Every week is a holy week, even if we only pay close attention on occasion. What makes a week holy? Moments.
My back stairway wasn’t sanctified until my grandsons started descending them, holding my hands as we head to “Choo-Choo Park” (the tot lot whose central feature is a train locomotive). Now when I climb my back steps, it means more because they’ve been consecrated by memories.
There is more sacred ground in my life these days. I can’t look at the Metra and CTA trains passing on the embankment overhead the same way now. Once it was commonplace. When the boys are with me, it’s an event.
Time sanctifies, too. I’ve been walking the sidewalks of these villages for 26 years. Familiarity breeds contempt, some say, but it can also foster meaning. That was the message of the film Groundhog Day. Repetition can be deadening — but it can also enliven. We rise from the deadening. The same day, repeated endlessly, becomes holy when we finally live it with meaning.
To the common greeting, “How are you?” I used to reply, “I’m getting there.” No one ever asked where “there” is. I wasn’t so sure myself. Decades back, the CTA had a slogan I liked: “It’s the going, not the getting there, that’s good.” They dropped it at some point. Maybe too many riders said, “If we don’t get there, that’s not good.”
I agree we should enjoy the going, but their slogan betrayed a lack of faith in the possibility of actually arriving. As if the going were all we have to look forward to. The going is good — if we eventually get there.
But where is “there”? For me, it’s experiencing the holiness of the ordinary, as James Joyce put it. But we may only get there for a few precious moments — moments so brief they’re easily overlooked.
Many of these moments happen with the boys. It’s true: you can see the world through their eyes — or more accurately, through my own eyes as I once viewed the world, with fresh perception in the morning of my life when each “new” day had been washed clean by night.
But such moments also happen when I’m alone. One afternoon last week, I felt an extraordinary patience, an unperturbable contentment, disengaged from my usual hurry to get to whatever comes next. Peace comes dropping slow, said Yeats, and it seems to involve not caring so much about what isn’t worth caring about, no longer fretting about how others see us or how we want to be seen. Peace is a radical letting go — of regrets, judgments, anger over perceived slights, all of which use up an enormous amount of energy. Peace makes that energy available to us, the lightening of load that lifts our balloon.
You can’t will yourself to stop caring. You can’t talk yourself out of it. We have to genuinely not care about what isn’t worthy of care. For that to happen, you have to live long enough to tell the difference — and because you just don’t have the energy anymore to care about what’s unimportant.
Most days, who knows why, I subject myself to a pretty severe life review, which too often devolves into a catalog of regrets, most of them minor — things I said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do. Small embarrassments that surely no one else remembers now. But recently, through grace or wisdom or just not caring so much anymore, I am beginning to assimilate, integrate, and accept how imperfect I was and still am, slowly merging the disparate fragments of my life and embracing them, for better and for worse. I’m getting there.
Religion, which purports to help us get “there,” still works for many. But we can also get there in our own way — alone or with help, usually a combination thereof — whether we find it inside some beautiful cave of worship or outside under a great blue vault or beneath a canopy of stars, sensing the sacredness of being alive on this amazing planet, the great privilege and responsibility of having been granted a life.
Mostly I opt for outside, but on Holy Thursday night, with the churches left open for pilgrims, I spent time inside St. Edmund Church, which is where, 70 years ago, my father asked my mother to marry him. The wedding took place here in February of 1949. A photo shows my mom, smiling, emerging from the car in front of the church. Over her shoulder, directly across Oak Park Avenue, is the entrance to my apartment building. All I have to do is walk across the street to stand on sacred ground that had so much to do with my very existence. My son’s existence. My grandsons’ existence.
I wondered where in this lovely space he asked her and what words he used, but I marvel that he asked her at all, and I was overcome by a profound gratitude that they chose to take this leap, to create a life together, to create my chance at life.
It’s the going and the getting there that’s good. The going determines whether we get there at all. It doesn’t matter how long you manage to stay once you get there. As soon as it matters, in fact, you’re no longer “there.”
In two months, I turn 65. The going has been good, but the getting there is very, very good indeed.
On the sleeve of my coffee cup this morning, I found the words, “Yesterday’s history, Tomorrow’s a mystery.” It’s what we do with the space between yesterday and tomorrow that matters.
Every day has holiness in it, and so does the ground on which we live.