Just now in the dark, coming out of silent prayer. First light brightening the windows. Wife and boys sleeping. Dogs sleeping. Cat sleeping. Very quiet. Furnace blows on and the warm breath and dark rushing are all at once comforting. Always have been. I remember as a small boy in bed loving the sound and trying hard to fall sleep before it stopped.
I sit at my desk. Stack of bills to pay. All the tasks of the day, things I know are pressing, haven’t yet found their full weight in the dark. There was a moment in my prayer time when a thought played through the silence: that I was focused on so many things that were temporary, timing out, just blowing past on some unseen cycle.
Like being in one of those sensory deprivation chambers…when I haven’t moved a muscle for half an hour and can’t feel myself anymore, when I’ve stepped away from racing thoughts, and a phone hasn’t rung, and everyone is sleeping somewhere in the dark, who’s to say what’s really substantial? I don’t know if I can describe the sensation or if it matters that I do, but I feel the need to somehow preserve it, not let it drift off like a newly forgotten dream.
I can’t shake this feeling of mild surprise to have lived this long, sitting here this much closer to the ending of whatever it means to be me. Sounds morbid as I write it, but wasn’t at the time. It was just a sense that the little meditational death of remaining so still and silent in the dark had temporarily stripped the cupboard bare of everything that always seemed so urgently important in direct sunlight.
An image of me flashed, very elderly, with all my daily tasks and plans, agenda and hopes pulled off, like my parents when we brought them home to live with us and took over their affairs, and my dad’s entire day consisted of being amazed at a column of ants on the sidewalk and an unabated enthusiasm for pie. I could say, I did say how sad that life narrows down to this, but what is the value of any purpose I embrace that can’t survive all the phases of my life, that’s only meaningful as long as my accomplishments are still blowing?
If there is any meaning that will outlive all the tasks on my desk, then it must already be here now and always has been, independent of accomplishment and only patiently awaiting my recognition. After all, is anything I do really any more meaningful than a column of ants or a thick slice of banana cream to my father when his whole life came down to the space of single day?
This moment of awareness is already passing. Now the writing of it has become a task, hastening the passing.
Much lighter windows. Dogs will be jingling soon, and what seemed so clear a few minutes ago is already fading as I knew it would. Daily details shouldering through with the light. But I’m going to try to hold on to this sense that death makes a point out of life. Not because of the deadline it imposes for all my tasks but because of the stripping down to substance it creates. A chance to live closer to a purpose that survives. A meaning in permanence.
Maybe I can learn from that little boy in bed trying to fall asleep before the furnace stops. That instead of fearing I won’t find what I need before the end of the blowing, I’ll wake in the midst of it to find what I really need has nothing to do with beginnings or endings at all.
But for now, it’s time to pay the bills.
Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. Thomas Merton