The Path We Choose

Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.

In the story that Jennie shared (After the Fall written by Dan Santat), we hear about persistence in the face of anxiety. Whether it is due to an accident, a twist of fate, determined by environmental factors beyond our control, or perhaps encoded in our genes, the path we may have carefully planned is not always the one we end up on. When things change, for whatever reason, worry and apprehension can debilitate us. 

Humpty’s attempted solution to get his life back is to build a bird out of paper. When his soaring creation gets stuck atop the wall, Humpty decides to climb up once again. Back on top, Humpty tells us that perhaps now we will not think of him as “that egg who was famous for falling.”

Resilience in the face of adversity, refusing to let worry or regret get in the way of life is the ideal, the take away-theme. Yet there is also a subplot in this story, one where Humpty Dumpty is motivated to move past adversity because of what his legacy might be, of how he will be remembered—that egg famous for falling, or that egg that became whole again?

How will you be remembered? Is it important to you? How will you re-member yourself after a fall?

I personally believe it is important to all of us, even those of us who might deny that it is: What our legacy might be, what others think of us, how we feel about ourselves. We are, after all, social creatures. We are driven to be known, to be remembered, to be thought of…. I think most of us would like to be thought of in a positive fashion, thought of as a person who left a legacy of wisdom, or of kindness, or of a soaring spirit despite the odds, despite the circumstances—a sudden turn of events, an inevitable “accident”—whatever happens in this human life we lead.

I think that we are a people who like to believe that we are in control. Not of everything, but in good measure of how our lives unfold. I don’t think we are very comfortable being “victims” of life. We want to choose our path and get on with it. 

But “accidents happen,” circumstances change. Perhaps as humans being, our goal ought not be to master life, to get caught up in a fantasy that we have full control. Perhaps the goal, our day-to-day practice, ought to be knowing we are already whole and will always be as we partner with life and each other. 

Our faith teaches us to value and to practice resilience, which is the ability to grieve a change, especially an unexpected change, and do what we need to do to adjust to it, and to do what needs to be done without giving up hope.

For some of us, it just takes time, but we will get there. Perhaps slowly, but we will accept what is, and keep moving forward. Some of us go through the process of accepting what is now very privately, internally, under the surface, not in full view of most of our social connections. In fact, only the most perceptive friends see any difference in us. All the while, we are in deep dialogue with self and soul about what is next and how we can possibly deal with it. 

Spirit speaks wholeness to all of us.

We don’t always know what someone is struggling with. Or we don’t want to know, because it reminds us of what we think we can’t accept.

Until we must.

I am going to ask you to do something today. I’d like for this part of the service to be more interactive than usual. 

Would you take a moment or two to find a piece of paper and something to write with? I am going to invite you to write a few lines to yourself. 

I would like those of you are well past retirement age to imagine that you have just experienced some kind of function-limiting accident or event. Perhaps you fell and cannot walk anymore. Perhaps you had a stroke and can’t speak clearly any longer. Perhaps your eyesight has become such that you can no longer drive or read. Write a letter to your future self, the person who you are now telling that person you will be then what they need to know. Or do it in reverse, writing to the person you were before the function-limiting event or accident. What would you now tell the person you were then?

Those of you are close to retirement, say within 10 years or less, I would like you to imagine that just before or just after you retire, your life companion leaves you for whatever reason. Their leaving severely alters your financial situation and forces you into narrowed options for your future. Perhaps you have your home, but not the resources to travel as you had planned, and no companion to share your adventures with. Perhaps you have never lived alone before and now you must. Write a letter to your future self, the person who you are now telling that person you will be then what they need to know. Or do it in reverse—write to the person you were before your life companion left. What would you now tell the person you were then?

Those of you who are in your 30s, 40s or 50s, I would like you to imagine that you have suddenly received a diagnosis that will lead to a drastic change in your life. The change affects not only you, but those who depend on you. Write a letter to your future self after the diagnosis, the person who you are now telling the person you will be then what they need to know. Or do your writing in reverse—write to the person you were before the diagnosis. What would you now tell the person you were then? 

If you are in your 20s or are in your teens, I would like you to imagine that you have suddenly been in a car accident and you have lost a limb, a leg, or a hand, or an arm. Write a letter to your future self, the person you are now telling the person you will be then what they need to know. Or write in reverse, tell from your future self—the one who has gone through the loss—what the person you were needs to know before the loss happens.

This is Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter in the Christian calendar. It is the day described in the Book of Acts, when the Spirit allowed all who had by then recognized the significance of Jesus to recognize each other. 

We can see each other again soon in person. May Spirit allow us to see beneath the surface, to recognize and honor the changes we have all been through. To see each other and ourselves as whole no matter what. Whole in body, whole in spirit, together; whole humans being.

We are whole, even in the broken places, even where it hurts.

We are whole, even in the broken places, the places where fear impedes our full engagement with life; where self-doubt corrupts our self-love; where shame makes our faces hot and our souls cold.

We are whole, even in those places where perfectionism blunts the joy of full immersion into person, place, activity; where “good enough” does not reside except in our silent longings; where our gaps must be fast-filled with substance, accomplishment, or frenzied activity lest they gape open and disgust.

We are whole where we would doubt our own goodness, richness, fullness and depth, where we would doubt our own significance, our own profoundness.

We are whole, even in our fragility; even where we feel fragmented, alone, insubstantial, insufficient.

We are whole, even as we are in process, even as we stumble, even as we pick ourselves up again, for we are whole. We are whole.

Beth Lefever, from UUA WorshipWeb

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