Me & Christopher Columbus

Two hundred and twenty five days was all it took for the history changing voyage. Christopher Columbus set sail with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria from Palos, Spain on Aug 3, 1492 and by his return on March 15, 1493 had traversed round trip across the Atlantic Ocean, explored, named and claimed the Caribbean Islands for Ferdinand and Isabella, and opened the New World for future travelers. And as we say, “The rest is history.”

It’s been about 245 days since my last writing on May 11, 2012. I never meant to go that long in writing, but life unfolded in a way that has changed our family history and experience from this point forward. We have traversed uncharted waters for us personally and a new part of history is in the making.

My father-in-law died in late April, which little did we know would be the beginning of other events. By May 4, my wife had unexpected double bypass heart surgery with a summer spent recuperating; my in-laws’ house had to be cleared of all its contents so some future residents could make it their home; our daughter went off to college in August; and my mother -in-law moved further along the highway of dementia as she adjusted to her new home in a nursing facility.

Now with a full semester of teaching and administrative work complete at the graduate school I serve, all these things are reminders that my (our) world has changed significantly.
The older I get, the more I become aware that it is critical to savor the present moments because one’s “history” can be overwhelmingly reshaped in 200 days (give or take a few). Often we are lulled into a stupor of sameness believing that we have control over what will happen and we can guide the days to be similar in outcome from those of the past. But just as Columbus didn’t know he would lose two ships and survive a near mutiny, we do not know what each sunrise will bring in the hours that follow. A slip and fall three years ago which took nanoseconds broke my leg that now leaves me with a lifetime limp and daily ache. In a thirty second treadmill walk, my wife’s life changed with a rush from one hospital to another for open heart surgery. A telephone call in the night, a missed stoplight, being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” can change our worlds—our histories—forever.

I’m learning to hold each day as precious, not sweating the small stuff (as best I can), savoring each blessing I receive throughout the day, and spending time reflecting on the grace extended to me in a 24 hour period. It has made me somewhat more quiet and reflective—which I’ve been most of my life as an introvert—but now with a purpose, being more grateful and less judgmental of those around me than I had been throughout much of my life.

Christopher Columbus had a plan as do I. I have plans for the future that I hope will take me places that are good and the best for me, my family, and to those I am connected. But a lot of life is uncharted, providing adventure each day. So I’ve relearned the old “loose-tight” principle—holding onto things that matter as best I can but not so tightly that I edge into despair when the uncharted changes the course of life—at least for the moment.

Blessings to you all as you traverse open, uncharted waters of your own lives. May you mix courage to move forward in all life’s moments with the grace to learn all you can from each situation. May there be grace and peace in the next 245 days of our life.

All Grown Up Needs an ID Card

There are a number of cultural milestones we embrace in the West to signify we are adults or at least moving in that direction. Sixteen gets us a driver’s license, 18 is the time of graduating from high school and obtaining voting privileges. At 21 we are legally able to drink, at 22 or so to graduate from college and maybe in those years between 25 and 35 years of age we might land a “real” job, get married, have children and secure a mortgage.

But it is within the last few years I’ve learned that much of being all grown up is when your parents die, and by the fact of life, you become next in line on that lonesome trail.

My mother died 1 ½ years ago, my father-in-law in April 2012. My wife and I were with them in the long physical struggle of leaving this world. These are the grown up moments when the course of existence places one in the middle of ongoing life and the realities of death. A foot in both worlds, so to speak. A foot planted in the ongoing tasks of working, paying bills, being involved in one’s community, and the other foot lodged in the decisions of end of life health care, funeral preparations, and watching loved ones exhale the last gulp of earthly air. Being grown up comes at that moment, I think. It was a time when routine activities of earthly existence continued flowing ahead, while the demands and necessary assignments of preparing to die get intermingled. It is in these days that we are grown up—balancing, like the scale of Blind Justice, the now and not yet; what is and what is yet to come; with an energy that is a mixture of human sweat and fortitude with an element of divine grace and view of eternity.

I am grown up, as is my wife. We can now accept our place as adults. Maybe there should be an ID Card for this transformation just as there are for all the earlier life milestones we celebrate. Maybe a card to carry in our wallets and share with people when they ask to see some form of identification; a card identifying who we have become. When we share that ID card, they will know that we have weathered a great deal in life and realize that the lines on our faces or our graying hair match the events that drew and colored them.

Blessings to you all as you travel toward the grown up phase of life. May you acknowledge its difficulties, wisdom, endurance, commitments, and realities that come with age.

Grace and peace to you.
David Neidert