At 6:30 AM, my phone buzzes loudly on the faux-wood desktop in my room, tearing me from an intimate moment with Albert Camus and French existentialism. Someone who loves me is texting to say good morning.
I don’t respond. My mind is sharpest in the early hours, and I have to study. Outside, the sun rises and casts brilliant gold light on deep red brick across the street. I keep my blinds closed.
I check my email en route to lunch around midday. Someone who loves me sent a note from Rome. No time now. I’ll respond later.
But, I don’t. Between my smartphone and computer, the note gets buried under dozens more emails, most of which don’t matter and get deleted without pause. Still, the one from Rome gets lost in cyberland, and I forget it was ever sent in the first place.
A little red ‘1’ sits atop the phone icon on my home screen. A voicemail from someone who loves me has been sitting for three weeks and counting, waiting patiently to be heard.
I don’t listen. By now, it’s been so long that if I do finally return the call, I’m afraid to explain myself. It can wait a little longer. Meanwhile, lake waves crash onto big rocks along the shoreline just outside my house. All day long, I walk through campus, barely noticing that the lake is there.
A great Jesuit died the other day. Bob fought cancer for nearly 10 years, and the disease finally took him. I lived with him for five months in Chicago, and he was my favorite lunch companion. He’d sit at the head of the table with some odd combination of foods that wouldn’t upset his fragile stomach, and we bright and eager philosophy students would listen, captivated by whatever wisdom he offered that day.
He was a highly accomplished man, and once (at lunch, of course), I asked him how he would describe his life’s greatest work. As I imagined any number of answers from a long litany of successes in his professional and priestly career, he paused for a potent moment of silence.
“Well,” he said softly, voice unsteady from fatigue, “I’ve tried to be a good Christian man.” Not long after, a few of us helped him box up his hundreds of books and he left for an infirmary community in Boston. I never saw him again.
I exist within the borders and boundaries of a world made in goodness and love. This world has reached out to me a million times revealing that goodness and love, and yet, I often fail to respond. I savor video chats with my godchildren, but it takes me too long to find the time and connect. The maple trees just west of my house have been glowing with fall colors for a while, but I’m only now stopping to admire them, the last leaves falling in the cool autumn breeze. There are always more pressing matters – a few quick pages to read, or a new YouTube video, or a power nap that I don’t need – while the divine – and my awareness of it all around me – gets brushed aside.
After Bob left, I thought about him every day. When I heard he was dying, I assumed I had a little time to compose an email or make a call, but it happened more quickly than I imagined. And so, all those desires to share my love with him in this life are lost, left forever to some faith that now he intercedes for me with the God who brought about all this love in the first place.
But I did think about him everyday. And I will continue to. Perhaps that’s love and beauty waiting for me to respond. Love seeking desperately to break through the busyness and laziness and selfishness of an imperfect life, a life that struggles to recognize just how much love there is out there for me.
Indeed, the invitation to love continues. An invitation to both receive love well, and to offer my own loving response to it.
I have what I need. I know what I want. I realize I can. I can call my parents back today, and send a few simple emails to folks who I want to be friends with forever. I can plan to get up 15 minutes early tomorrow for some pre-coffee prayer. And, on the next sunny afternoon, I can watch the changing colors come alive while my window is flooded with sunset. And so, I think I will.