Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

Perched on New Year's Eve, I have a confession to make: New Year's is not one of my favorite holidays. Now, part of this is due to the fact that it's generally regarded as the end of the Christmas Season and I always hate to see Christmas go. It's as though I've waited all year for Halloween to usher in the festivities and by the time I have a full-blown case of "holiday fever," it's January again.

Another part of the difficulty for me is the lack of context for New Year's. It kind of sits on its own there at the end of December and following it is a long cold road called winter. But if we celebrated the Twelve Days of Christmas, New Year's could take it's place as one of the high points in the Season. True, there would still be winter afterward, but there would also be a little more time to adjust to the idea.

As it is, we're at that point where people talk about the year that's past and the one that's about to begin. From the perspective of our house, it's been pretty good. We moved to the country, I finally wrapped up the last of first year medical school courses and began second year, we're in good health, my wife can work from home, and gas prices are cheaper. For others, though, there is unemployment, the cost of heating oil to manage, and a lot of uncertainty.

I guess New Year's is kind of like standing in a doorway where you're neither outside nor fully inside. On one side of the door is what you've known and on the other side the potential for unpredictability. Maybe even more than Thanksgiving, it can be a day for simply being grateful that we've gotten through, that we've survived and shown we have the capability to keep on going. If the saying, "Whatever doesn't kill me, makes me stronger," is true, then a lot of us are stronger and the year to come had better watch out; we're ready for you.

In any case, may your New Year be one that is happier, more fulfilling and satisfying, than all of ones that have gone before!

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Monday, December 29, 2008

Stacking Firewood

There is a tiny sliver of new moon easing its way through the burnished orange and purple clouds of sunset tonight. Today has been one of those Maine days that make you forget it's winter. Sunshine, blue skies, and enough warmth to even melt some of the snow. Not that it's going to last; snow is predicted tonight, Wednesday, and then the weekend. Winter doesn't flirt with you up here; when it comes on, it's with a full court press. At least that's the way the past two years have been. The year before, it was cold but at least we knew there was still such a thing as soil most of the time.

The "thaw" allowed me to spend part of the afternoon picking up wood. Central Maine Power dropped by before Christmas to trim an ailing tree that leaned threateningly near the electric lines and left quite a bit for me to turn into firewood. More than I'd expected, actually, and it quickly turned into a job. You see, the fellows came late in the day and before they knew it, they were working in near darkness. The small pieces were turned to fodder in the chipper but the rest was left behind.

I thought about this while hauling wood into the barn, one cartload at a time. Despite the mess of twigs and chips on the edge of the yard, I ended up with nearly a cord of wood that will season well by next fall. I didn't have to tramp into the forest with a chain saw; all I had to do was pick it up and stack it.

Ordinarily, power companies don't make it a point to cut firewood for their customers, but this time, someone thought more about doing good than about following procedure. It's not a big thing, I suppose, but it was considerate. I know it's a cliche, but that doesn't make it any less true: little things really do mean a lot.

Friday, December 26, 2008

There once was a little mouse...

I gave my wife a copy of The Tale of Despereaux for Christmas; she read it in one sitting and passed it along to me. Although I'm not yet finished, thus far it's a completely delightful book. So as not to ruin it for you, I won't reveal the plot, but I feel safe in saying it's about a mouse who is intent upon taking the road less traveled. That much, at least, is depicted in the theatrical previews and if you've seen them, you know as much as I've told.

I became interested in children's literature back in the dark ages when a friend gave me a copy of The Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle. I was already familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia, having read them while in seminary, but the L'Engle books opened up a whole universe of reading pleasure I'd overlooked. Without moralizing, she places her youthful characters in situations that require serious problem-solving skills and the willingness to be open to new possibilities.

It's easy to view children's literature as "just for the young," but nothing could be further from the truth. Writing for a younger audience allows an author to be simply profound and adults, without even knowing it, may find themselves yearning to see life through the eyes of their youth once more. True, we can't be young again, but we can discover, deep down inside, that youthful part of ourselves that never really goes away and has the capability to lead us to a greater appreciation for the life we lead as adults.

If you happen to pick up a copy of Despereaux, I doubt you'll be disappointed -- even if you've gotten it for a niece or nephew and just couldn't keep yourself from reading it first!

