Life is a gift

Sometimes a single sentence is worth a 30-day retreat. I was having lunch with two of the finest people on the planet. I won’t mention Theresa and Bernadette by name. Suffice it to say that these two wonderful people have made enormous contributions in the fields of education and medicine. They also love, and rescue, cats. And they keep a large number of them in their immaculately kept home.

Love for life in any form manifests in many ways. As I ate lunch outside, the yard teamed with life. There was a bird feeder with all kinds of birds joining the buffet. On the opposite end of the yard was a squirrel feeder. Butterflies flew everywhere. A part of the Garden of Eden has been restored!

In that setting a comment about life changed mine. In a casual tone, Theresa, a physician’s assistant, said casually, “Most people don’t survive pulmonary embolisms.”

In 2008 I had pulmonary embolisms, blood clots in my lungs.

I responded matter of factly, “Yes, I’ve heard that 80 percent of people die from pulmonary embolisms.” There was no response. The silence was compelling. Obviously, the number was higher.

That evening, as I went for my late night walk, I looked up at a full moon, surrounded by clouds. The scene was breathtakingly beautiful. But then something shifted inside me. I went from an intellectual awareness that the odds had been against me, to a profound awareness. “All of this is a gift. I shouldn’t be here. It’s all a gift.”

These “inner shifts” are profound spiritual moments. Yes, I still get drawn back into the “drama” of life – the crises, the “if only,” the “what ifs,” the “ain’t it awful” kinds of conversations. But I don’t stay there very long.

It’s all a gift, even what we perceive as the “bad” moments, the “tough” times, the seeming tragedies, the triumphs.

Our very existence is part of God’s mysterious plan. This person meets this person and we are conceived in this set of circumstances. And think of all the diseases we did not get, or diseases we overcame, or accidents we avoided.

Haven’t we all had the experience of avoiding some tragedy? I think of the time when I was stopped at a red light. The light turned green, but for some reason, I did not instantly go forward. In that split second, a car from the other direction ran its red light. Had I gone forward as I’ve done thousands of times, had I not hesitated those split seconds, I would simply be another statistic.

One memory of another miraculous moment occurred when I was in college. In the “old days,” one lane of traffic on Charles Street went south, all the rest north. As I was crossing Charles Street in front of Johns Hopkins University, I had forgotten that. I saw a break in the cars going north, and I decided to run across the street. In that split second a car came right past me from the north. Had I jumped off that curb at that moment I would have been killed.

I invite all of us to think of life-changing moments in our own lives. All of our mediations lead to the same conclusion: life is a gift.

In economics, there used to be what was called the Invisible Hand Theory, the hand that moved commerce from one place to another.

While that theory may have been discredited economically, I don’t think we can discredit the “Invisible Hand” theologically. These life extending moments, these death defying moments, hint at the most spectacular moment – resurrection from the dead, eternal life with God, death defeated forever.

It’s all a gift, life and eternal life. Let’s not allow the trivial to distract us from the eternal.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.