A few weeks ago I spent a very special weekend with classmates and friends from my seminary days. Former priests, most married, we get together annually to elebrate our experiences growing up in religious life. We do a lot of looking back, sharing humor (mostly) , insights and tales of our journeys, appreciating all we have been given along the way.

But looking back can sometimes elicit a lot of what-if’s and if-only’s, none of which can change the past. But the questions they prompt help to make the past the teacher it always and only should be and, if pursued, that can make the present a bit clearer. Asked to prompt a discussion among us during our weekend together, I presented a metaphor that has stayed with me ever since, leaving me with a question that will not go away: How have I seen life and gone at it anyway?

I did not know it at the time but when I was 13, there was an alcoholic tornado in our family that lifted and dropped me in a seminary about 450 miles away. I landed in a land of merriment, magic and munchkins and a wonderful yellow-brick road that would lead me to a meaningful life of knowing and serving God. All I had to do was follow and keep to the road, which I did.

Along the way I thought I had found heart, mind and courage to stay the course, despite that Wicked Witch of the “real” world and all those damn flying monkeys out to kill my resolve. My poppy-field dreams energized me for the quest I shared with others and passed on to those I later taught. When I eventually discovered what was behind the curtain of my ideals I did not feel bemused so much as challenged. The yellow-brick road did not do it for me any longer.

That was the metaphor. In the discussion that followed, someone asked, “So who is God for you now, Charlie?” I jokingly replied, “Henry Morgan,” but went on to say that I believe in the presence of God’s creating love in every one of us – what I have since admitted to be a “pretty” response rather than an answer to his question, which lies at the heart of my own.

I am coming to realize that because of my training I had placed myself more in a world the way it should be rather than in a world the way it was – and is.

And I am finding lessons in that insight, the most important being about how life works.

I will never stop believing in a world the way it should be; my poppy-field dreams are always there to embrace. I am coming to know, however, how important it is, even on the short end of time, to live in the world the way it is. The realities of now hold the key to a meaningful life that, I believe, is a life of love in its most embracing sense. Love is ultimately about acceptance and, like God, lives only in the Now. I cannot love the future of anyone or anything.

Love happens here and now, and acceptance is merely the beginning of my responsibilities toward whom and what are the realities of life.

The tornado that carried me off left me with many gifts – especially heart, mind and courage – gifts that would grow over the years. Ever since I returned to Kansas, my quest continues, but down a much wider and reality-beaten road. I cannot imagine what is behind the curtain at the end of that road, but I live believing it will be well worth the journey.