Monday, July 10, 2006

The Metaphor/Message

"For most people, the compulsory abandonment of planning for the future means that they are forced back into living just for the moment, irresponsibly, frivolously, or resignedly; some few dream longingly of better times to come, and try to forget the present.

We find both these courses equally impossible, and there rmeains for us only the very narrow ways often extremely difficult to find, of living every day as if it were our last, and yet if there were to be a great future."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
from Letters and Papers from Prison

Bonhoeffer, a well respected German theologian, was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943 because he was trying to get Jews out of the Germany into Switzerland ( not to mention his political opposition to the Third Reich ). He wrote his now famous letters until he was executed just days before the end of the war. He is one of my personal favorites.

And the metaphor, or perhaps more precisely, the message I was waiting for was right there in his text entitled "Hope for the Future".

A short footnote. The same day I began taking prednisone, I ran into a man I've known both professionally and personally for almost 20 years. We met in 1989 because we were both beginning new businesses and had adjacent office space. Joe was just about to be a father for the first time; I had just sent my second child to college, a new empty nester. Our friendship, and my admiration for him as a father of three and devoted husband, has grown over the years. He always reminded me of my oldest son who is responsible, fun, and doesn't complain--just gets it done. In fact, I love going to the boys' baseball games ( he's got a pitcher and a catcher ) and used to love taking his daughter to The Nutcracker when she was little. I guess I've been their Auntie Mame.

When I saw Joe at the pool, I noticed a fairly new 8 inch scar on his chest near his shoulder. He could see the poison ivy evidence all over me, so we started talking about the steroids. What I had forgotten was that he had had a cardiac problem that meant surgery and 9 months of taking prednisone.

Now, Joe ( like my trainer ) would rather discuss "rubbing it with dirt" than complaining. But, in the conversation, he asked me how I was sleeping. I laughed--and inside joke, because you don't sleep much with this drug--it's like you're in this false euphoric state that makes you feel strung out and hyper--like speed, I suppose.

I asked him how he managed all those months since I was disliking the side effects and would be finished in two weeks with the therapy. This handsome, 6 foot plus 40 something sat down next to me, crossed his arms, looked down toward his feet. In a perfectly somber, clear voice, he began: " I'd sleep for a couple of hours. Then, I'd lay there, if I got up, I was toast. I'd lay there and just meditate--bring my mind back from all the things I was worried about and concentrate until I had narrowed it down to one thing, something calming. And that's how I did it." I couldn't have comprehended his need for patience, trust, hope, like I did at that moment. And the fact that he had trusted me enough to tell me about it. So, there it was. I had a witness. Someone who had figured out how to stand in a place when you can no longer stand it.

I don't know if Joe's read Bonhoeffer.I doubt it. My guess is that he would roll his eyes and smile if I mentioned him or theology because he's the kind of person who lives his belief system but probably wouldn't call himself a religious man.

But he sure knew how to make me see the meaning of Bonhoeffer's words fly right off the page before my eyes.

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