There’s a quote I think of often, from a movie that never hit the big time, but which has really stuck with me over the years: Grand Canyon. “Everything seems so close together,” the character Claire tells her husband. “All the good and bad things in the world. I feel it in myself, even. And in us. Our marriage.”
There seems to be a deep truth in that quote, but I’ve never quite managed to wrap my head around it, until this week in my nursing-time reading, I started reading what Henri Nouwen had to say on the subject of gratitude and celebration.
His argument is that every occasion of celebration also involves loss: when you get married, it’s union, but also departure from the family ties that formed us; when you graduate and get a job, you lose the environment of constant seeking and stimulation of being in school. And so on. To celebrate life means to celebrate the whole works–the ups and downs are part and parcel of the same thing; we aren’t supposed to celebrate one part and merely tolerate the other. “Those who are able to celebrate life can prevent the temptation to search for clean joy or clean sorrow,” he said. “Life is not wrapped in cellophane and protected against all infections.”
“Gratitude is a difficult discipline, to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future….I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say ‘everything is grace.'”
(Quotes from The Essential Henri Nouwen, edited by Robert A. Jonas. You should buy this book. Today.)
I know the truth of this; if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times, that there’s a reason for all we’re asked to suffer, that it’s in life’s difficult moments that we learn the most important lessons. But it’s easy to wax philosophical when life is good. Not so easy to touch that truth when the tough times come calling. Or move in.
But where I really see these words intersecting my world is in the everyday. It’s not the big stuff that gets me, it’s the constant low hum of self-sacrifice, noise and chaos when my soul’s natural state is quiet and solitude. And yet the blessing is the curse. Look how rich my life is. You can’t have four little ones running around, eight pairs of chubby, soft arms around your neck, four separate adorable giggles, all the heart-catching moments beyond count, without the noise and chaos.
Everything is so close together. The good and the bad, they are the same thing, shined on from east and west. I may never say, “Thank you, God, that my children are banging on everything in sight and Michael finds things on the floor to choke on even after I’m sure we’ve gotten every single thing up and I have to issue the instruction six times for every individual book I want them to put away.” But I can appreciate the gift–that amazing gift so many long so deeply for–of my children. I can acknowledge that what seems like light and dark are really one and the same, and simply be grateful for the gift of life, with all its shades, and choose not to focus on what irritates.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (I Thess. 5:16-18)