I have a devout Catholic Benedictine friend He’s also the chancellor of a university. His school is quite popular with Asian students. They come to study English and our American ways. They often find themselves struggling to understand our cultural, protocols, vocabularies, syntax and confusing idioms.
This came to a head for a young Korean student recently, who upon meeting my pious friend in an elevator one morning, greeted him with a respectful bow and a polite “Why did you get up this morning?”
The Benedictine, with a wide-eyed start, stepped back and exclaimed, “NOW THAT’S A DARNED GOOD QUESTION!”
And so it was. As I see it it’s kind of a parable for our time. Perhaps we should all ask ourselves that very question each and every sunrise … why did I get up? What’s my agenda? What’s my purpose today (even having no purpose is a purpose of sorts)? What will I accomplish that’s of worth to me or my loved ones? How does it fit-in, or not, with some of the other things I want to do with my day?
And on those days when I do arise overflowing with purpose, I find I hop out of bed ready to get things done and instantly I’m bombarded with distractions … the internet, the kids, the phone, the accident, the looming disaster.
Not only that, it’s hard to navigate through a single day in a straight, purposeful line when untold armies of strangers, from advertisers and politicians to beggars and bloggers, are working hard to grab and hold your attention … and of course some of them are bound to get through. It’s unavoidable. It’s inevitable.
So how can I get me back on track? How can I to preserve my priorities while sailing though an ocean swarming with attention predators trying to get me to tack their way?
I take a moment to do nothing… nothing at all. Like my monk friend I set aside a time for meditative prayer. Or sometimes I’ll just sit trying to observe the colors of my exhalations, a form of meditation a good friend, attorney and devout Buddhist, employs (yes, Buddhist lawyer … now that’s something to meditate about!).
But when I get very old, or when my cupboard’s bare of purposeful ideas, I think I’ll emulate an old man back in my growing-up days in Vallejo. He lived a few blocks from me and sat day after day in a rickety old chair on his front porch waving at each and every car that drove by.
It didn’t take too long before traffic on his street increased dramatically. Most of us who drove by once began to drive by more and more often in order to get a wave … and to give one back.
Though I never formally met that old fellow, or stopped to talk with him, I’ll never forget him. There was something special and good about how he gave neighbors and complete strangers what amounted to a traveler’s blessing.
And by doing so he made us all feel just a little bit better … better connected somehow. I think that alone would be a pretty good reason to wake up to, something I think my even my good Benedictine friend would find worthwhile.
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The old man resembles a glass of raw apple juice from the bottom of the barrel. The longer you sit and let it settle, the more clear it becomes.