The sweet mystery of life

Once upon a time, well before the cell phone, there existed a surprising mystery to life. This mystery included a nagging uncertainty about things, yet, conjoined to this uncertainty was the majesty of faith. As long as there have been people on this earth, life has required faith. I am not particularly talking about faith in a supreme being, but rather the kind of faith that would lead a man to head out west, stake out a life, and then send for his wife and kids who would then travel 2,000 miles by horse-drawn wagon to join him. Or, the kind of faith that patiently waits for a letter to arrive in the mail, the simple faith we need while waiting for a child to arrive home from school.

When fulfilled – a family reunited or a letter from a loved one received from half-way around the globe – faith generates gratitude and an increased appreciation of the uncertainty that arises with each and every moment of this life. And of course, faith is bound tightly to that most invaluable of virtues, trust. Without trust, faith fades, and without faith, trust is never tested.

In our attempt to overcome the anxiety of uncertainty, which as mere beings we cannot fully do, our modern culture has instead become habituated to contact and information. While cell phones, e-mail, and networked technology relieve uncertainty for a moment, each new moment brings uncertainties anew, and thus we play a losing game. The information we rely upon to help relieve anxiety, does in fact, often create it. The tragedy of life is nothing new, but knowing about it every minute of every day is new indeed. A massive flood halfway across the globe, a killing freeze 1,000 miles to the north, bird flu in England, death in Africa, the murder of a homeless man in San Diego; all these things, and more, happen every moment of every day. The knowledge of them brings out our best and worst; compassion at our best, hopeless cynicism at our worst.

Nonetheless, as the technology expands, our desire for connection is approaching an obsessive cultural constant. The availability of cell phones and the extension of the Internet, geo-positioning satellite systems, virtually instant e-mail communication; these are replacing trust and faith with the tantalizing fantasy of being in control.

“I’m picking out some apples,” I heard a fellow say the other day at the market. For a moment I thought he was talking to me, but then I saw the cell phone hanging from his ear. Ah well, so much for the mystery of the hunt.

When I was young, communication by telephone was something that was required from time to time. If I was going to be late, my mother expected me to call. But by and large, the telephone was used for the unexpected and not much more. Most Saturdays, astride my trusty three-gear Raleigh bike, I’d disappear after breakfast, be gone all day, and not return ‘til dinner. My mother trusted I’d be home, and that trust was important to me. She had no idea, really, where I was going, and honestly, I often had no idea myself. It was an exciting, great adventure being out in the world, free, alone and far away. What’s more, in returning from my remote, uncertain fate, my mother’s hug and kiss were such sweet relief; in that moment we’d jointly savor the wondrous mystery of life. You see, my mother simply trusted me and had faith that I’d return. And, I always did.