The other night I was reading Kristin Lavransdatter and came to the part of the story where Kristin’s father, Lavrans Bjørgulfsøn, begins to say his goodbyes to his family. Aged 52, he has begun to suffer from very poor health and having outlived his father and grandfather he knows the end is near. Throughout the book I’ve pictured this man of Norway circa 1300 as a cross between King Fergus (the father of Merida) in Disney’s Brave, and King Theoden from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. While riding through the countryside with his eldest daughter they share many things. He had strongly considered life in a monastery when he was younger, but his father bought him armor and the weapons of war (in those days they were fighting the Danes) and he chose to follow his father’s wishes.
In the excerpt I quote below, Lavrans speaks of something I think most of us do: look back. We look back when we find ourselves in a bind, or we perceive events have conspired against us. We reflect upon the choices we’ve made and the roads not taken.
“But I chose this world myself, and whenever things went against me, I tried to tell myself that it would be unmanly to complain about the fate I had chosen. For I’ve realized more and more with each year that I’ve lived: There is no worthier work for the person who has been graced with the ability to see even a small part of God’s mercy than to serve Him and to keep vigil and to pray for those people whose sight is still clouded by the shadow of worldly matters. And yet I must tell you, my Kristin, that it would be hard for me to sacrifice, for the sake of God, that life which I have lived on my estates with its care of temporal things and its worldly joys, with your mother at my side and with all of you children. So a man must learn to accept, when he produces offspring from his own body, that his heart will burn if he loses them or if the world goes against them. God, who gave them souls, is the one who owns them—not I.” ~Kristin Lavransdatter, Book II: The Wife. Part II: Husaby. p.542.
There are a lot of things left undone in my life if seen through the eyes of a teenaged me. I was going to
- pitch the Red Sox to their first World Series title since 1918
- play drums and go on tour with my band
- travel throughout this country and perhaps Europe as well
- be a successful business owner and make my first million by the age of 35
- be a husband and father
- be a college professor, author and lecturer and live a life of relative quiet except for the noise of inquisitive students in the classroom
- live life as a religious, perhaps a priest, more likely a monk, spending my days in service to God and without the burdens of the rat race that is modern life. Of course I wasn’t Catholic at the time, but I still leaned this way
- publish a book (or books)
I did become a husband and father, and there is still time for me to do most of the rest. Though I never pitched at Fenway, I can still see a game there (and they’ve won three World Series over the last decade). I’ve travelled throughout America and still plan to tackle Europe. I’ve been a small-time business owner, and while I failed to make my first million by the age of 35 the world didn’t end.
And on and on it goes.
Thank God for those swings and misses.
What I got be is a parent. The hardest, most difficult, time-consuming, frightening and rewarding profession or vocation known to man or woman. Along the way I’ve
- watched my oldest with pride on the ballfield, classroom, or interacting with peers, adults and children. If all goes according to his plans around this time next year I’ll be watching him graduate from basic training as a full-fledged member of the US Marine Corps. I’ll warn you now…I suspect my pride on that day will be stupidly-ridiculously off the charts.
- worried round the clock as my second son struggled to survive his first weeks of infancy in the NICU as some still unknown malady caused him seizures and fevers that could have killed him. I’ve watched him grow into a sensitive soul, follow his big brothers success on the ballfield and this year begin to tackle reading with gusto.
- melted into goo while having tea parties with my imaginative story-telling daughter, shared our first dance to “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC between innings at her big brother’s baseball game, and soaked in every hug, fist bump, and minute spent with her on my lap watching a movie.
- made too many mistakes to mention. Forgiven myself for most. Prayed for my children to forgive the rest.
With luck, and God’s grace, I’ll be around to watch them continue to grow into their own persons, leave the safety of their parental nest, and perhaps share their lives with spouses and children of their own.
I think that’s why the passage from Kristin Lavransdatter stood out to me. The more I think about it the more I lean towards having it written as part of my eventual obituary. I’ve been struggling more than I’ve let on with the reality of my first child leaving the next soon, and with the fact that the choices he is making for his future and his life are not those that I would have him make. In fact he is making choices that delve into the world of the unknown for me and truthfully ones that I lacked the courage to make when I was his age. And so I’ve had to re-learn to trust. Trust God (more) and trust my son as he begins to make his way into the world.
It’s not easy. As Barb Lishko recently wrote I’ve had to remind myself that
…this life is only the journey, but the journey that spans our lifetime and directs where we will end up for eternity. This is the proving grounds, the testing and the purifying of our souls to ready us for eternal joy and infinite love poured out from God.
Everything in this life is an opportunity to stretch our hearts to prepare them for more. More what? More of God’s love in heaven.
Along this journey I do afford myself a few peeks back at what might have been. It is near the end of this life that I a most looking forward to looking back at what was. I chose this life, or at least the bulk of it. I accept the sacrifices made and pray for the strength to endure those to come.
A few weeks ago I purchased a small wooden plaque carved with these words from Proverbs 3:5-6 and set it atop our piano:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
After all God, who gave them souls, is the one who owns them—not I.
©2013 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.