It can’t possibly be September next week. I am long past the era of the back-to-school frenzy (although, oldest daughter did start law school this week, and youngest daughter is moving into the home stretch of her bachelor’s degree). Still, the end of summer inspires reflection.
September is a good time to assess the year to date – like those essays we wrote in grade school to mark the close of summer and the start of a new school year. I am taking a cleared-eyed look back, followed by renewed commitment to the goals set forth in January.
But the truth is, it has been a very hard summer. A hard year, in fact.
A Brutal Summer
At the end of July, I lost my brother-in-law of 40 years. He was a gentle giant of a man, a great father, and my sister’s true love. Back in January, before the ink was dry on those goals I’d drafted for the year, he was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. In just six months, that beastly disease robbed him of his strength, his dignity, and his final breath. It did not rob him of his faith, however, nor his fierce love of family.
In the same weekend we celebrated my brother-in-law’s life, we said a final farewell to my aunt. At 92, she was one of those Greatest Generation women — the real engine behind all that was good of that era. Auntie Mary added creativity, humor, and an easy order to her roles as wife, mother, civic leader, and jack-of-all-trades. That which she modeled appeared effortless and proved durable, a touchstone for life lived with grace.
And finally, this summer has brought a swift decline in memory for my stepfather. Watching this once vital and charming man slip deeper into the darkness of Alzheimer’s (another beastly disease) brings an ache and a longing each day.
Come to think of it, I’m actually ready for September
With the change of seasons, I hope to regain some footing while taking stock of lessons learned during my eventful, but emotionally overcast, summer vacation. A few things are clear, and I share them here:
- There is no greater treasure than family — No family is perfect. All have quirks and a few odd ducks. But family is where we come together with shared memories. Our own selves are wrapped up in a collective understanding of our family histories. Family is a force multiplier. To build up, honor, and preserve the framework that is family is a worthy endeavor.
- We really don’t control as much as we think we do — Chemo is a good strategy. That’s what they told my brother-in-law; but even doctors can’t control the outcome. That the Alzheimer’s patient remembers your name on Tuesday, does not guarantee he will know your face on Wednesday, despite the framed picture by his bed.
- When the wisdom of the world falls short (and it often does), God’s wisdom is steadfast and true — This last one is particularly useful for countering that pesky “Why?” question. Why cancer? Why now? Why can’t I fix this? Why didn’t they pick me? In fact, God’s wisdom is predicated not on why, but on whom. As in, whom do you trust?
A New Season – A New Project
At the start of summer — before things came unhinged in grand fashion — I committed to a big and scary and totally wonderful project that has been brewing in my brain for more than a year. I am researching and writing a book about trust in the public square.
The events of this summer have added a concentrated dose of introspection to my research process. As well, the pain and loss of this summer’s farewells have affirmed my suspicions that many of us struggle with this matter of trust.
What does trust look like when we can’t control things like cancer or politics or the culture? Where is the trust when we don’t understand why things happen the way they do? In whom do we trust when the ones we thought were trustworthy prove flawed, broken or even sinister?
Many social scientists characterize the current mood in America as “tribal.” The rhetoric on cable news and social media polarizes us. Studies show that we have become an us-versus-them nation, one that holds little trust in time-honored institutions like government, the media, big business, even the church and organized religion.
Many of us are left wondering whom can we trust?
To answer that question, I have been interviewing Christian thought leaders from a cross-section of culture this year — entertainers, police officers, rock climbers, writers, academics, political figures, and more. The first-hand stories I am collecting are the basis for my book on trust in the public square.
In the weeks ahead, I look forward to sharing insights from my research here at the Writing for the Public Square blog. I welcome your thoughts on this project. Whom do you trust? What anchors you as you navigate the stormy seas of life? Email me or leave a comment below.
And Finally . . .
One last thing before I turn the page on this inauspicious summer. Thousands of years ago, history’s wisest man wrote, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) A more contemporary expression of those words was made famous by the rock band The Byrds. We played Turn, Turn, Turn at my brother-in-law’s send off. It is worthy of sharing with you here as we turn from summer to fall, and a new season begins.