One River, Many Streams

Never write up a diary on the Day itself.
It needs much longer than that to know what happened.
Christopher Morley, D-Day Plus X

Sooner or later, everyone wonders about what s/he has done in life. When we stand back and look at our lives certain questions arise: How and by what measure do we decide if one’s life has been a success? What is the shape of a good life? Have I done what was mine to do? What do I mean to others?

In the hard perspective of the years I’ve come to certain conclusions about truth. One is to acquiesce to Thomas Aquinas’ observation that “the end of one’s intellectual ascent is the realization of one’s ignorance.” The illusion of having answers crumbles, and often a quiet wonder takes its place. I’ve become open to the possibility that I’m wrong about many things. I’ve learned that one must step back from canonizing one’s interpretation of reality as the infallible blueprint for life. We often have to correct our view of life to some degree. Much of what had been important is no longer.

There are distinct methods to approach truth; truth has many aspects. In the middle of the second century, a Christian writer named Clement of Alexandria wrote: “There is one river of truth, but many streams fall into it on this side and that.” According to Hinduism, one can look at one and the same thing from a variety of perspectives, but none of them is exhaustive. Truth is always precious, but perhaps all truths are not equally relevant to all persons. There is not only one correct way to live one’s life. Everyone must follow an appointed path. It is impossible to talk with absolutists.

As Carl Jung pointed out, truth often isn’t where we suppose. Having passed through certain experiences, I realize that I had to unlearn much of what I was taught. The Buddha said: “Don’t believe what your teachers tell you unless your own reason and experiences confirm what they say.” I think there’s truth to that. Berthold Brecht’s play, “Galileo,” has this powerful line: “You can’t make a man unsee what he has seen.”

I’ve come to learn that eventually, one way or the other, truth reveals itself, and this truth is often uncomfortable, indeed, the truth often hurts.

Humans have always sacrificed truth to vanity, comfort, pleasure, and advantage.

As I’ve said before, there is a truth that runs through all life, namely that this life needs more than itself, it needs the possibility to reach beyond the natural to the supernatural. There is a restlessness, a longing, a hunger, a loneliness, an ache that lies at the center of human experience. Plato explained this unrest by claiming that our souls come from Beyond, and that Beyond is trying to draw us back to itself. It was his way of saying that we sense that something is missing. Human beings are desires for God. Graham Green’s novel, The End of the Affair, expresses the belief that human love, which cannot satisfy the universal inner longing, is in some arcane way a search for God.

Not every truth needs to be told.

There are times when one realizes that one has taken the wrong road.

We can confuse ponderous words with weighty thoughts.

I have a specifically Christian conception of reality, a biblical view. This leads me to agree with something Dostoyevsky said about how one cannot think adequately about man without reference to God. Indeed, God is the explanation of everything; leave out God and, as I see it, you leave everything unexplained.

I think the ultimate meaning of life is found in Jesus’ words: “Be merciful just as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36). Though it is fractured by every sort of strife, God’s mercy fills the earth. Psalm 33:5: “The earth is full of the steadfast mercy of the Lord.”

I think our greatest fear is our deepest desire: to love and to be loved.

Edith Stein said that “God is truth, and all who seek truth seek God, whether this is clear to them or not.”

Edith Stein also said: “I am coming to the conclusion that, from God’s point of view, there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God’s Divine Providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God’s all-seeing eyes.”

Is Edith Stein right? Is there more to life than randomness? Is our life not haphazard? Was the whole really planned and thought out? Can the puzzling pieces of my life fit into a sensible and purposeful pattern? Is it true of every created person that “you were set apart from eternity and of old before the earth was made”? (Prov.8:23). Do our lives have a plot? Is there a narrative structure to it?

A Hasidic Rabbi named Israel Baal Shen-Tov said that “God made human beings because he loves stories.”