In the two days I was plucked out of my life and into jury duty, I had the opportunity to do a life review. I’ve had extended experiences, both chronic and emergency occasions, that turned everyday life into moments outside of time. It’s been a long time since I pretty much disappeared from my life to take care of first my father then my mother in their last months. I also had an extended time out when I was going through what I now think of as “the breast cancer experience” nearly 15 years ago.
Even though jury duty turned out to be only two days, there were faint echoes of mortality drifting about me like shadows: “People are somehow getting on without me” kept popping into my thoughts. My boss emailed me about an important project then one email later told me that if I wasn’t able to attend to it, they’d manage it by themselves. Dan had lunch on his own and even the dog went on her walk with someone else on the other end of her leash and life went on without me.
Of course, going missing for two days—or even the two weeks I’d been expecting to do—is not months, years, let alone forever. And yet, it was long enough to give me pause for thought. We live, we die and in between, what do I want to do with this precious sliver of time?
Some of the answers were simple, immediate and obvious. To love as well and fully as possible all those for whom I care. But other answers were audacious, embarrassing even. That said, in the hours and hours I passed alone and silent in the jury room, waiting to be called, they would not be denied. Happily, I had two companions with me, writers May Sarton and Thomas Merton, to help me make sense of things. It was May, in her “Journal of a Solitude” who helped me find the words to the aspirations in my own heart, each word a deliverance to sanity just to know that I was not alone in my yearning. How do I want to make the most of this sliver of time I have left?
Writes May: Not everyone can or will “give his specific fears and desires a chance to be of universal significance. To do this takes a curious combination of humility, excruciating honesty and (there’s the rub) a sense of destiny or of identity. One must believe that private dilemmas are, if deeply examined, universal, and so, if expressed, have a human value beyond the private and one must also believe in the vehicle for expressing them, in the talent.”
Yes, bold in its vision: the sense of destiny. This is why I write: why I blog and journal and lead on-line retreats. Yes, like May, audacious. But May lacks the tinge of embarrassment, the “who am I to think that what I write could possibly be of universal significance” that accompanies my own sense of a calling.
So, on day two, I was graced with the words of Thomas Merton, telling me a story from his autobiography “The Seven Storey Mountain”.
Merton, when asked early in his spiritual career about his aspirations, answered: “I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”
His mentor did not accept it.
“What you should say is that you want to be a saint.”
“I can’t be a saint,” Merton replied. And Merton’s mind “darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of (his) own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach…
But his mentor answered back: “No. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
So, dismissed at last from jury duty, and thrust back into the heat of my everyday life, I brought Sarton and Merton’s books back home with me, installed them on my desk where I now sit typing, and feel grateful that I need only want to be a writer whose work has universal significance, and leave sainthood to others. So how about you? What do you want?