The Value in Being with One Another.
Like many of us, I watched the unfolding horror in Nice when a man drove a truck into a crowd of people watching the fireworks celebration for their independence day. Among the 84 people who were killed there were two Americans--Sean Copeland, and his 11 year old son, Brodie. They were in Nice on a vacation with their whole family. There was a picture of Brodie lying down in the surf of the Riviera, smiing, just a few hours before he died. There was another very touching picture—a silhouette—of Brodie in his baseball uniform, looking up to his father on the pitcher’s mound. Brodie was a great little baseball player, and an actor who had played the lead role in Peter Pan in a local production. He also loved to make his own video movies. I read a quote from his fifth grade teacher. She told him at the end of the school year that she hoped he would remember her when he got his academy award sometime in the future.
I thought about my college students, and about their promise and their futures. I’ve gotten to know a number of them—and their families—quite well. I’ve admitted to some of their parents that I’m jealous of them for having such wonderful daughters and sons. I’ve also told them how grateful I am that they have ‘lent’ them to me for a few short years to teach and mentor them. I’m not sure what kind of a parent I would be, but I have tried to look at the students in front of me as their parents would…as priceless treasures, even if they are sometimes… pains in the butt.
I came across a note that one parent had sent me a few years ago. It was a father, telling me about his daughter. “I love her so much, and I thank God for my wife and my daughter every day. But I have to confess something to you,” he said. “They deserve so much more from me, I realize that now.” And he went on, writing about how he had allowed his work and his business to be more important than his family, more important than anything else, really. All the hours of each day, even the weekends.
I think the guy was very successful. They had a really nice house, cars, clothes…all of it. But deep down I guess he knew, something was missing.
On a whim, I looked up his daughter on Facebook. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in a number of years, and I was curious to find out what she was doing. I couldn’t find her Facebook page, but I did find something else. It was her obituary. I was shocked, and at first I thought I had the wrong person. But it was her. And I suddenly felt this profound sadness—for her parents, honestly, more than for her, because I believe that she has moved on into the arms of the Love that created her. But I was worried maybe especially for her father---I hope that he isn’t living the rest of his life with the regret he wrote to me about in that note.
When I was in Spain last month, I had the sometimes daily frustration of being unable to get food or supplies or information about my travels or even a hotel room between the hours of 1:30pm and 4:30pm. Many places in Spain still follow the traditional siesta break, where stores and offices and schools close, people quit working in the fields or on the sea, and everyone goes home, usually to have a large meal and down time with their families. On Sundays, almost everything is shut down all day long. I think most of us here would find all of that very inconvenient. To not be able to do certain things in the middle of the day, or all day Sunday, would in fact disrupt not only our personal lives, but also our economy. Americans put in more hours at work per week than just about every other nation, and largely because of it, we lead the world in economic power. But at what cost, I wonder.
Jesus warns about the cost in the famous story about two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha, probably the oldest and maybe the more responsible, is totally dedicated to preparing a meal for their special guest. But she is so ticked off that she snitches on her sister, Mary, to the guest himself—Jesus. She tells him that Mary is lazy and unfair to make Martha do all the work. But surprisingly—to us story-readers and to Martha—Jesus praises Mary and says she actually has chosen to use her time more profitably.
Why? Because sometimes there are more important things in life than work.
Just being with Jesus, with the Lord, with Love—what is better than that? And I’ll bet that Jesus didn’t really give a darn about how good the pasta was that Martha prepared, or how clean the house was when he arrived. He just wanted to be with both of them.
And you know what? There are more important things in life than work. Like being with your son or your daughter or your wife or husband, or your parents or siblings or your good friends, or even with a stranger that you meet on the road. They are more important than the size of your house, or your car, or your wardrobe.
Of course it is easy to be consumed by our work and all our responsibilities. There are meals to be made, mortgages and tuitions to pay, medical costs to insure. And there is the expectation throughout our society in business and in our personal lives that more is better, the American myth and lie that we will only be happy and fulfilled if we have a certain lifestyle, economic status, prestigious education, position of power. And the pursuit of all of that can be addicting.
With all kinds of other addictions in life—alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, food--we are criticized and sent off to a clinic. But when we are addicted to work, we are praised. “She is so dedicated! Amazing energy! He is really going somewhere!”. And the saddest conclusion and effect of that praise might be that we find more meaning and value in our work than in the people with whom we are living or working. We might have Jesus sitting right there in our kitchen and not even realize that he is the only thing we truly need.
Do you know what I mean? Can you relate to this?
I’m not so sure that a siesta tradition in our country would be such a bad thing. I’m not so sure that it would be a bad thing if we closed all the stores and the offices on Sundays. And maybe shut down the internet and the cable networks for a few hours as well. Imagine that.
There is value in simply being with one another, spending quantity and quality time together. We are a family, and within that family is where we most especially find the love that transcends even blood ties. It is within the family—the one in the church, the one back at your house, the one that is in your neighborhood, or in this city, or in this country, or in the world—it is within the family that we will find fulfillment and happiness, and where we will be complete. Because the Divine is found in its center, in the middle of all our imperfection and brokenness, all our sinfulness and selfishness and even terrorism, God LIVES, you see. It’s about choosing what really matters in your life, you see.
I was in Coney Island this week. It’s not the Riviera. But it did look like the United Nations. Seeing the children and their parents on the beach and on the rides and eating Nathan’s hot dogs, the whole place looked like family. And in the middle of all of them, in the middle of our brothers and sisters in Nice and in Baton Rouge, and in the middle of us right here and right now, Jesus has come to visit.
Let us be with him---all of us---in peace.