I’ve been wondering if I’m growing up, or if I’m just going through a bit a mid-life crisis. On summer vacation this past month, I followed my home town news over the internet, and when I noticed we’d received heavy rains and almost daily flood warnings, I had a desire to be back home so that if our search and rescue team was called out, I’d be there. It was an odd feeling for me, but for the first time in my life, I felt truly devoted to the lives of my community. I think this is growing up.
At the university and at church are plenty of attractive young women, and the other day when one approached me with tears in her eyes and wanting help with her relationships, I felt only as though she was a daughter to me. My mind didn’t wander. My gaze didn’t divert. I felt, considered and treated her, like she was my own kid in need of support. I think this is growing up.
A few years back I was co-leading a summer program for kids, and one of the kids struck me as a magical young person; full of life and wanting to make something of his own life. (I guess is helps the story to mention that his father is in prison and his mom takes food from dumpsters to make ends meet). He said he liked to write, so at the end of the summer I gave him a journal and wrote him a letter in which I told him he was a special kid, and he could be anything he wanted to be in life. I ran into him the other day and gave him a ride home, down south to a little apartment on a dirt street; a dwelling he doesn’t want me to enter. I gave him my phone number and told him he was a good young man, and if he needed anything, give me a call. Since then he’s called four or five times, and last night I took him school supplies and a pair of shoes. A big part of me knows he can make it as far as he wants in life. He has the brain and he has the personality for it. But a big part of me knows he first has to beat poverty, stay out of gangs, and keep saying no to drugs. In four years he’ll be a senior in high school. All of those big parts of me want to send him to college. I think this is growing up.
If I could retire from my current career next month, it wouldn’t be soon enough. The world is full of people who are in the middle of some sort of privation; some sort of hunger and danger and sorrow and they need another human being to be willing to be there and love them. And I am in a job where money and politics and bureaucracy believe the most important things in the world revolve around little triangles and diamonds on a project schedule. I spend most of my waking life in a world driven by ego and the almighty dollar. I want out. I want to go to bed at night and know a life is better because of me; that somebody will hurt and suffer less tomorrow because of what I did today. And yet, I’m stuck in the wealth of the life I’ve created for myself and my family, and the fear that we’d go under in a heartbeat without the paycheck. It unsettles me to know full well that maybe this is the point; to put one’s money where his or her mouth is—to decide beyond all doubt if I really believe what I think I believe. I think this is a crisis.
But the crisis is potential growth, and the growth is about crisis. To risk one’s life for others involves crisis; theirs and mine. To recognize that twenty-something year old women see me as uninteresting except for fatherly advice, and too that I see them as daughters in need of paternal love and encouragement, is a bit of a crisis at the male ego level. To know that I may not or cannot ensure a decent future for young people—even my own children—is a crisis. To desire to do something more substantial, more real and more personal with my life is about growing as a person. So to ask which comes first, crisis or growth, is to know that one implies the other. Crisis invites growth. Growth creates crisis. To grow is to come to love the world more deeply, more profoundly, more truly. And yet, ironically, love always involves some kind of crisis at the personal level; sooner or later. That’s the way it is; nothing worth anything comes without a cost.
I’m growing. And I’m in crisis. I’m in crisis. And I’m growing. And you know what? It’s a pretty wonderful thing to know that I am.