I had lunch with an old friend, somebody in town on business with whom I connect every couple of years. She was sad, frustrated and resigned, and aside from telling her that I cared about her, and to take good care of herself, I had no solutions for any of the issues with which she was struggling.
Actually, struggling was too strong a word. This previously feisty woman, always full of zest and resourcefulness, was resigned, apathetic even. And she wasn’t the first old friend whose sad transformation I’d recently encountered. In fact, I’ve been through a series of lunches, coffees, calls and emails from old friends who are hitting the same general wall at pretty much the same moment.
In a nutshell, they ran out of runway too soon. Francine got laid off and is going too quickly through savings. June is already living on social security and having had no kids, worries about who will take care of her when she’s too old to do things like pay her own bills. Martina, the friend who had blown into town for lunch had kept her job, but was working frenetic hours at a career she’d burned out on years ago. Her financial adviser had run her numbers, and told her that unless she continued on at this pace for five more years, she’d run out of money at 87. “At this pace, I won’t last five more years, and what a waste my life would have been, that I never got the chance to do the things I’ve dreamed about in retirement.”
Martina would have called me for lunch anyway, to see if at the last minute, I was free. But this time she called me before setting any of her other appointments, to make sure we could grab an hour together.
You see, she’d read my blog about “doing my utmost.” “How can I, in my situation, do my utmost?” She asked. “When, at least in my case, it’s hopeless.”
I listened deeply, poked around enough to know that she had done everything in her power to address the situation, like downsizing, bringing on expert financial advice, seeking out friends like me for perspective. But I had no answers, no solutions, no road map. I listened, I hugged her goodbye, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her and what more I could have done.
This morning, I woke up with it—the missing piece. What I realized is this: that no matter how much evidence is piled up against us that we have blown our opportunity for greatness, how much fear we have that we are paying for old mistakes, wasted precious time, burned out trying to get the world to do what we want in order to make life less painful, we always have a choice. There may be absolutely nothing about our external circumstances that we can do anything about. But we can always choose to take the leap from victimhood to forgiveness—of ourselves, others and the world. We can be patient with the present moment and we can always choose to light at least one candle of hope that the future will find some surprising, unexpected way to defy our dimmest expectations.
I remembered a wonderful quote from Olive Schreiner who wrote for many of us in Dreams of the Hunter. Olive provides us with a role model of how someone who is truly defeated by life’s circumstances, can yet find meaning in life.
“I have sought; for long years, I have labored….Now my strength is gone. Where I lie down worn out, other men will stand, young and fresh. By the stairs that I have built, they will mount. They will never know the name of the man who made them. At the clumsy work they will laugh; when the stones roll they will curse me. But they will mount, and on my work; they will climb, and by my stair.”
So no, I don’t have a solution for June, or Martina or Francine. But inspired by Olive and all those who despite the evidence have managed to do their utmost simply by taking the leap of faith of viewing their lives as meaningful, I do have a prayer.
Life has let me down and I have fallen short of my aspirations. I’m unhappy in the present moment and worried about the future. And yet, here and now, I stand before You making the one choice that is always mine to make: to pay heed to You who always stands ready and able to beckon my spirit to venture forth again.
So, God, I ask you to use me, anyway.
Take my fears and use me, anyway.
Take my failures and use me, anyway.
Take my arrogance and use me, anyway.
Take my guilt and use me, anyway.
Take my confusion and use me, anyway.
Take my regret and use me, anyway.
I offer all of myself to you.
Use me to serve many or few.
In pain or in joy.
Use me as you will.
And know this, that in the very act of saying this prayer to you, you have already granted me the one thing that makes all the difference: the certainty that this is always something for which I can hope.