July 10, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

As time passes, life is still one big learning experience

Cynthia DewesThey say there is nothing new under the sun. This would imply that, if we’re attentive and persevering, we might actually discover everything there is to know about our world and our life in it.

Well, think again. I’ve been at it personally for many (many!) years, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of possibilities. Luckily, I find this energizing rather than depressing.

Relationships, for example, offer a great variety of opportunities to learn. They begin with experiencing total attachment to our moms and, later, dads.

And they continue through surprising disillusionments and joys shared with families, friends and strangers until we are once again on the receiving end of loving care from all of the above.

As time passes, we may learn either from personal experience or from observing others that some relationships can be toxic, sad, even life-threatening. We learn whom to trust and whom to avoid, still always hoping to find Christ in others.

Work morphs into surprising forms throughout life. While I hated picking strawberries for the neighbors as a kid, I liked the money that I earned. Baby-sitting was more enjoyable, but money was still the driving factor.

Parenting handicapped children furnished me with experience to use in special education. This was something entirely unexpected, but useful and gratifying, not motivated by earning money. And being an only child, and a glib one at that, I found that using words came easy for me so writing became my joy, not to mention my therapy.

We all know that kids offer endless learning experiences, mostly for their parents. Before I had any myself, I knew everything necessary to raise healthy, reverent, virtuous children. You know what happened after that if you’re a parent or even acquainted with one.

We’ve learned as parents that accidents happen, that good kids do bad things occasionally, and that too much attention can be as bad for them as too little.

We’ve also learned that we’re human and need to depend upon advice from our heavenly parent as well as from our human ones.

The inventiveness of the mind that God has given us constantly reveals new things. If they aren’t new under the sun, they sure seem like it, as in technology.

In my lifetime alone, we’ve graduated from transistor radios to twittering, from machine guns to weapons of mass destruction, whatever they are. We used to think such invention always marked progress, but now we’re not so sure.

Medicine also offers something every minute that seems new, including ailments. Who had heard of high cholesterol or swine flu in the days when “hardening of the arteries” and polio were the big medical deals?

There was a “that’s life” (or death) attitude about illness in our culture, which has since become a “why not?” desire to remain alive as long, or longer, than possible. And the meds! Watch TV and learn more than you ever wanted or needed to know about how to treat conditions you never knew existed.

We learn that governments fall and even the heirs of Greatest Generations may falter down the line. We learn that as General Motors goes so goes the country. We learn that change is almost more persistent than death and taxes.

Maybe the best not-new thing under the sun that we learn is that people are inherently good because they are made in God’s image. And if we’re lucky, we may learn how to nurture and dwell in that goodness as well.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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