Just last week I sat for an hour completely mesmerised by a theologian. With a small room full of listeners and the rain falling outside, this retired sage of the church wove together seamlessly Barth, Augustine, feeling, poetry, art and experience into one of the most moving and healing presentations I’ve heard. After leaving I sat on a tram and texted a colleague, ‘That’s the sort of theologian I want to be when I grow up!’ And then it dawned. I am grown up.
In a few weeks I’ll celebrate a significant birthday. It’s one of those decade-marking ones. In my more reflective moments–of which I have far too many than is good for me–I am struck by the fact that as I anticipate half a century of life, I am what I am. With significantly fewer years behind me than ahead, it’s now more about consolidating what is than imagining what could be. It’s a sobering thought. Like many others I suspect, I’ve spent a great deal of energy through the years imaging what might be next and far less inclined to living deeply in what is.
Some years back I read Debra Ginsberg’s book, Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress. What someone in my profession is doing reading such a book is anyone’s guess, but it left a mark. Ginsberg provides a reflective and thoughtful memoir of 20 years waiting tables. In luncheonettes, pizza parlours and diners to Italian bistros and fine dining rooms, so much of Ginsberg’ life is lived–as is typical of those who wait–aspiring to be someone or somewhere else. In time, though, Ginsberg discovers she cannot live her life waiting for the real thing to begin. She looks back over her shoulder at two decades of waiting–this is her life, and one she is finally able to embrace.
‘ … perhaps the most valuable lesson I’d learned was that the act of waiting itself is an active one. That period of time between the anticipation and the beginning of life’s events is when everything really happens–the time when actual living occurs. I’d spent so much time worrying about the outcome of my life that I’d forgotten how to live it. I’d also come to know that not everything was fraught with a vast and complicated meaning. Sometimes it was only about timing the order just right, recommending a particularly good dessert, or making a friend out of a stranger at my table. I began to see not only the simplicity of these acts but their beauty.’
Ginsberg is right. It’s the beauty of what is that I choose to embrace–of who I am, what I do today, what I have now. It may not be all that I imagine in my more grandiose moments, but it is good. And for that I’m grateful.