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Thursday, December 25, 2008


I remember the time I learned about the magical combination of cranberries and turkey. I was 13 and my uncle (my father's youngest brother) and I spent Thanksgiving with my father's eldest brother and his family on their ranch in Oklahoma. It was a Thanksgiving of firsts. My first trip to the ranch, my first time roping cattle, and the first time I actually liked cranberries. I'd never cared much for them before: they were tart and I liked sweet. My aunt, however, made cranberry sauce that was both tart and sweet. Scooped over turkey and, well, one bite and I was hooked.

I came home and informed my mother that my taste for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner had undergone a transformation and I explained the recipe. For years afterward, she faithfully reproduced it and you might think the story ends right there. But it doesn't.

In 1997, my mother passed away and left me the recipe. In previous years, I'd tried to the best I could to mimic her creation, but there was always something missing. Now, of course, I get it right and that, along with pumpkin pie, are my contributions to the festivities.

While the cranberries are just as they should be, there are still other things that I miss. Both my parents are gone now, and the rest of my family is in Colorado, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Dear friends are in Texas and California, and most of my medical school pals are scattered over the country. Many are nearby in New England but others as far away as Oregon.

So, Christmas is quiet this year, and my wife, the dog and cat and I are celebrating in an old house that seems as though it was built just for the Holidays. We exchanged gifts, made turkey with all the trimmings, watched favorite movies, and called our absent friends. Thanks to Mr. Bell and the wonders of email, they're only moments away. It's been a good day.

When you get round to reading this, I wonder if you might take a moment and leave a comment or two about how you spent the day, what's present, who's not, and what made you glad at heart.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve, 2008

I just got home from a morning of Christmas shopping and I'm done at last. I usually prefer not to shop at the last minute but this year it was more or less a necessity. For one thing, we have only one vehicle with four-wheel drive and with the recent heavy snow, my wife and I had to share the car and plan accordingly. For another, second-year medical school courses succeed in keeping students thoroughly engaged in study, so the days that lead up to the Holidays are full to capacity.

One of the things that struck me as unusual this year was the fact that parking was in abundance wherever I went. In the past, I've spent nearly as much time searching for a parking space as I did shopping. I noticed also that there weren't any crowds. In fact, it almost felt like a snowy day in October instead of nearly Christmas. Even discount stores like the L.L. Bean outlet were calm in comparison to previous years.

I can't tell you precisely where I went because my wife reads this blog and, of course, too much detail will be a "giveaway." So, relying on your willingness to keep a secret, let's just say the economic slowdown is evident in Portland, Maine. It's sad to see so few preparing for the Holidays, though the barrenness of once-full Christmas Tree lots testifies to the fact that people are bravely refusing to abandon all hope this year.

Speaking of Christmas Trees, I love tall ones. For most of my life, I've lived in places where the ceiling just wouldn't accommodate the extent of my fantasy. One year, the poor tree had to bend its top over by about four inches because I couldn't resist bringing it home. It's ironic that this year we finally have a ceiling that goes to nine feet and the tree is only about five feet high.

What happened? Well, it's like this. I mentioned the restrictions that medical school places on our time. When I was finally free to look for a tree, the pickings were pretty slim. Finally, I found a lovely little tree that looked like it wanted a home at a farm nearby. "I also sell 35 different kinds of vegetables in the spring," the farmer said, as the beginning of what became 16 inches of snow blew round us. I dearly love John Denver's "Alfie: The Christmas Tree," and this little one reminded me of Alfie, so what else could I do?

Before it's time to begin clumsily wrapping presents and baking cookies for Santa's visit tonight (I'm better at baking than wrapping) I'll close with a line from "Alfie": "in your Christmas prayers this year, say a prayer for the wind, the water, and the wood; and those who live there, too." And please include those who are less fortunate because this year, they could very well be our neighbors.

May your Holiday be warm, happy, and filled with all the good things that love and joy bring. However you celebrate, may it be wonderful!

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Don't Be Afraid

The weatherman said it would be a "classic nor'easter," and he wasn't kidding. The snow began early yesterday morning and by midnight, I'd shoveled over 16 inches of new snow. This morning dawned with blue sky and the hayfield looks like a fairy land. I'm mentioning this, not only because it's the current news from Maine, but because the selection of Rick Warren by the President Elect to deliver the invocation at the inauguration in January seems to have stimulated a similar storm, not of snow, but public opinion.

Of all the things that can be said of the President Elect, one thing is surely true: he's going to do the unexpected. Now, throughout the campaign he stressed his desire to bring people together. He stated again and again that he believed there was more that unites us as Americans than separates us. It looks like some are surprised he actually meant it.

