I've been reading a very good book sent to me by Mark M., of Hillsdale County fame, called Interior Freedom, by the French author Jacques Philippe. It's a short book filled with profound wisdom about attaining what seems so illusive to most of us.
I sit in my living room, late into the evening, reflecting on what I have read in the book, accompanied by the music of Giovanni Palestrina, with no light other than five candles. I'm in a contemplative mood and I keep thinking about a passage in the book that speaks to the freedom that comes from accepting those things which we would never have chosen. Philippe writes, "when we are adolescents our lives seem to stretch before us with a broad range of possibilities to choose from; but as time goes by, that range will get progressively narrower. We have to make choices, and the options we select reduce the number of possibilities left open." He writes about the modern notion of freedom, reflected in a desire to see life as a marketplace of infinite choices spread before us and points out the repercussions this brings to our lives. He points out that for so many of us today, we "put off making a final choice, because choice is perceived as a loss of freedom." The result? People who desire continual choices "don't dare decide and never actually live!" And then he writes these words that ring so true: "Yet life chooses for them anyway, since time passes inexorably."
Very few of us can look back on our lives and say that our lives are what we would have chosen them to be. Life chose for us, and we are now living as a result of time and its inexorable passing. In my life, there are so many issues which are things that I would never have chosen but they are my lot. I am no different than any other man in this regard, and if anyone is even an occasional reader of this blog, they will know that the one area in my life that I would not have chosen is to be an unmarried man at age 38.
I have attempted to come to terms with my single state. I work towards saying to God, "Thy will be done," but underlying that very prayer is the keen desire that God's will would be that I be married, and soon, and to one woman in particular. Then there are moments of fear and trepidation that perhaps God's will is for me to be single the rest of my life, and if that is the case, the only thing I can pray for is my daily bread. There is a constant stream of uncertainty that flows through my life and I realized tonight that what I desire more than anything is to simply know: to know if I will ever be married, with children, or if I will be single the rest of my life. This continual state of not knowing is a hard place to be.
As I sit here late in the evening tonight, reflecting on the words I have been reading, reflecting on a week of dates with two different women, reflecting on a week that was marked by seeing Meg again, hoping with the vain hope that only a man consumed with love can know, hoping that she would return to me after hearing me profess my undying and unfailing love to her again with all the eloquence I could muster, yet knowing beforehand what her answer would be, I realize that time has passed inexorably before me. And I have not chosen the path that I find myself on, yet it is my life.
Where is the freedom in this perpetual state of not knowing? I have often felt that my life would change if I could only know this: will I be married or single? To know that I will be married would allow me to wait with calm and steady patience; knowing that I will be single would allow me to steel my resolve and embrace the single life completely, without the constant bombardment of torturous hope that assails me every day. Sometimes I feel like C.S. Lewis in the Shadowlands, in the scene where he is reading in the library during the end of winter, and he says that he detests the "in between time," where it is neither winter or spring. I feel like I'm in a perpetual "in between time" and I want to know if it's going to be winter or spring. If I could but know what my future holds! But that is not our lot, and it has never been any man's lot. As Richard Russo has written, "Lives are like rivers. Eventually they go where they must, not where we want them to." Time passes inexorably.
So what are we to do? Tonight I am weary of the perpetual hope of knowing. What I have come to realize is that it doesn't matter where we are in our lives, we will always not know. We will not know what tomorrow brings, we will not know if we will suddenly become ill, or if our parents will die in a car crash on their way home from Italy. We will not know if our job will be there tomorrow, or if the ones we love will return our love. What we do know, and the only thing we can know, is that we are loved and cherished by God, and all that happens to us is for the betterment of our soul, as I learned from a blind Carthusian in the film Into Great Silence. This "in between time," then, is my lot now, because it is for the betterment of my soul.
Jacques Philippe writes these words, which I feel warrant much reflection:
It is natural and easy to go along with pleasant situations that arise without our choosing them. It becomes a problem, obviously, when things are unpleasant, go against us, or make us suffer. But it is precisely then that, in order to become truly free, we are often called to choose to accept what we did not want, and even what we would not have wanted at any price. There is a paradoxical law of human life here: one cannot become truly free unless one accepts not always being free!
May God help me to embrace the freedom that comes from accepting those things that I would not have wanted at any price.
(Go listen to Duo Ubera by Giovanni Palestrina. Do it. Now. Your life will be better for doing so.)