Taking Stock, Giving Thanks, Crediting Grace
I thought about quoting Lou Gehrig's "I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth." But that immortal line, familiar even to those who don't know a fungo from a balk, was uttered in a very, very bittersweet moment. I would have appropriated that claim of the pride of the Yankees as an unqualified assessment of my life's journey.
What prompted my thoughts of The Iron Man's emotion-laden declaration on his day of honor was our day of honor. Forty of us, family members and a few longtime friends, had gathered in the River Room of the Silvermine Tavern in Norwalk CT, Friday, June 17th, a day early, to celebrate Barbara and Bob's Golden Wedding anniversary. My sole moment of speechmaking was to offer a toast. Lou Gehrig was never mentioned... nor probably thought of, except by me. But his sentiment lingers, without a smidgeon of the regret in which his speech must have been steeped.
In another place on this website you may, in due time, if you wish, see for yourself some of the special moments of the anniversary celebration. Lots of photos were taken, but none by me. I am waiting on family and friends to make up for my deficiency in the jpeg department.
From my perspective of seventy-three years, fifty of them spent with an extremely patient woman, I quite frankly marvel at how lucky I have been and am. Of course, I chose the right parents, the right generation, and the right country. Give me that much credit... which is none at all. Well, yes, I did choose Barbara, knew, in fact, before I met her that she would be my bride, a thought which, when I express it, thoroughly annoys her, as if she had no say in the matter whatsoever. Still, those of you who know her appreciate my genius.
Christian doctrine makes little room for luck. Providence is the preferred category. It's rarely invoked in the modern world, probably because it sounds too much like a sermon by Cotton Mather (whoever he was). Providence is the guiding hand of the Almighty, as that hymn no longer in favor in a feminist age puts it: "Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust him for his grace; Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face." Poet William Cowper clearly knows a thing or two about God's designs with us. And I happily report that for me the frowning has been less and the smiling more.
I will spare you the counting of my blessings. You would hate me for it anyway. Just know that I know (and you probably do too) just how lucky (er, providentially blessed) I am.
Which can be a problem for other people, when they come to a different conclusion about the arc of their lives. Like the fellow who phoned me to inquire about my knee replacement surgery. He had gone and had likewise. But in the months subsequent to the procedure and rehab he was nowhere near as sanguine as I have been about the results. His pain continues, and he wanted to know, nay, nearly demanded from me, just why I was doing so well and he wasn't.
Celebrating your good fortune (i. e., your gift of grace) can stir up envy.
But celebrate it we should for the surprise of it, whether or not anyone else thinks it only deserving. You and I know better. That the hand of God is open and blessing far beyond any personal merit. That not only the beginning terms of our lives (genes and generation) over which we have no control are gracious, but so are the choices and responses we make along the way, many of them blindly, and oh so many of them ill-informed. There is no such thing as a self-made man. None of us get what we deserve, for good or ill.
Lou Gehrig, as the effects of ALS began to numb his body, wasn't putting a sweet face on a sour situation. He was telling the truth for all of us... including a couple of golden septuagenarians in a tavern among family and friends.