One of the things that most impressed me about Obama during the campaign was his apparent lack of fear. What I mean is, he seemed sufficiently secure in his convictions that he could engage those who disagreed with him in meaningful dialogue. He even went so far as to state he'd be willing to meet with representatives of countries we regard as hostile to our interests, in unconditional open discussion. It takes nerve to do that.

By including people like Rick Warren, I think the President Elect is trying to help us realize we've got to stop being afraid of one another. How do I know we're afraid? Well, take a barking dog for example. There are a lot of reasons dogs bark. Mine rushes to the window anytime someone jogs by and sounds the alarm: "Warning, warning, alien approaching, Wil Robinson!" Like dogs, people "bark" when they feel threatened, and beneath the guise of bravery, we find fear.

During the course of the campaign, occasionally a line from FDR was repeated: "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." I think Obama believes our greatest enemy is fear: unexamined and unconscious fear. We attack one another because we're afraid of what it means to have liberals in the White House. We strike out because we're afraid of what conservatives will do to the Supreme Court. Since 9/11 we've lived in fear that someone, somewhere, was going to do something to hurt us. I think Obama is trying very hard to show us that we don't have to be afraid. We really can talk with one another without blaming, accusing, and labeling. And if we can treat our fellow Americans with at least some measure of respect, perhaps we can demonstrate to the world that there are better ways of solving problems than by killing each other.

He may be wrong. I may be wrong. But it doesn't hurt to try. It really doesn't.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Across the Aisle

I have two friends who are Islamic. Both are from Arabic countries, both are intelligent, civil, religiously devout, and extraordinarily friendly. Both are going to become doctors and I'm certain, excellent ones. With one I shared the podium during our annual cadaver memorial service and her sentiments were very similar to my own.

I wasn't particularly expecting medical school to be a multicultural experience. Maine, like my native Colorado, is not exactly a melting pot. Living in Boston, I worked with physicians who were Russian immigrants and it was commonplace to see Orthodox Jews walking to synogogue on the Sabbath.

Nevertheless, it was here that I became acquainted with persons who call upon the name of Allah and discovered that, even during a time of suspicion and mistrust, the barriers of politics and national loyalty can be overcome in the name of humanity. I'm not sure it has always been easy for my friends, living in post-9/11 America. We are still entrenched in a war and only two months ago, some expressed concern (to put it mildly) about electing a President who had an Arabic middle name.

Yet my friends are just that and even though they are now far away, learning patient care first-hand in hospitals and clinics, I hear from them. Their letters reveal their enthusiasm and they remind me of our friendship. Bonds that are much deeper than race, gender, and nationality have been formed between us.

We talk about reaching across the aisle to work with those of different political persuasions, but I think its equally important that we learn to reach across the artificial space that stands between us as persons. Our mutual experiences in anatomy taught us that beneath the skin, people are virtually identical. Maybe we are alike in other ways, too. Maybe what frightens some the most is the fact that we are.
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Saturday, December 13, 2008


It's sunset and there is a pale winter-orange glow over the ice-tipped trees that line the stream on the border of the hayfield. My dog and I walked along the bank this afternoon, crunching through parchment thin sheets of ice that coated the grass. This is a place where winter looks like something out of Norman Rockwell's imagination. Icicles hang from the roof of the barn in tight, regimented rows and when the sunlight hits the trees, you'd swear they were wrapped in Christmas lights.

In the past few minutes, Jupiter and Venus have taken over the western sky and it won't be long before Orion sneaks out of the forest to the east. In the midst of all this, it's almost hard to believe there is still about a hundred thousand without power tonight. And it wasn't a blizzard like the big one of whenever -- it was just a day's worth of freezing rain.

It's easy to forget how vulnerable we are. Most of the time we function in that happy state of denial where light is only a switch away. We have conditioned ourselves to instant and constant contact through email and the cell phone. But add twenty or so hours of ice to the mix and we're scrambling for candles and hoping we've got enough wood on the pile to last until the power returns. Life gets really simple at times like that and maybe therein lies the real blessing, the reminder that ultimately, just getting through the storm is accomplishment enough.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Ice Man Cometh

I'm surprised to be writing this morning. Last night a drizzle of freezing rain drenched the northeast from stem to stern and I awoke this morning amazed to find we still had power. That, however, didn't last very long. Just as I learned nearly 80,000 Mainers in nearby towns were without power, the television went black and the lights went out. We were prepared though, and I lit the fireplace and set a pot of water in the coals to boil.

