I believe that life is in fundamentally unfair, which is to say, I believe in grace.
I come from an achievement culture. My grandfather was born hardscrabble in a schoolteacher’s house and bootstrapped his way to the White House.
He wasn’t President, though he appeared likely to be for one thrilling moment early in the spring of 1968. But he served in President Nixon’s cabinet and as an advisor to other Presidents. He was the quintessential self-made man. No family pedigree, not even a college degree, just bull-nosed smarts and old-fashioned hard work.
That emphasis on work and self-reliance has been a powerful ethic in my life. But I have learned something else—a counter parable, if you will. I have learned that the lines that sketch the trajectory of our lives never go down straight. Life’s equations are logarithmic, not algebraic.
I’m thinking of my friend Chris who recently died of colon cancer. Chris lived right. He took care of himself and family. He worked hard. But just as his youngest daughter was entering elementary school, he began a long losing battle for his life.
For Chris, the list of achievements is matched by a shadow list. One with all the things he didn’t get to do. He didn’t get to see his daughters graduate from high school or meet their prom dates. He didn’t get to see his youngest dressed in green chiffon and aglow at her older sister’s wedding.
I think of a beautiful young composer I knew in New York City who literally got hit by a bus as she went to cross the street near Juilliard. All that music we never got to hear.
Life is full of random happenings. Things that happen TO us. For my grandfather it was happening to meet a Senator in Washington who liked him and hired him as a secretary even though he couldn’t type or take dictation. Or you could get colon cancer.
Of course, it’s not what we are given but what we do with it that matters. There’s enough human cruelty in the world alone to keep a good man down. But something elegant follows from the mere idea of life’s absurdity. Something like forgiveness.
Since we don’t all have the same materials to work with, we can’t be judged by our output alone. Taking the final tally of a race is compromised by the fact that everyone starts different places. You have to see the miles on the heart.
And so we must be patient and accepting with each other’s faults and failings. And each time I wake up early to feed MY little daughter, I can accept that as a gift.
The old poet of Ecclesiastes wrote, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding…but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
We can stop worrying about whether life is fair. It’s not. It’s multiplicitous. So take in the view.
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