This morning, I woke up to the sound of buzzing from my cell phone as a teenage friend of mine from Chile sent me a photograph from the Feast of Tabernacles in 2000, which I spent with my mother, stepfather, and brother in Maitencillo, Chile. In the photograph I am holding my friend in my arms while she was five months old. Presumably her mother, who was a single mother about my age when the photo was taken, presumably was taking the photo, while my brother is smiling beside me and my stepfather and mother are not too far away. The photo was adorable, as not only is it a fairly typical thing for me to be holding other people’s adorable and small children. Yet all the same I could not help but feel a bit melancholy while looking at the photo and thinking about it afterward. Why is this so? I suppose it is worth discussing it a bit.
During the Feast of Tabernacles of 2000 I was nineteen years old. Among the friends I made was a young woman with a cute baby daughter who was for whatever reason no longer with the father of the girl. Being the sort of person who has always been a gentleman and particularly solicitous about the well-being of abandoned women and fatherless children. In looking at my more recent life, I have pondered that these same dynamics have made my life a great deal more complicated, all without fulfilling my longings for my own wife and family. I have encouraged and befriended plenty of other people in my time, been a gentle and tender soul with many, but in terms of my state, I am more or less in the same state I was at 19, with a bit more weight, a bit less hair, but basically serving the same sort of role as a public intellectual and generally friendly and kind and gentle person who nevertheless has not made any progress towards my deepest personal longings. It just feels as if so much of life has been wasted being in the same place, and not knowing what I am supposed to do for myself to improve my own personal position.
In looking at the course of my life, it would seem as if vulnerability in some fashion is what tends to provoke my gentleness and kind affection, and even love. Is someone an outcast with a dark life history, and serious personal struggles? Is someone struggling with the aftermath of broken and dysfunctional families but is sweet and kind and even some sort of innocent about it? If so, I am likely to feel a great deal of compassion and understanding towards such a person, out of our shared history and vulnerabilities, with the result that there will likely to be a rather intense sort of friendship. And it is not as if these elements have changed over the course of my life, but have remained consistent since I was very young. By the time I was a teenager the essential core of my longings and vulnerabilities was more or less set, and my life has consistently followed a certain trend and has largely not moved from that. This is not to say my life has been devoid of change, only that I have tended to go down the same roads over and over again by instinct, and kind instinct at that.
What have the fruits of this life been? For my own life, there has been at best mixed results. To be sure, I have done very well in finding friends. I have done terribly when it comes to my goals of marriage and family. But to what extent have others been bettered by my efforts. What encouragement have they received to fulfill their goals? What joy have they received from the time spent with me? What growth has been fostered by my presence in their lives. These are matters hard to understand. It is hard to know exactly who is paying attention to us, or how we effect the lives of others through our example and behavior, in large part because others may not know how they are influenced by us, nor may they communicate that influence to us. We have to live our lives to some extent in ignorance of various matters, and live a life that is filled with hope and trust that our genuine kindness and tenderness and our best example will ultimately serve to good for everyone. Like so much else, though, it is easier said than done.