The Grace of the Short Life

The rabbis spoke of how “our lives are too short.” This wisdom was not offered with regret or with a gaze backwards, forlorn over what might have been. Rather, this was a humble word releasing our anxieties that continually mount alongside the ever-abounding recognition that our possibilities are endless, that all we wish for ourselves could not possibly come true. Not in our life. Not in a hundred lives. Our lives are too short for that kind of burdensome, grandiose vision. Rest easy, the rabbis would say. Praise to the Master of the Universe, our lives are simply too short.

I find solace in these words. We have so many options. So many places we can be and so many works we could do. It’s a grace to be time-bound, to have limitations, to know from the get-go that there will be much we cannot finish, much we’ll simply be unable to do.

Friends of ours have a daughter who is easily over-stimulated, a spiral effect that leads to massive meltdowns (a scenario we are familiar with in our own brood). This episode was replayed for them recently on a trip to the beach, but on their last day they discovered how much she loved to be buried, neck-deep in the sand with a towel covering her head. Closed off from the world, unable to budge and barely able to wiggle her toes, she was transformed. Her anxieties ebbed as she was closed in, closed off to all the sounds and sights and all the other (good, even) possibilities of play with her siblings. The wide ocean and never-ending shore was too much. She needed a few square inches in which to sit.

For most of us, that’s a good word. Find your few square inches. Find the people you are to love, and love them well, love them deep. Find the place you are to love, for now, and love it – love it in the steady, anxious-free way of one who does not obsessively hop, skip and jump from one option to the next. Pay attention to what you must do in your world, and simply do it. For any other posture, I surmise, our lives are simply too short.

30 Replies to “The Grace of the Short Life”

  1. This writing is one that resonates with me. It is so liberating. I hope you will allow me to quote your first paragraph on my college site to my students at Blue Ridge Community College… Thank you,
    Nell Tiller

  2. Funny what happens when you pray for clarification. First off I never click onto your link when shared from Facebook; I always wait for it to show up in my inbox. I don’t know why, I just do. Today, I clicked onto the link you shared on Facebook and here I am.

    I’ve had a desire flare up in me. I started working on it a couple years back. I stopped abruptly. In the days and months that have passed since I have been a changed and changing creature, with my words and the reason for writing them. The desire is in full force in recent weeks. Saturday as I was sitting in the passenger seat of my husband’s truck, after driving past the mental hospital that my grandmother (who died when I was six) spent some time (and which was close to where I live now but never knew, much longer story) and to whom I never knew or heard much about other than her mental illness and all that entailed. I was swirling with thoughts of this woman who lived once upon a time; a woman like me, with dreams and sins and hopes and heartbreaks, and how she is no longer living. And I thought about how I have this desire and the way it’s changed and how I could sit here and let life pass me by with all the lists and chores and must-do’s to keep me from it and ten years from now say, “Well, I did always want to ________.” But if I don’t start I won’t ever do it. So do it. So I started, again. Then the barrage of voices that sound like truth when I’m tired and afraid slam into me with the force of a mack truck and I agree with them and wonder who I even think I am, etc.

    You get the idea. But then, here, you write this: “Find the place you are to love, for now, and love it – love it in the steady, anxious-free way of one who does not obsessively hop, skimp and jump from one option to the next. Pay attention to what you must do in your world, and simply do it. For any other posture, I surmise, our lives are simply too short.”

    Thank you!

    1. Rebekah, there’s a whole light of life spilling from your soul, that’s easy to see. I hope you’ll be courageous and just let it continue to spill.

  3. It is good to be content with the here and now. Soon enough some personal or world event will shake the foundation and everything will change. Though I am happily reveling in my life right now, I sometimes wonder if the Lord has something else for me to do. Your words are a reminder that each day is a gift to be cherished and the Lord will make it known to me if there is something else to which I need to devote my time. Till then I will simply be thankful for, and pay attention to, all the blessings of each day. Thank you!

    1. I think the thankfulness part gets right at the core. Gratitude is hard to come by when we’re always gazing somewhere else.

  4. Winn, I have a feeling you’re going to be quoted in a paper or two of mine somewhere in the next 3 years. As always, thanks for offering words that matter.

  5. Great stuff, Winn. Reminds me of a Percy Walker quote that I heard once that has always stuck with me: “Lucky is the man who does not secretly believe that every possibility is open to him”.

    1. Oh, Percy, Percy, there you go again. That’s a great line. I will tuck that one away. Here’s one from Rob in High Fidelity (who’s a lot like Percy if you think about it…or not): “I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. And that’s suicide. By tiny, tiny increments.”

  6. you never cease to amaze me with your great words! After several years of reading your posts,I still greatly enjoy your skill and insight.

  7. Hope wanted to read this (again) before bed tonight. You seem to have struck a chord with quite a few of us on this one, buddy!

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