A lovely anecdote for us to begin: Having recently returned to Phoenix after my adventure in the Midwest, I attended Mass at my former time and location. There I met a friend with whom I had taught youth ministry. Since our last meeting, he had grown a beard, changed his earrings and gotten a tan. I thought that was all.
“Hello Brian,” I said, striving for conversation so as not to appear standoffish in my seat. He greeted me as well. Then I said, “How’re the wedding plans coming?” He and his fiancée had gotten engaged sometime around September last year; I figured they must have at least set a date if not been on the verge of matrimony.
“You mean for Andrew?” he asked, a bit taken aback. I glanced at his finger, wondering if I had missed the date already and should be congratulating him rather than interrogating him. But his ring finger was naked, and I then realized something was wrong. Where was his promise ring, the one he had been wearing since before the engagement itself?
In a bit more muted tones, I replied, “No. Yours.”
Confusion. Silence. Then, in attempt at cheery banter, “Oh, that? Naw, that’s been postponed. Indefinitely.”
His mom, sitting behind me, chimed in, “He’s enjoying his youth.” She, unlike Brian, looked serene about the decision. Brian maintained his composure and said something about what he was doing with his time now, but I could see his disappointment and wounds openly on his face. When he moved away from me shortly thereafter, I couldn’t help but pray that I hadn’t made fresh lesions upon his delicately healing heart.
This lovely experience got me to thinking. The woman (and writer) that I am, I began to list all sorts of plot twists that could have made their story go awry. A difference in lifestyle? A difference in faith? Another man? An admitted lie? Growing up? Growing apart? Growing scared?
As I knelt at my seat and, later, as I lay in bed, I began to wonder if Brian had fallen prey to the same bear I’ve been mauled by times innumerable: the hopeless romantic. Had he, too, been entranced with the story and disregarded the life? I have something near twenty journals chalked full of mental tirades against God for disrupting my stories. Something happens in life and I focus on it through the lens of the narrator, creating my voiceover of explanations until the plot seems to completely align with my desires. Then, when the realities take their own course, I revolt. Anyone else on this train?
Of late, though, I’ve been meditating on living in the realities and leaving expectations to the novels and chick flicks. I wish that this meditation could have been spurred by a new-found maturity. I wish I could say I woke up and recalled all the times heretofore that my desires have not shaped my reality and so became present to the moment’s experiences. I wish I could say nothing spurred my realization that I do not control the world.
But no. After a heart-to-heart with someone I love, I realized that no amount of hoped-for endings will change the natural path of life. We are not in control, no matter how much we insulate ourselves from tragedy or strife. Dictating the circumstances of our lives will not dictate anything apart from our own interpretation of events. We do not get to change the story just by willing it so. We are not God.
And thanks be to God for that.
Buddhists believe that our attachments are what cause rebirth, because we cling too much to our desires and wills to see life for what it is: suffering. Pessimism aside, how brilliant! We cling to our own desires, get blinded by them, and suffer for our blindness. Absolutely! We try to write our own “happy” endings instead of seeing the happy endings revealed to us by living life.
Disappointments, prolific as they are, are not the cause of our suffering. We are. We place our hope in our own devices and are angry when our hope is dashed. But are we hoping in the right things? In his letter to his best friend, St. Paul wrote “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men.” Fixed our hope on the living God. We do not hope for things in this moment; we wish for them. We hope for God, or at least we should.
God only knows how we may become a people of hope fixed on God. Perhaps that is why God allows us to suffer, to show us where we’ve falsely placed our hope. We are not to allow ourselves to become too attached here. We are not to allow ourselves to write our own stories. We are to experience our lives, active in bringing about the good God has intended, yes, but passive too, content when God’s plan for our actions take on a life of its own. We must rejoice in how God is writing our stories, rejoicing with the fervor of a people who know they do not hope in vain.
Perhaps if we manage this supernatural feat, we will find that the stories we would write pale in comparison to the story God has written for us. I don't know what will happen to Brian. I don't know what will happen to me. But I must trust, and trust completely, that God is the maker of good promises. The maker of good stories. Nothing I could pen would be as good as life has been thus far. Why not stay the course and see where it leads. I'm hoping, I'm sure, it'll be great.