actually was no God? What would be the implications of that? What if this, here and now, is eternity? What would that mean? What if the past was really just a springboard for the future? What is lost with the death of a person, of a community, a country? How does history and charism matter? Or does it? How does God love us when we fail? Or are we failing God in making choices or are we instruments? What are we learning?

What was most telling was the absence of all fear in the way they played with ideas, quoted competing philosophies and theologians of all persuasions, drifted from Judeo-Christian tradition to Buddhism and HInduism and Confucianism. No holds barred. All thoughts welcome. They were defying the stereotypes of religious women, of monastics, of the elderly with calm and confident conversation. There was no stagnation of thought, no sanctimonious piety in their unearthing ideas for table talk. They covered it all: tumult and conflict are intrinsic to the human experience. They laced that part of that discussion with examples from their worlds and from history with honesty and only tinges of regret.

They laughed heartily at the idea that any group of persons, any institution, was free of misunderstandings, harmful hypocrisies, untamed anger and dangerous duplicity. To them, complex human emotions and psychological factors were at work in every interaction; that was to be expected, understood, challenged and dealt with. They were realistic, practical, ruggedly honest. This from women who lived in confined settings where prayer, private and communal, devoured eight hours of the day, and the simplicity of manual work several more. There was no confinement of intellect, no spirit chained. It was beyond the scope of my expectations. Theirs was an ultimate freedom: they were without fear of rival ideas, unthreatened by divergent views, and ultimately confident in the trust they placed in God (whoever and whatever that actually was).

Listening that night was an unexpected privilege, something I had never imagined. There was a vitality in their aging, a deep sense of gratitude for the lives they were still living, and a disarming respect for the human person, all persons and ideas. I had not imagined that religious women, much less contemplatives, could court controversy with conversation and confidence and courage. They shared a level of conviction about the mysteries of human life and the validity of each person’s experience, and it was inspiring. I was in awe of their strength as well as their faith, and I knew the humility of standing before giants.

The evening ended, predictably, with prayer and then a shared silence. Two old friends had shown me that there is always more to see in life than we imagine; it is always worth the time to linger there with another, to know the light that shines there, and to appreciate the richness of the gift. Life is to be lived. Fear and prejudice have no place in the home that is friendship, community and the Church.

Practicing kindness

Sunday Mass is a ritual for some Catholics; others make less use of it. Some gather in the wee hours of the morning for the service. There are neighbors greeting one another, updates on families, exchanges about the weather. For some, there is a comfortable familiarity with the celebrant, an appreciation for his presence and humor (somehow linked to the delivery of the sermon). Drawing a laugh this morning, a young priest talked about avoiding extremes, taking a middle way, suggesting that there is much more to Catholicism than the confinement of rules. He was talking about the practical elements of life, about the application of the Gospel in the 21st century rather than adherence to the specific words of the Gospel. SImply put, he was inviting everyone to think about the essence of the message in our times, our lives. In so many ways, it is all about kindness, about attentiveness to one another, about fulfilling the little missions of a day that are part of the much bigger picture. Practicing kindness is the essence of what it means to be a friend, to be a Christian, to be human.

“Practicing kindness” is a phrase that alludes to both the need for kindness and the idea that kindness is only real when it has form and substance, choice and commitment. The phrase implies there are thousands of ways for kindness to find visibility; it rests within the power of every human being to bring it to life. There are the tiny things: allowing a car to merge from another lane; pausing to hold a door, granting a smile to a passerby. There are the larger ones: providing help for the floundering, proposing a new procedure to simplify a process, listening to what is really being communciated rather than what is being said in an argument. Every act of kindness, the spontaneous and the carefully planned, creates ripples in a world that needs those singular moments of hope, those opportunities to celebrate being human, empathetic, together. Kindness does not resort to extremes that divide and exclude persons. Instead, kindness is defined by that quiet presence of one to another, of interaction beyond the surface and of connection between beings. It is the denial of difference and superiority, devoid of discrimination and judgement. Kindness exudes a sense of compassion and care that recognizes the very limits of what it means to be human and gently provides more.

That young priest spoke about Jesus’ converations with the woman at the well and with the disciples about the preparation for the wedding feast. Gesturing with conviction and sparkling with youthful certainty, he described the Jesus he knows as kind, gentle, caring. He invited an early morning congregation to think differently about what it means to read and interpret the Gospel, what it means to share in a Sunday ritual and what can be taken away from that. As the prayers ended, and his listeners gathered in knots of conversation sheltering from the heat and humidity, he took the time to bend down and chat with an elderly woman, held the door for a family, and joked with an usher.

Stories in Sepia

The photo is sepia, circa World War II, framed in maple, and the gathered family is somber with one exception. The father sports a full head of think wavy hair and stretches his double breasted jacket; his hands rest on the shoulders of his wife seated before him. Her eyes trained on the camera, her suit modest with a ruffle collared blouse, she grasps the outstretched hand of the pouting three year old girl standing next to her. The tension is palpable, but to their left stands a charming boy of 10 in a sailor suit with a huge smile and, somehow, a twinkle in his eyes. For years, I saw that picture and wondered at the story behind it. Just recently, in an unexpected unfolding, I discovered there was tension: the father was leaving NYC for a World War II project in Hudson Bay. It was an unprecedented opportunity, and the mother was afraid he would not return. The photo was to be both a farewell and a reminder of all he left behind. There are stories buried in every photo, every image, every person. Circumstances may conspire to confine the story, but compassion and empathy can come from its revealing.

Learning the story means gaining an insight into the life of another. And gaining that means discovering the sameness that cements human beings to one another: the father’s hope and ambition, the possibilities; the mother’s fear and uncertainty; the little girl’s resistance and reaction to all the stress; the boy’s go-with-the-flow optimism. There are always ways to connect, to transcend difference and discover again what being human means at this moment, to this person in this place. It means wresting the old labels and learning to sense that we are each part of something greater than self.

“Here there is not Greek and Jew,
circumcision and uncircumcision,
barbarian, Scythian, slave, free;
but Christ is all and in all.

Col.3:11

That final line captures of a vision of humanity that defies prejudice and discrimination, invites serious reconsideration of experience and interaction, empowers awareness and enables goodness, kindness, hope and gentleness, ensures a focus on what really matters in life. The Gospel echoes that sense and explores human powerlessness with the parable from Luke and its unremitting focus on the inevitable brevity of human life.

Then he told them a parable. 
“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. 
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. 
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Luke 12:13-21

The day or the hour is unknown to us, beyond human control; it is a common denominator of human identity. And all the more reason to dare to live what really matters most. Each life unfolds in a story format, and the tapestry of human life and history is shaped by every thread of those stories. Richness surrounds us in one another; living that is about constantly learning and appreciating that everyone is doing the best they can at the moment and there is probably more to the story to be discovered. As for the sepia photograph, the Hudson Bay project fell through, and no further formal portraits were needed.