It seems like a lot of people are dying these days. I had that thought this morning as Sharon and I watched the funeral mass in Boston for Senator Ted Kennedy. And I found myself thinking about the lives that have stepped off the stage in the last few months and years: Bill Buckley, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Pope John Paul II, Richard John Neuhaus, Walter Cronkite, Jack Kemp. If we go back a few years more, we think of Mother Teresa. There has been a lot of talk about the passing of an era, and I think that is probably true.
Think about the stories of these lives. Are there some threads of meaning that might be helpful as we lead our own lives? If we can step aside from the politics of it all, I think about leading lives of deep convictions. I think about persistence and hard work and discipline. I think about sharp differences that always arise among people of conviction, but I think about the need for civility even in disagreement. I think about lives of thoughtfulness and curiosity. I think about showing love and concern for others, perhaps this most of all. I think about embracing a story of what is true and good and beautiful.
There were lots of wonderful things said about the long and distinguished public career of Senator Kennedy today. I know there were deep failures in his life, and I disagreed with Ted Kennedy often. Not one of the speakers at the funeral, from the Senator’s sons to the president of the United States, failed to note that Ted Kennedy’s life was complex and controversial, troubled and turbulent, full of unspeakable tragedy, sometimes sadly wrong. Even so, we were told, he lived his life with vigor and joy. He stayed the course with his liberal convictions to the end. He sometimes mercilessly attacked people with whom he disagreed, but he was also devoted to his family and to the people who worked for him.
What a complex story. And I find myself thinking, all of our stories are complex, aren’t they? We do some good things. We stand passionately for convictions. But we make mistakes. Our lives are full of failure and sadness too. And how does it all add up?
In surely one of the darkest passages from Shakespeare, Macbeth ponders just these things:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Oh, my, is this all there is? Or are there some meaningful threads and themes that begin to weave their way into our lives? Fate and circumstance determine a great deal about our stories. But is that it? Isn’t it possible to make some serious choices along the way and craft then a narrative for our lives that has meaning?
And here’s the really big question for me: Isn’t it possible to align the little stories of our lives with God’s huge narrative of love and joy and reconciliation?
I believe we can. And that can make all the difference.