February 28, 2014

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Life, we learn over time, is our favorite land of opportunity

Cynthia DewesSo much to learn. So little time. That seems to be the story of our lives. This world which God has kindly provided for us is so full of interesting, challenging, beautiful things that it would take an infinite number of human lifetimes to absorb them all.

Of course, there’s always book learning—academic, professional or industrial, but I’m talking about the other kind. So while we’re working on our one life, it’s fun to consider what’s available to us. These things can turn up anywhere, but the arts are one thing we really enjoy—and learn from.

Take architecture, for example. One of our favorite Sunday afternoon outings when the kids were young was to drive around different towns, admiring the old or historic houses and sometimes dropping in at a builder’s open house to look at a new one. Later, I was pleased to learn that some of our children did the same with their kids.

Over time, we came to appreciate the work of local architect Evans Woolen. Among other things, he designed private homes, the Inn at New Harmony, St. Thomas Aquinas Church, the addition to the monks’ quarters at St. Meinrad Archabbey, and Clowes Hall on the Butler University campus.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Clowes, which generated a recent public panel conversation among Woolen, another local architect and informed experts. Here again was an opportunity to learn about the artistic process and a great building, as well as an inside look at famous and sometimes infamous people. One thing leads to another.

Often we learn things by chance. When my dad used to phone me every week, he’d invariably ask about our weather, and describe his up in Minnesota. Huh? I thought, what’s so important about the weather? But now, living in a more rural area again, I understand. Dad was raised a farmer and weather was all-important in his world, as it now is in mine on a smaller scale. Now I know more than I ever thought possible about fronts, drought cycles, cloud formations and even wind direction.

Having kids often proves to be instructive. Personally, I’ve learned that some things I thought were important are not, such as when the baby innocently knocks over grandma’s butter dish and it breaks into smithereens. Or when the unreason of tiny baby eating and sleeping routines requires only one response, which is patience. I’ve learned that patience is indeed a virtue.

Aging has taught me that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune abound in the human body as time goes by. And there’s not a whole lot we can do to change that. However, it does make for a rich and constant source of conversation with old, i.e. old, friends.

Of course, as we all know, travel is educational. It provides lessons about other cultures and languages and geography. But, the most important thing I’ve learned from traveling is that people everywhere are much the same. They want to live peacefully, to love their families and friends, to feel respected, and to know that their work has value no matter what it is.

We didn’t need to travel far to learn that most people are good, They constantly surprise us with their kindness, their generosity and their hopes for our well-being. People make us laugh and warm us with a smile. We’ve learned that God’s delightful world is always available to us. And it’s free.

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

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