Octo Observations: Life’s Highs and Lows

With Easter and Passover celebrations ended for 2019, we reflect upon the highs and lows of life, as evidenced in the last several days. We wake up this Monday morning to headlines of the vicious suicide bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday while so many innocent people attended worship services or gathered in luxury hotels for breakfast. A beautiful island country, blitzed by heinous murder and chaos.

We humans are equipped to feel great joy and profound sadness. Perhaps those emotions anchor us, keep us balanced and teach us to embrace the volatility of life. We know not to take anything for granted. Nothing stays the same for long.

On Sunday, April 28 golfer Tiger Woods, once the “wunderkind” of his sport and now 43 years old, rose like a phoenix to win the annual Masters’ Golf tournament. This marked his first major win in eleven years. Tears of joy sprang to many an eye as Tiger sank that last putt. When he swooped up his little ten-year old son Charlie, and hugged his eleven-year old daughter Sam, even the harshest critic melted. Tiger was “back.” He may have botched his marriage by stupid, selfish acts of depravity. He may have fallen apart physically, emotionally, and suffered numerous back surgeries. Yet with much help and effort, he reset his inner compass and became a champion once again. No need to be a golf enthusiast to admire the sheer guts of Tiger’s comeback. He is a champ once again, and he has lived, learned and triumphed. Cheers, Tiger! (And UVA basketball fans are still cheering over their team’s monumental win!)

The very next day, as we Americans reveled in the happy front- page pictures of Tiger’s victory, people were yanked from euphoria as TV screens lit up with images of the horrific flames bursting forth from the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is one of history’s most revered tributes to Christianity. I have been to Paris three times and visited Notre Dame faithfully. My heart surges at its medieval beauty, its artifacts, its gargoyles, its stone statues and its magnificent rose windows…indeed, its story. To think it took nearly two centuries to build, by humble men and consummate craftsmen dedicated to raising a monument to the Catholic church and Christianity, gives me goosebumps.

Imagine the risks to life and limb as peasants hauled stones into place. Imagine the primitive conditions under which these men worked…the sacrifices they made to create such a glorious house of worship. Imagine the kings and queens and dignitaries who have walked through the narthex, prayed at the altar. It is said that Joan of Arc, before she was burned at the stake, asked to be “raised up so that she could see the gold cross of Notre Dame.” That may be a fable, but it manifests the depth of that brave martyr’s beliefs.

Miraculously, however, what could have been a total disaster was averted. Firemen saved the main structure, human chains led by clergy and laymen rescued priceless artifacts from total obliteration. The Crown of Thorns is preserved, as are dozens of religious relics. A miracle of its own.

To me, and to others in this country, the fire at Notre Dame represents a significant, sweeping change in formalized religion. Notre Dame was built during the height of civilization’s adherence to prescribed religion. The Church was the epicenter of everyone’s life. Now, centuries later, attitudes have shifted. For many of us, it is a huge diversion and an unwelcome departure. Yet, for the young people in today’s society, we witness that many are searching for a new spiritual identity. It doesn’t always encompass the traditional beliefs of their forefathers. Secularism is creeping through Europe and the USA. Fewer people are spending their Sundays at church. Countless young families are not providing a formal religious upbringing for their little ones. Instead, many believe that if they go out into nature, take a hike and embrace the beauty around them, they are talking to God. Mainline churches are struggling financially, and membership is declining. Church pulpits are often a platform for clergy to espouse political or social beliefs more readily than to preach scripture. Such a departure from the days when Notre Dame was built.

Obviously, religious or spiritual life as we Octo folks know it is different. Current trends take more understanding and tolerance than is often comfortable for us. Our flexibility is challenged. I do not pretend to have many answers. I only know what keeps me grounded. My own offspring represent a broad spectrum. Some are questioning their belief in God, some are adamant believers, and some are treading water. But whatever the situation, I am learning I cannot judge. I can only cling to what I believe, what works for me, and what I hope and pray will resonate long after I am gone. These are times to test our mettle, to listen long and hard, and be examples of good, honorable and tolerant people: advocates of keeping FAITH, in whatever form people choose it to be, alive and active.

So! What do we learn from Notre Dame and the story of Tiger’s comeback? We learn that life is a journey of highs and lows. We know that we can feel on top of the world one day yet devastated by some unexpected sadness the next. Life is unpredictable.

Yes, deep down we all know that life is to be cherished: our country, our friends and our families are to be respected and revered. May we count our blessings daily, knowing that life can cease in an instant. Take nothing for granted, and let each of us reach out to make someone else’s life more meaningful. Count every good day with joy, with gladness, and remember that although we may not be able to predict our futures, we can take charge of how we live our lives. We can make a difference to each other. As a mother of four, grandmother of nine and great-grammy of two beautiful babies all of whom live far away, I yearn to be a more “present” part of their lives. Yet, how lucky I am that we have technology which allows us to stay in closer touch.

Each of us has his or her own version of Life’s Highs and Lows. May we be aware as they evolve and learn from life’s adventures. Such precious gifts.

In closing, savor these words written by Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, a British playwright and humorist, who lived from 1836-1911:

“Life is a pudding full of plums;
Care’s a canker that benumbs,
Wherefore waste our elocution
On impossible solution?
Life’s a pleasant institution,
Let us take it as it comes!”

Top Bigstock photo: Rose Window at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.