Empty Chair

There is an empty chair at your Christmas table. Maybe you lost someone 40 years ago. Maybe you lost someone earlier this week. Our Christmas celebrations recognize abundance — the gathering of friends and family into our homes, the tables laden with roast and casseroles and treats. Our Christmas trees are rooted deep in piles of gifts given and gifts received.

But Christmas is also about what’s missing. The people we loved, we lost and we need back in our lives. When we slow down to recognize the empty chairs, it isn’t only their absence we feel. There is greater abundance. We laugh. We tell stories. We remember. Their lives fill our lives.

We hug our children. We kiss our wives. We celebrate the long unbroken line that is our family meal. The table stretches farther before us and farther beyond us than we can possibly see. And yet, we each have our plate, our place at this table. For this moment, maybe the next, until one day we too have passed and the empty chair is ours and it is our time to hope our lives have helped make the meal richer for all.

We Return | A Meditation on Aging

When we are born, we enter eagerly into our bodies. We put them on like space suits and make each step an excursion away from mother’s safety. We wear these suits for the rest of our lives, learning through painstaking trial and error how to operate the clumsy machinery of muscle and bone, how to make it carry us, stumbling across the treacherous limits of gravity. How we stumble and fall, tripping all over ourselves, sometimes laughing, sometimes crying.

And how, with time comes grace and eventually indifference as we play and chase and jump and crouch. We hide ourselves in places no one will even think to look. We make a game of it and we play and play and play.

And how, one day, our body betrays us for the first time, becoming tall and gangly or wide and unsteady. The riot of hormone and impetuous acts called adolescence.

And once adolescence  is mastered, we find ourselves forgetting our bodies again. No longer seeming a space suit. Our bodies become mere raiment. They are those things we put on to move easily through polite society. The fashions we adopt to hide our secret selves and glide bullet proof, invisible, through polite society. We forget our bodies for days, sometimes weeks at a time. Our animal selves are recalled only in fleeting moments of hunger and exercise. From time to time, there is the gift of sex. And some time after, for some, the hot, bright brand of child birth.

And there is the occasional gift of injury and illness. Something gets broken, a bone or a tooth perhaps, and we return for a moment to that clean, bright place of our own birth. But it is fleeting. It does not last.

And then, when we are old, it happens. Our bodies begin to fail and we are reminded that we are wandering on the surface of a great, indifferent space ship and our life support is thin. Everything depends on this weird, frustrating machine. This glitchy space suit that is built to fail. And we stare out into the expanse of the stars. Where in youth we saw a sky filled with a billion brilliant fires, we now see only the darkness yawning between faint, cold stars.

And this is the miracle of living. This is the final catechism of our days. You need not believe in reincarnation. This is not philosophy or religion. This is biology, brutal and sincere. Before we die, we are returned completely into our bodies and the world shrinks away from us as we drift too far and all the things that once seemed to matter so very much now diminished and then vanished and we are left with the only thing that matters. The rude and stupid meat that must be taught. Our minds, once bright, grow dim. And our animal selves emerge, reincarnate. Broken yet somehow complete. And we return.

Meditation: Your Life is a Borrowed Thing

Your life does not belong to you. It is a borrowed thing. Someday, you will be required to give it back. Until then, you must use your borrowed life as an instrument. Do good work. Contribute everything you can. Hold nothing aside. Increase happiness. Help others make the most with their borrowed lives. Learn without fear. Help others learn without fear. Be relentlessly generous. Give until you have nothing left. This is how you live the kind of life worth living. This is how you honor the gift you have been given. This kind of life does not come easily. Practice everyday. Do not tell others how they should live. Show them. Prepare the way for those who come after you. Return your life when it is required of you. Stand aside. Smile. Breathe.

(for JT)