It was just like scouting and the memories filled my mind as quickly as smoke from the Franklin Stove began to stream into the room.
Don't ever buy a Franklin, or at least the old fashioned variety with the small firebox. Not only are they inefficient, they easily smoke. So, off we went to my study which also has a fireplace and settled in for what we hoped would be a pleasant, cozy day. It's still a pleasant and cozy day but now that the power's back on (for however long), it's a little more convenient. For one thing, I almost ran to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Readers who are also students will identify with my urgency, I've no doubt.

I mentioned a fireplace in my study -- please don't get me wrong, we're not wealthy, just extremely fortunate to rent a home in a part of the Country where fireplaces are a staple. This one dates to the late 1770s and I love to imagine Colonial Americans gathered by it just as are we, waiting for the ice to thaw and the roads to clear.

One of my favorite authors is David Elton Trueblood, a Quaker philosopher and theologian who passed away several years back. I was honored to meet him while in seminary one evening. I saw him in the cafeteria, eating alone, and asked if I might join him. He was kind, gracious, and extraordinarily modest, especially for someone who had published more books than I had fingers and toes and who had been the friend of Presidents.

Anyhow, he wrote somewhere (when I find the source, I'll let you know): "A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of human life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit." Knowing Trueblood, he was probably referring to an awareness that we are all connected and when we act in regard for that connectedness and not out of self-interest, we are learning what it means to be truly human.

On a cold, icey day in December, while many are staying in shelters, we are able to remain at home thanks to an aging physician who owned this farm and decided it was a good thing to plant a few "shade trees." I hope your day is just as wonderful as ours.
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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Time Machine

For years, one of my favorite films has been The Time Machine (1960) with Rod Taylor. I'm grateful to Turner Classic Movies for showing the wide-screen version periodically and giving me the opportunity to feel nine years old again. A remake was done in 2002 with more advanced special effects and a different twist on the story. 

In the 1960 version, the hero yearns to discover a world where war and pestilence have been overcome. Instead, he finds people are the same whether they're from his time or the distant future. The film also makes a strong anti-nuclear war statement. In the 2002 version, the hero witnesses the death of his fiance and attempts to use his time machine to save her life. Unsuccessful, he sets course for the future wondering why he can't change the past.

The film answers his question to some extent by implying that some events are beyond alteration. When the hero manages to prevent his fiance's death by one means, another takes its place. It's as though history has predetermined her death at that moment, by hook or by crook. Eighty thousand years down the road he discovers the only influence he has at all is on the course of the future.

Now the truth is, I'm not so sure we can't change the past. Certainly, I would admit we can't materially alter the events that constitute history, but when we change who we are, do we not change the past in some way? When we detoxify the elements of a personal or cultural history and behave differently, is it possible the effects extend backwards as well as forwards? I think they do. If I can look back and reinterpret what has taken place in the light of who I am now, I give my history new meaning and significance. As a result, instead of it being a lead weight around my neck, the past becomes the impetus for living well.

There is a wonderful line carved into the facade of the National Archives: "What is Past is Prologue." I'm beginning to think what is past is also perception, and if history is an organic unity that combines what has been with what is and what is yet to come, then inherent in my perceptions is the power to remake history. And that's pretty incredible.

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Monday, December 8, 2008


"I don't like to dream," he said, "because the people in my dreams are all ones I've known and they've all died." His birth certificate insists he's nearly 80 but his face and energy accuse it of exaggerating. He can talk about his youthful experiences in England with vivid detail, but he missed the current date by ten days and can't consistently recall the names of family members. Something's amiss in the synapses, that's certain.

Maybe talking to him is why I dreamed of an old friend last night. We were close as brothers and promised to reconnect once we were both out West. It's been nearly ten years now, and I only see him in dreams. This time we met by happenstance in a restaurant and I asked him, "Where the hell have you been?!"

"It's a long story," he said, and we sat down to talk. For reasons I wasn't aware in the dream, I had to leave and he said he would call, but of course, he didn't.

