Yesterday was my birthday, and on my birthday, I am reflective. I crave time to rest and remember, to gain perspective and seek direction for the year ahead.
In an effort to make some space for pondering on my birthday, I began my day with a run. Lacing up my shoes, I included some money for a stop at our local farmer's market on the way home. Cool morning breezes and abundant sunshine met me as I got on my way. Feeling grateful for the beauty of the day, I wondered if it was too self-focused for me to believe that God was celebrating me and giving me a gift in the weather. My steady pace and hopeful thoughts were interrupted when I stopped to confirm that my market money was still in my shoe and found it missing. I stood there, careful to check both shoes and the sidewalk at my feet before jumping to hasty conclusions. But I was right the first time; the money was nowhere to be found. This had been my practice -- including money for market in my tight shoelaces -- on many runs, and I never managed to lose money before. As I turned to retrace my steps, a vain attempt to find the cash on city sidewalks already dotted with pedestrians, the feelings of shame welled up inside. How could I be so stupid as to run with money in my shoe. Why didn't I tie my laces tighter? These kinds of thoughts went on for a little while. Maybe the thinking was a bit extreme, given that it was only $16 that I had lost. But I guess loss does that to you. Loss brings on all of these intense emotions -- disbelief that something is permanently gone, shame that you failed to make a decision that would have kept this from happening, sadness when you realize that no matter how hard you try you can't recover what is gone, and fear that something like this will happen again. The next time I run with money, I'll be determined to hold onto it. It will be in a tight pocket, or better yet, in my hands, where nothing can take it away from me. The fear of loss causes us to think some crazy thoughts.
As I continued my reflective birthday run, which turned into a reconnaissance mission for my money, I remembered a time when my sister lost her market money. I felt so badly for her at the time and offered to help her look for the money, but she shrugged, and in her thoughtful and gracious way replied, "maybe there was someone who needed the money that I lost this morning." When I considered this possibility, it lifted the weight of my negative thoughts. Maybe someone else needed my money. My loss will be someone else's gain.
Thoughts of lost money turned to thoughts of lost life as I attended a funeral for a friend's son later that morning. Only 20-years-old, he died as a result of a motorcycle accident last week. Stories shared about him provided evidence of a full life -- one of adventure, relationship, ingenuity, and care for others. One that had no room for fear. Donating vital organs to multiple recipients, he was full of life even in death. Bittersweet this is. His loss, his family's deep and painful loss, becomes someone else's gain. Others gain life because he lost his.
Despite the weight and severity of a physical death, a loss that makes missing money seem so trivial, I couldn't help but wonder if real loss occurs in a life that is too protected. When you get on a motorcycle, you know the risks that are involved. You've seen the accident reports in the newspaper. You've heard stories from friends. Perhaps you even know someone who died on a bike. But you still get on and enjoy the ride, despite the risks, because you are fully alive when you're out there negotiating a tight turn or feeling the wind against your face and hair. If you never get on the bike at all, you're never fully alive. In this case, you don't have much to lose. But is this really a worthy consolation?
So a question emerges during my day of reflection, a day marked by birthday festivities, missing money, and a funeral. What kind of life are you living? Is it one where you cling to the securities of material possessions or accomplishments, hover over your children to ensure their physical safety, and attempt to control how others feel about you? What kind of life is this? I want to get out on the road, attempt a difficult turn, and feel the wind through my hair.
** This story made me think of the Jesus's caution, recalled in the gospels. Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?" -Mark 8:34-37