November 2005 - Volume 10, Issue 4

Epilogue: Embracing The Mystery

By Kent Nerburn

Sky with sun rays

When all the words have been written and all the phrases have been spoken, the great mystery of life will still remain. We may map the terrains of our lives, measure the farthest reaches of the universe, but no amount of searching will ever reveal for certain whether we are all children of chance or part of a great design.

And who among us would have it otherwise? Who would wish to take the mystery out of the experience of looking into a newborn infant's eyes? Who would not feel in violation of something great if we had knowledge of what has departed when we stare into the face of one who has died? These are the events that make us human, that define the distance between us and the stars.

Still, this life is not easy. Much of its mystery is darkness. Tragedies occur; injustices exist. Bad things befall good people, and sufferings are visited upon the innocent. To live we must take the lives of other species; to survive we must leave some of our brothers and sisters by the side of the road. We are prisoners of time, victims of biology, hostages of our own capacity to dream.

At times it all seems too much, impossible to accept.

We must stand against this. The world is a great and mysterious place, and it contains within it all the possibilities that our hearts can conceive. If we incline our hearts toward the darkness, we will see the darkness. If we incline them toward the light, we will seethe light.

Life is but a dream we renew each day. It is up to us to infuse this dream with light, and to cultivate, as best as we are able, the ways and habits of love.

Those of great heart have always known this. They have understood that, as honorable as it is to see wrong and to try to correct it, a life well lived must somehow celebrate the promise that life provides. The darkness at the limits of our knowledge – the darkness that sometimes seems to surround us – is merely a way to make us reach beyond certainty, to make our lives a witness to hope, a testimony to possibility, an urge toward the best and the most honorable impulses that our hearts can conceive.

It is not hard. There is in each of us, no matter how humble, a capacity for love. Even if our lives have not taken the course we had envisioned, even if we are less than the shape of our dreams, we are part of the human family. Somewhere, in the most inconsequential corners of our lives, is the opportunity for love.

If I am blind, I can run my hand across the back of a shell and celebrate beauty. If I have no legs, I can sit in quiet wonder before the restless murmurs of the sea. If I am wounded in spirit, I can reach out my hand to those who are hurting. If I am lonely, I can go among those who are desperate for love. There is no tragedy or injustice so great, no life so small and inconsequential, that we cannot bear witness to the light in the quiet acts and hidden moments of our days.

And who can say which of these acts and moments will make a difference? The universe is a vast and magical membrane of meaning stretching across time and space, and it is not given us to know her secrets and her ways. Perhaps we were placed here to meet the challenge of a single moment; perhaps the touch we make will cause the touch that will change the world.

When we come to the end of our journey, and the issues that so concerned us recede from us like the day before the coming night, it will be these small touches – the child we have helped, the garden we have planted, the meal we have prep a red when we were too weary to do so – that will become our legacy to the universe.

If we have played our part well, offering love where it was needed, strength and caring where it was lacking; if we have tended the earth and its creatures with a sense of humble stewardship, we will have done enough. We may pass quietly, and rest gently in the knowledge that we have left the world a little warmer, a little kinder, a little richer in love. Though our moment was brief and our part small, somewhere, in the fullness of time, our acts will bear fruit, and the earth will raise up a bit of goodness in our memory.

It is a small legacy, perhaps, but a legacy nonetheless. Somewhere, between a baby's cry and the distant brightness of a star, the mystery was alive in us for a moment. It was our privilege to feel its presence, and to have the chance to pass it on.