As summer winds to a close and parental sights turn toward the upcoming school year, it is natural to reflect upon this time. It seems like it has gone much faster than in previous years. It seems that not everything that was set aside for a later time in the beginning of summer got its due attention over the early days and the lazy dog days. It seems there are also some things that just aren't going to change or get done...at least not in these last days of summer.
Time did indeed pass us by. Like it or not, my daughter turned an apocryphal 8 years old, while we were having our family reunion in Utah a month ago. She returned to VA no longer having to sit in a car booster seat. She was eligible to advance to a permanent swimming pass to the deep end of the pool and to move on to the next belt in Tae Kwan Do.
But some things do not change. Ever the perfectionist, she approaches these benchmark tests with an anxiety and dread that is in excess of the actual tasks at hand. This is not an easy thing to convey to her surrounded by a world of much larger and taller grown-ups for whom things like cutting waffles or lugging a gallon of milk from the fridge is not a feat of strength, but a normal everyday activity.
Yet, there is something that I share with her in these trepidations. I do not know what the future holds. And when I am asked to do something that is part of that future, it makes me uneasy as well. In my case, I work in a parish where ever year we make plans and prepare for the next school year. One would think that most parents with children in the program would know how to sign up for the next year. Though we rely on volunteers to staff the different grades, in a parish our size we should have enough help to see us through. Yet, year after year, right around this August time, we find that we come up short. Not everyone who should be enrolled has done so yet and even if they did, we still don't have enough help to actually handle the numbers. I simply do not know what the future holds.
There are a hundred reasons why I think my daughter should not have delayed in taking her swim test. She should have taken it the moment we got back from Utah. But instead, I think she is being more imminently practical: She hasn't needed to swim in the deep end so far this year (and is perfectly capable of doing so test or not). The pools close in a few weeks any way. Perhaps next year, when she will more likely be bigger and more mature, this pesky test (which she's done every year prior) will not be a big deal. Similarly, although she began the summer with a big drive and advanced quite rapidly in her Tae Kwan Do, she's decided that she didn't want the additional pressure of making up the test she missed because of some summer travel. She was willing to remain an orange belt and wait another month for the next testing session. She, after all, has so many things to do in the meantime: catch up with friends, go to church/work with Dad, sing in choir, start music lessons again, visit out of town relatives, go to back yard parties, etc....
The simple lesson seems to be: There are many things to get done. Which ones are you about today? Which ones give you joy and not dread?
Unfortunately for me in my parish life, I do not seem to have that luxury although I do appreciate these great pearls of wisdom. In previous years, so much of the administrative detail of parish life was handled effortlessly by me. My friends and colleagues would comment that I was "permanently installed" in my job and would most likely remain there forever. (Who was I to argue?)
But I also was painfully aware of the parable of the man who gathered up all his grain into barns and then went to bed satisfied that all was well. That night, God visited him and told him he had other plans, including the fact that tonight he would take the man's life!
In just the past week I've heard of an unarmed black man gunned down in Missouri. A parishioner friend of mine had her brother and his driver gunned down by two motorcyclists in a snatch and grab in Davao, Philippines. And just this past evening, Twitter and Facebook lit up with the passing of actor and comedian Robin Williams, a man who was filled with boundless energy but also weighted down by depression and his own inner demons.
At the final novena gathering with my Filipino friends, I was asked to participate in the concluding decade of the Rosary and accompanying litany. I am not sure I had every participated in that type of prayer service before. As I entered into it, I found my breathing conforming to the prayers in a preternatural in and out pattern. It were as if the words of prayer were literally that which pushed and pulled the breath of life in and out of me, in and out of the prayer community's response, in and out of the universe: world without end, Amen.
I do not know what the future holds.
Anyone who has done training for Scuba diving will know what I mean. One of the tests for Open Water Certification is to take a breath of oxygen at depth and to use only that amount of air to swim back to the surface. At my test, I took that breath at 80 feet. Scientists will tell you that because the air I took at 80 feet was more compressed, as I got closer to the surface (where there is less pressure) that same air would expand. In practical terms, it meant that in order for my lungs not to burst as I headed to the surface, I had to exhale oxygen continuously rather than hold my breath. After awhile though, you feel like you are going to run out of air before you break the surface. When you are several feet beneath the water, that's not a great feeling at all. But suddenly, all the remaining air expands, bubbles start pouring out of your mouth beyond your control, and before you know it, you are at the surface taking air through your mouth as normal.
I imagine this August period will (and has been) something like that year after year.
I don't know if that's the future I continue to want. But I know that I have more breath than I need. And I would like to spend it in the right pools at the right depths for the right tests. This is not a time to hold your breath and wait for what's next.
Copyright 2015 Jay Cuasay
About the Author
Jay Cuasay is a freelance writer on religion, interfaith relations, and culture. A post-Vatican II Catholic father with a Jewish spouse, he is deeply influenced by Christian mysticism and Zen Buddhism. He was a regular columnist on Catholicism for examiner.com and a moderator and contributor to several groups on LinkedIn. His LTEs on film and Jewish Catholic relations have been published in America and Commonweal. Jay ministered to English and Spanish families at a Franciscan parish for 13 years. He can be reached at TribePlatypus.com.