Then and Now

Rome, 2010


And so it is that a person can stand in this place,
Streets full of memory and forgotten words,
A time forgotten, but a time forever woven in the fabric of this life.
So it is that you can come to a place so familiar,
Yet so distant,
Remembering the ones who shared your joy,
Who now are far away, as though dead and buried.
Time takes away all things, and life goes on.
You know why you came here.
It was not in search of a feeling, a rush of joy that belonged to a different time.
Something had to change, someone else had to come back here, you are someone else now.
We do not stay the same, from day to day.
Someone else is always coming back, never the one we were.
It makes us sad, for a moment, when we think of the past,
When we think of the things that used to make us sad,
And realize life does not stay the same.
But only for a moment.
You know why you came here.
And you are glad, because your quest is more noble this time.
Something is the same, some regret, some anguish at your aloneness.
Yet you chose it this time, it was not given to you unasked for.
If you could not help but hope for the feeling,
Still you knew it would never come, that you were called to something greater
This time.
When you were young, all that could move your intractable heart was the feeling,
So it was granted to you for a time, if only to bring you back here one day.
You are someone else now, someone who was changed by a stroke of Providence,
Someone who can suffer more and weep less.
Remember that you did not ask for the gift, the joy, the feeling.
It was given to you to bear, like a Cross that turned into a glorious arising.
Yet how could it change you?
How could an unprayed for joy lead you to choose the Cross later?
If you are not searching for a feeling, why are you here?
You know why you came here.
The feeling was a tool, no more.
It was bound not to last, it was gone before it was realized.
Yet you came back.
You will always go back to those days of autumn,
And yet life is better when you choose the good, not when it is given to you.
And that is the difference between then and now, that you learned how to be led.
You grew as mortals do, you became a person able to choose what is good.
And the good is not always accompanied by the sweetness.
The difference between then and now is that you learned to choose the better sweetness
That sometimes tastes bitter to a mortal heart.
You will always be turned around by the Providence that brought you to your knees,
The omniscient care that you did not merit.
You could not have done this of your own accord, you are too blind to lead even yourself.
You would not have chosen it.
You must be led.
And you were led, no, you were carried because you would not be led.
Your will was too strong for a staff, for a rod, for a gentle word or a sharp rebuke.
You had to be held by Arms too strong for your flailing,
Arms that held you fast through all your destructive thrashings.
Imagine again the destruction you once meditated for yourself.
You had to have the good chosen for you, a little child without reason.
How great this suffering, this moment when we turn away from the things of a child and learn to be free,
When life becomes more docile, yet more frightening,
When paths lie sprawled before you like scattered marbles
Dropped in a sidewalk game,
Each one taking its own way and speaking its wisdom to you.
How easy is life when you do not have to decide,
When you are a child.
How childish we are for so long, long after we should know better.
We think that maturity consists in self-will,
In our unwitting self-created prison,
That absolute mistrust of authority,
Of the guiding Hand,
The deafness that results from the sound of our own unhappiness.


Yes, life is easy when you are all you have to answer to,
When our disappointment is as limited as our abilities.
We are so free, if I may name it freedom for now,
So free to do what little our efforts can and blame the rest on the world,
So free to be mediocre, because mediocrity is all we are capable of.
If we had no real strength, nothing would be demanded of us.
And we prefer it this way.
Extraordinary stories are for the heroes of legend who never existed.
Not for us.
Extraordinary is not for the mortal.
We fear the moment of realization, when we find the toys of our youth insufficient,
When we realize there is something else,
That more is being demanded of us.
No, not us, give us back the superficial turnings of our childish imaginations,
And let us be amused.
We dislike the moment when it all becomes clearer, when the steps of life fall into place.
We do not dislike it because we must suffer.
We know that nothing comes without suffering.
It is the dependence.
Tell me what I mean, if you know.
I do not know it, my heart is still too untame.
Tameness must be learned, it must be allowed to grow.
We are not tamed like a beast, to bear burdens and lose our hope,
We are tamed like a flower that bears blossoms through cultivation.
But our thorns are always waiting,
Ready with their poison to strike the peaceful Caretaker.
Why do we resent the tameness so much?
What are we hoping for?
I think it is because failure through weakness is easier than success through the dependence.
The dependence scares us more than the suffering,
Than the failure.
How unreasonable we are.
For I think it is control we seek in all of this,
Perhaps not complete control, we know already that is impossible.
Just the grip of one hand,
The sight of one eye,
Something to allay the fear of the helplessness that makes us scream in terror,
In anger at our own incurable ignorance.
Tell me again why you are here,
In what maturity consists,
And how we are meant to grow.
Tell me the way that life is,
If it becomes stable after a time,
Or if I must always be so dependent.
Perhaps life is learning the dependence,
Learning the peace that contends with you,
You who are terrified at every corner lest you become less than your self-imagined oracle.
Tell me if I must always be so trusting,
Or if an auspice will give me the omniscience I seek.
Tell me if we live by auspices, or if we live by the dependence.