There can be epiphanies in looking back on one’s life, particularly when knowing what one is looking for. The wisdom of lessons learned, for instance, too often remains unnamed, unacknowledged and sadly unshared. What follows might be seen as markings on the wall of my mind, as the measures of my growing.
“Respect everyone you meet,” my father told me, “everyone, unless or until they no longer deserve it. But always leave room for the ‘human’ in them, hoping they do the same for you.”
As a young priest, certainly not in the seminary, I discovered perfection was a myth and the pursuit of its demands could be destructive. I learned that even a priestly role can be a hiding place for the truth of self and that ancient answers should be offered as questions rather than dogma.
As a college teacher I came to realize my students taught me as well, and that true learning happens within an always open and curious mind. My life changed radically when a university professor said to me, “ Don’t give me what I already have; I want what your mind has to offer.”
As a husband, I learned that living with differences is the true test of marriage, that love is more about acceptance, understanding and forgiveness than sexual appetite; that partnership is more important than dependence, that sensitivity is the invitation to sharing.
As a father myself I learned to leave lots of room for the surprises children bring into our lives, believing their lives are truly their own and all I could do was try to teach them how they might live, despite and because of my own human shortcomings and failures.
As a therapist I discovered I could not change another’s life, I had no answers but only questions, along with insights from my own experience both professionally and personally. Also, that presence, bias-free listening and compassion were essential tools of effective therapy.
Other life lessons: anger complicates; humor can be a flashlight for truth; patience is itself its best teacher; acceptance is much more than tolerance; the opposite of love is indifference; and hate is cancer of the soul.
Finally, I have learned that language is the blood of life, that its heartbeat needs to be love. If “In the beginning was the Word,” that Word was pure, non-toxic and constant in its creating. Would that our own might be the same.