What do I do when I’m afraid of losing something? I grab onto it of course. When I grasp after my life I lose it. So I am told. This speaks to more than my own mortality and physical existence. My life is everything that encompasses my interests. My activities, my pursuits, my words, my sense of happiness; my people, my sensibilities. These are all my life. Now when I critically think about it, (I know you will too) I believe my life is actually mine. On any given day I plan and make decisions, execute them and most of them work out. I move and operate according to what makes me feel like I’m living how I want to live. Even when those plans don’t work out as I intend I am still under enough of my own power to move in a different direction and to counter events through my own agency. Over time, this brings into existence the illusion that my life is in my grasp, that “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.”
Blessedly, events and other’s decisions often undermine this illusion. Sometimes subtly and over the course of time and sometimes drastic and abruptly. But always effective. When I’m in that process I’m usually not at a contemplative crossroads wondering at the question of control. Either I am fully aware of my “loss” of control, or I am in denial and continue to operate as though the helm were still firmly in my grasp. I’m standing on the bridge of a stricken vessel still calling the shots. It’s really quite funny. It’s like watching a mentally confused man march around like Napoleon–at the forefront his Grande Armée in conquest of the living room.
While funny, it’s also distressing and tragic. It’s so because always these are real events and real people caught up in them. And these events cause so much suffering. And while good has potential to spring from it, suffering is never itself good. As people of hope we must be cautious that we don’t begin to look on the cause itself as carrying goodness. It’s indefensible to champion suffering as something we wish upon ourselves, or others, especially. It brings about conditions ripe for potential, but the conditions are part and parcel of the ruptured and torn nature of our world. But I think I digress.
You’re probably wondering what, if at all, this has to do with gifts. Clearly I am trying to hold onto something that is not mine in the first place. If this life isn’t mine, then whose is it, and why have I been given responsibility of it even though I am not in charge? The answer I think is that it’s all a gift–the gift of the grace of life, as one put it so well years ago. The erosion of that mindset of control can bring about the attitude of gratefulness. Conversely the joy of receiving a gift is lost when gratefulness is absent. This is why those who live under the tyranny of being owed life are most unhappy with life.
I think the grasp itself is something to focus on. I even wonder if there is something satanic to it. I may control and possess someone, whether a best friend, sibling, a spouse, or a son or daughter. To possess another is not the same as receiving them as a gift. I believe the difference is far and wide because grasping drives us from each other. We lose our lives and we even lose each other. When I consider the truthful agony of living and dying alone, all in a grasp after life itself, it opens the door of a gift I too often take for granted–that of shared life; shared burdens, shared struggles and mutual victories.
I think we must choose to live life this way and welcome and offer our lives to each other, recognizing them as gifts that cannot be taken by force or possessed. The self is the best gift we can offer. Not our expertise or usefulness but our selves. If I can begin to operate under the presumption that all things are gifts–whatever situation, with whichever people, in any event–I may begin to appreciate and move to a love I had not experienced or lived before. If you are unwilling to let go of something, you should probably give it up before you lose it. Maybe you already have.