The irony is, for the older gentleman, the past is more vivid than the present. Alzheimer's leaves him wondering who it was that just came for a visit and what was it he just read in the newspaper? Yet, he is pleasant and engaging, happy that someone cares and enjoys his company. Whether he remembers me after I'm gone or not, at least in those moments, we are alive and our conversation is not a dream.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008


When I checked my email this morning, I found a letter from the Obama Transition Team. It seems they have decided to post the activities of the team online and open them up to comment. This is definitely a different way of "doing government," and it reminds me of a wonderful story about Andrew Jackson. You've probably heard it before. It seems he was given a rather large -- several hundred pounds -- block of cheese and he left it in the foyer of the White House so that visitors could help themselves. Apparently, Jackson was fond of allowing the people to "drop by" from time to time.

The size of government can seem daunting and access limited. You write a letter to the President knowing an aid will read it -- maybe you get a reply, maybe not. But actually posting documents and inviting comments, removing the barriers of authority and sharing responsibility: this is new. Well, maybe not new, but certainly overdue.

I like the idea of transparency in government and I like the idea of inviting the people to participate in the process of governing. There are some who feel they've elected others who are "more qualified" to make decisions for them and that's fine. But if I've got an opinion that I think is worth sharing with my friends, what makes me think it's not worth sharing with those who have the power to act? I love the line spoken by Kevin Costner's character in the film, 13 Days, discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis: "There's no 'wise old man' here -- hell, there's just us." I'm not convinced its not always that way.

Fairy tales are metaphors for human experience, not just bed-time stories for children. And one theme that repeats itself over and over is the "young fool" who saves the kingdom. In the story of David and Goliath, for example, all the king's horses and all the king's men are inadequate for the task of facing the Philistine army with their secret weapon, Goliath, and it falls to a young shepherd to slay him with a stone.

Maybe we are all like David when faced with the magnitude of governing, but that doesn't mean we are unqualified. It simply means we are human. Take a moment and visit -- read a bit, make a comment. Who knows what will happen?

Monday, December 1, 2008

First Snow

It snowed in Maine last night. But it's not the first of the season; last week about twelve flakes fell around my dog and I while we were taking our afternoon walk. Actually, there may have been more than twelve -- I wasn't counting -- but there weren't many more. It was like a postcard reminding me the bulk of the mail was yet to come.

I remember postcards. For a penny you could send a note across the country. Then it was a nickel, a dime, and eventually it cost as much to send a postcard as a letter and what was the point? The whole idea of the postcard was a letter in brief, a portent of more to come.

I still get them, only not from friends traveling through Europe or Africa saying, "We finally found the pyramids -- wish you were here!" Mine come from the local auto dealership reminding me I still have time for a year-end trade or an insurance agent urging me to revise my policy to include earthquake coverage. When was the last time Maine had an earthquake? Probably about the time of the last ice age -- I'd better get busy.

Like the rest of the world I've come to rely on email, but I think I miss the postcard. I still click on the email icon with a sense of anticipation, but its not the same as those days when, like Charlie Brown opening the mailbox and calling, "Hello in there," I never knew what I might find. Maybe pictures of a giant rabbit in a cowboy hat or the Grand Canyon or the Tower of London and the ever welcome phrase, "Wish you were here."

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Shopping

"The Season is upon us now, a time for gifts and giving; and as the year draws to its close, I think about my living." So writes John Denver in an ode to his children, A Baby Just Like You. Yesterday was Black Friday, the ominous-sounding beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Though it's hardly the "beginning" anymore -- Christmas candy lines the shelves the day after Halloween and television ads try to induce sentimentality long before the final shiver of Dance Macabre has drifted away.

This year, however, Black Friday lived up to its name as a crowd of shoppers straining and shoving their way into a Long Island Wal-Mart, trampled an employee to death. Very likely no one knew what was happening until it was over or if they did, they couldn't stop or slow down because of the pressure of the mob behind. You know what it's like: you're standing at the gate of a rock concert, the gates open, and then God help you, you're carried along like a twig on a wave. But this time it wasn't Jon Bon Jovi or Cold Play waiting on the other side, it was "buy one, get one free" and "60% off while supplies last."

Has the economy gotten so bad that you take your life in your hands going shopping? Where is our perspective? It seems to me that people become easily impatient lately. You're driving down the highway and someone pulls up behind you. There's plenty of passing room yet they ride close to your bumper and when they've decided you aren't going any faster, swing round, and leave you contemplating a hateful glance or a single-fingered salute. One driver cuts off another, they pull over, fists fly, a gunshot is heard.

