patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

enjoy your current miseries while they last

The first year students in my Writing from Faith course—freshpeople, as I like to call them—have just turned in short essays about biblical truths life has taught them and are reading them aloud.

In one, Kara first took us to the Teacher’s counsel against reminiscing:
Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecclesiastes 7:10 NLT).
Then she compared her current life as a college student—long nights with her books, receiving text messages from her dad saying “Missing you!”—with remembrances of her family’s Friday night tradition of renting a bunch of movies and buying tons of candy from the Dollar General and then watching movies and eating candy until late in the night, she and her siblings often falling asleep “on the couches.”

“What I wouldn’t give to burn the books and settle in for a long night of movies and candy with my wonderful family,” Kara laments, before taking us to her dad’s response, “I remember those days. Enjoy it while it lasts!” and to her own memory of having said the same in response to her younger sister’s complaints about high school.

So much fond memory in this piece. So much envying of others’ current misery as one’s own golden day. As Kara read, I found myself envying not only those family nights and her wonderful family, those images of children asleep on the couches, but that dad—texting his daughter to reminisce about his own college days—and Kara herself, as an older sister, counseling a younger sibling straight out of the weary nostalgia of a college student.

It takes some effort, in these days of caring for age-and-sickness-crippled parents while my girls embark on mysterious lives off at college in a faraway city, to remember past my current emergencies to halcyon moments like the ones my student describes. To looking out the window after a rain and discovering Charlotte and Lulu, naked, lolling in a puddle with the dogs. To that day, one long ago November, when Charlotte gorged on so many sugary persimmons from the trees in our woods that she got diarrhea and couldn’t eat them again for a long time. To Lulu at two or three, solemnly gluing Red Hots, one by one, to the roof of a gingerbread house with tiny fingers sticky with icing.

I can’t quite get to Ecclesiastes’ dictum against thinking those days better than these—better, indeed, than most days I can think of. Without those days to look back on, I don’t know if I could do these days at all.

Yet, when younger friends tell me of their family woes, I find myself coaching, in the spirit of Kara’s dad and Kara herself, “Enjoy your current miseries while they last! Things only get worse: your kids more demanding, less able to take care of themselves not more, your worries more complex.”

What is it that blinds us to the bright beauty of the current moment, rendering it unreachable except in hindsight? Surely it would be wiser, sweeter, to seize time, moment by moment, and devour it, as the poet Marvell invites, and so proceed in ecstasy through this life. That is, I think, the crux of Ecclesiastes’ counsel.