Monday, September 30, 2013
The Shadows We Cast
I knelt in church this morning, my arms resting at either side on the pew in front of me, my head bowed down in prayer, when --- for some reason --- my thoughts stopped, and I opened my eyes. Below me, on the cushions of the pew I leaned against, I saw the shadows of my arms and head. I knew the overhead lights and my body, together, caused the dark outlines in front of me, but at first I was confused, for in the shadows I saw four arms and two heads. Then I noticed that half of the shadows were much fainter than the others. The brightness of the nearby light above me caused dark shadows, and the relative dimness of further away lights caused fainter shadows.
And my thoughts drifted to my experiences of this past weekend.
I read some blogs of online friends. One focused some thoughts on how few intimate friends he had: should he seek more? How? Some moms I read focused their thoughts on how much they loved their children, and their worries for them, and their need of them. Reading that, I remembered my own mother’s agony when my siblings died: it is a tragedy when a mother loses her child. And this weekend I also spoke with a friend, who was angry because some co-workers couldn’t understand --- or perhaps wouldn’t take the time to understand --- her business insights. She felt her life had less importance than it should.
All of these saw some purpose in their lives, some valuable meaning dependent on the lives of others. And, in some manner, they longed for a greater closeness. They didn’t perceive, as I did this morning, that the shadows they cast, dark or light depending on their closeness, doesn’t change the essence of those they interact with, nor do the shadows of others, --- even those very close to them --- change them.
In Guissani’s Religious Sense, I read this morning his analogy of our relationship with others. He asked the reader to imagine being born today: “What would you think if you just emerged from the womb, into the bright light?” “I would be overpowered by the wonder and awe of things, (experienced) as a ‘presence,’ a presence I do not myself make, which imposes itself on me.” “This is the original experience of the other. A baby lives this experience without being aware of it, … therefore, the very first sense of the human being is that of facing a reality which is not his, which exists independently of him, and upon which he depends. … The wonder of this presence attracts him, and that is how the search breaks out,” --- the search for the meaning of his life.
This year my garden didn’t do too well. The tomato plants weren’t as large, and the tomatoes took longer to ripen. The nearby trees had grown, and the shadows they cast much of the day blocked the sun which the plants needed to thrive. Some shadows are necessary to keep the plants from too much heat or too much drying, but too much shadow (as experienced this year) is not good. There needs to be a balance.
The shadows in our lives need a balance too. The ones we cast onto others, we should be aware, will never totally make others in our image --- they will never think just as we do. And although we can and should nourish others, like the fertilizer I put on my garden plants, we should never be angry if they do not turn out as perfect as we would like --- their roots are not in us. And our lives should never be dependent on theirs, for our roots are not in them either.
And while we might yearn for shadows of others to be cast over us – we need others in our lives to fully live – we should never forget the awe of the presence we first felt as we were born, the other on whom we are really dependent, the Light. “Be as little children” was one of the sagest advices Jesus ever gave. “Before you were born, I knew you in the womb.”
The world is an awesome, confusing, and sometimes lonely place, but we should not forget: He knew us in the womb; He knows us still. And it is not mere shadow He casts on us, He is the Light of Life. Be aware of the shadows, other people who we meet and who meet us, but don’t make your life as dependent on them; it isn’t. You and they merely cast shadows in the Light. You may think you help others grow, but you can only provide them fertilizer, He provides their roots, which can absorb the nourishment. Don’t think more of yourself than you are; don’t expect more of others than they can give. If you do, you are not getting to the root of your problems.