Proximate Happiness

IMG_5060On proximate happiness.

Yesterday morning we left Wyoming for Virginia, after spending the night with good friends, the Kirkbrides, whose family have been cattle ranchers for generations in the southeastern corner of the state. For most of life we have been finding our way into their home in Chugwater, with our first children and first jobs, then with more education and more children, and now as grandparents who are pondering the rest of life with its long labors and loves.

When I was coming to the end of writing the Visions of Vocation, I chose to tell the story of these friends who in their own unique way have learned to live within the tensions of the now-but-not-yet of this world. Like the rest of us, they are ordinary people living in an ordinary place; we have no other lives than that. I called the chapter, “Learning to Live Proximately,” as it is in making peace with the proximate that we can find a way to live, to keep on keeping on with gladness and singleness of heart, yearning as we do for the hurts to be healed, for the wrongs to be righted.

The Kirkbrides are now Dan and Lynn, with five adult children, but it was not always that way. Years ago, Dan was married to Pam, and Lynn to Chuck. In the great heartaches of this life, both Pam and Chuck died of cancer, leaving their young families to mourn, which is never just a moment in time but a tenderness that threads its way through life. In their grieving, Dan and Lynn found each other, and 20 years later have made their blended family of two girls and three boys a signpost of the surprising graces of love amidst the ruins of the broken world that is ours.

Though their life is theirs, in another sense it is ours too. Whether we live in the high rises of New York City or San Francisco, or the small towns of California or Kansas, or whether we call Chugwater “home,” all day long we live with both wonder and wound, joy and sorrow. This is the truth of the human condition, glorious ruins that we are. In this frail world, we never get everything, the “all”— and because we don’t, often we are tempted to the despair of the “nothing.” To find our way to something that is real, something that is true, something that is right, is harder, but critical, if we are going to keep our hearts alive.

Proximate is a good word for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, because it is an honest word that takes both glory and ruin into account, telling the truth about both beauty and brokenness, about both love and loss. Both are true, and both must be woven into the fabric of our days, giving form and substance to our vocations, to who we are and what we do.

There are more stories to tell, and I have told some of them in the book. But the Kirkbrides continue to teach me about the most important things, living their lives together, caring for each other and their community, but also entering into the larger complexities of state-wide social and political life, even as Dan spends most days with his cattle, making sure the fences are strong, the water is plentiful, and the grass is green.

Like the rest of us they are still learning to live with and for something, for good love and good labor, knowing as they do that “everything” is a fantasy, a fiction of flawed imaginations. But proximate happiness is true happiness, and is a gift— if we have eyes to see.

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