Yes, many times alcohol is involved but not every time and not by everyone. I doubt most of the people in the crowd Friday morning had been drinking. A man left his house and went to work, no doubt earlier than most days, and was simply unlocking the doors of the store. He didn't have time to get out of the way.

Crowds do strange things. It's one reason I don't particularly care for them. Whatever factors combined to result in the death of the man on Friday, we do him honor if allow his death to remind us that no one should be simply "in the way." In this season of thinking about our living, thinking about his dying may be one of the more meaningful things we can do.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Little Things

Thanksgiving is here again and no doubt from one end of the country to the other, in all four directions, someone will say something about being "thankful" tomorrow. I'm thinking about a comment made to me a number of years ago by a minister I knew who said, "We ought to cultivate an attitude of gratitude." Ministers are known for a fondness for alliteration; they say it helps folks remember the main points of the sermon. That I recall this little tidbit after more years than I'm willing to admit is testimony to the effect of alliteration on my memory at least.

The whole idea of gratitude implies that I'm not the only, or even the ultimate, source of those things I appreciate in my life. Something or someone has entered my sphere of experience and bestowed upon me that which I did not have before. Furthermore, they've done this out of no desire or need to obtain something from me in return. There's been no transaction or exchange of goods for service or remuneration. It might not even be demonstrable that they are directly responsible for that which I enjoy.

I'm talking, of course, about grace. But not the grace of the magnanimous or spiritual. I mean the grace of presence: the grace that surrounds and penetrates us like the air we breathe, and is most frequently outside conscious awareness. You have to think about grace in order to notice it. Most of us are too busy to notice anything ordinary. We're busy looking for things that are extraordinary. Grace is everyday, plain, simple, interactive. Grace is waiting for us to see it and be grateful.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

What does it matter?

The title of this blog derives from a metaphor a friend once shared with me. He said, "Christianity is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." I've always liked that because it highlights one of the key facts of life, i.e. that we are all indebted to someone. None of us has all the answers and the truth be told, maybe there are very few to be had afterall -- at least on this side of eternity. So, we turn to each other and ask our questions.

There was a time when I thought mine had changed, depending on time, place, and situation. Now I'm coming to realize I ask the same questions again and again, hopefully getting better each time with their framing. Ultimately, I think that's critical because the answer we derive depends on the character of the question, not to mention that of the questioner. It isn't enough, for example, to simply ask if life has any meaning at all. That's far too general. The real issue is, does my presence on earth render life more significant. How do I meaningfully contribute to life?

I'm reminded of a wonderful tale about a businessman who decided to go on a long journey. Maybe it was one to find himself -- who knows? In any case, he left his resources in the hands of three trusted individuals. To one he left a great deal of money, to another he left property, and to the last, he left his collection of art and antiques. To each he said, "Increase my value. Invest, develop, sell -- do whatever seems best to you. Whenever I return, if you have done well, I will repay you in ways you cannot imagine."

Years past and with them any expectation that the businessman would return. Then one day, to the surprise of everyone, he reappeared looking hale and hearty. He called his friends together and asked for their reports. The first said, "I invested all you gave me in stocks, bonds, and new business ventures. You were wealthy when you left but now you are exceedingly so." The businessman praised his ingenuity and resourcefulness and gave him authority, second only to his own, in his organization.

The second reported, "I took your real estate and divided it into portions. In your name I built housing for the poor, set up hospitals for the underprivileged, and created open space for all to love and enjoy. Your reputation as a humanitarian in this country has grown beyond all expectations." Overjoyed, the businessman made his friend chairman of his foundation promoting humanitarian causes throughout the world.

The third, however, seemed less than enthusiastic. "I knew you were a self-made man and took advantage of whatever opportunities you had in life. But I decided worked that if I sold your property and invested the proceeds, I could have made a mistake and lost it all. So, I locked them up in a vault and waited for you to come back." To this man the businessman said, "I gave you complete freedom with my resources -- you could have done incredible things. Instead, you've done virtually nothing because you were afraid to try."

The moral of the story is, it's not so much what we have as what we do with it that counts. Meaning is not so much discovered as it is created. The question of life's significance is best answered by acting significantly. On January 20, 2009, we will inaugurate President who has challenged us to do just that. Everything we do, from the smallest daily task to saving a life, is filled with potential. One might seem more dramatic than the other, but it all matters.

(Creative Commons image by Moyan Brenn via Fkickr)

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