Do you believe in miracles? Have you looked in the mirror? Jewish author Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:
“How embarrassing for man to be the greatest miracle on earth and not to understand it.”
A couple of things strike me about that line.
First, it expresses a truth that is absolutely undeniable. There’s simply nothing in the world that has the capacity for thought, imagination, delight, wonder, goodness that an ordinary human being has.
And that’s what you are.
Second, I think Heschel is right: Even though we know this, it’s not easy to fully realize and affirm this view of the human being.
For example, when we look in the mirror first thing in the morning, “miracle” is probably not the first word that pops into our heads! And the same applies when we look at some of the ornery folks around us!
We need to go deeper—deeper than the noise in our heads, deeper than our wounds and gifts, deeper than our successes and failures, deeper than circumstances and disappointments, deeper than the news of the day.
We need to get down to a quiet reflection: I am a human being, and you are a human being and there’s something about that that is miraculous and worth celebrating. Even when there seems to be no reason to celebrate. Especially then.
Like a baker working yeast into dough, when we quietly work this high view of the human being into our daily lives and relationships, we are adding the one ingredient that can help life rise with the lightness and levitation and expansive power of joy. And that’s miraculous.
Leonardo da Vinci saw his share of “cold weather” in life, and he suggested a word for times like these: Patience.
“Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.”
Patience is a quiet word, but a powerful word. It’s the waves that take years to smooth the rocks along the shore. It’s the sun rising every morning, no matter what.
Patience is not a flashy word. But it is essential to doing great work. Or doing small things in a great way. Or living well, even when no one seems to notice.
Patience helps to temper our expectations of people and circumstances. It helps us cancel our appointments with disappointment. It helps us roll with the punches.
“Patience” has the same root as the word “passion.” It’s a kind of cool, quiet passion in slow motion. A passion that puts time on our side…passion that keeps what really matters in mind even in tough or quiet times…passion that keeps quietly plugging away at the good, the right, the true. Even without a spotlight.
Patience knows that “this too will pass.” And it simply never gives up.
“In the midst of winter, I found that there was within me an invincible summer.”
So patience has two functions. It protects us in cold weather. And it can help us get or stay in touch with our inner, invincible summer.
Guest post by Landon Saunders
The French philosopher Montesquieu wrote: “We receive three educations: one from our parents, one from our schoolmasters, and one from the world, and the third one contradicts the first two.” I cited this quote in a speech, and nearly every head vigorously nodded in agreement. Why is this? Why does the education we receive from the world differ from the one received from parents and school?
One reason lies in the difference between living in a more controlled environment and living “on our own,” the difference between operating a simulator and operating the controls on your first real flight as the pilot. But, of greater significance is the confrontation with tragedy. Tragedy is one of the world’s greatest teachers. Tragedy is the boot that crushes the fingers you are using to cling to the edge of a cliff, but if you didn’t use lose your grip on the cliff, you might never learn that you can fly.
This is harsh, you might say. And it is. But have you ever known tragedy to be tactful and diplomatic? Have you ever known tragedy to be reasonable? Does it say, “Excuse me. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll cause you to suffer today.” No, there’s almost no way to prepare specifically for a meeting with tragedy. And there’s no way to avoid it. Every life suffers. Any difference is only one of degree.
Let us be clear about what we are saying: Life must deal with the tragic, but that is not the end of the story. Facing the tragic with courage leads to passion and strength. We will never know how much we can do until we have the courage to look suffering in the eye and defy it.