To be or to do, now that is a question

(M Scott)
(M Scott)

by Dolores Leckey

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I remember the day I was afraid to leave the house. The 10 steps from my apartment to the elevator would be like walking on coals. I was only going to meet a friend for lunch but I felt anxious, and sorry I had suggested it. I wanted to stay inside, in familiar territory. What was wrong with me? It was an easy drive to the restaurant, a friendly place with a favorite table saved for me and my friend. But I wanted the security of my home. I needed to be within. I desired something I was not used to but could not describe.

This was a new experience for me. After all, I had worked until I was 80, traveled to lecture, to visit family, to go on pilgrimage. I had served in a neighborhood church helping our local street people choose nutritious food from the church pantry. I loved being with others in the little church and doing small services for people whose lives were so precarious.

But now the place to be was not outside doing things with good people but within. I didn't want to do anything. I didn't understand what was happening within my soul, my very being. What did I want to do within the boundaries of home that was so important? And what could I still accomplish outside anyway, considering the limitations of advanced arthritis, diminished eyesight and other ordinary maladies of age? Had taking care of my husband, who had passed away from Alzheimer's, taken that much out of me? I didn't know.

So that morning I did what I thought I had learned over decades. I tried to make sense of the double-edged gift of life. I prayed over my questions and listened for the whispers that sometimes come in the silence.

The silence spoke the word savor. Savor. Like savior. There is so much in life past and present that is worth savoring. Taking the time to taste it, relish it, cherish it. So many little things rich in grace and full of promise that I don't take the time to appreciate. I need not just time but space to really comprehend the saving gift that is always present.

Whole worlds within the universe still await study and reflection and, yes, savoring. At 80, I was finally coming to terms with the risks and promises of going deep within, of discovering so much of what had been buried under my good intentions of busyness. In truth, I loved busyness. My mother used to say I was born busy. But now the invitation of life was to be, rather than to do, to contemplate rather than accomplish. As always, it wasn't so easy.

I belong to a parish alive with the spirit of mission and with so much to do. There is the clothing store whose Scripture (Matthew 25) is the guiding force of all we do as a community, including providing lunches for day laborers and support for a parish in Haiti. Every year, we are urged to discern where the Spirit is leading us to engage as a parish and individually.

But of late I have not been engaging -- and I have felt guilty. I mentioned this guilt to a longtime Carmelite friend who responded that every ministry will die without the supportive prayer that comes only from within. He reminded me of the intimate web of relationships that form the body of Christ, and pointed out that when one of us slows down the busyness of daily life and rests in God, we all rest -- being, which is the energy of doing.

The peaceful acceptance of living within is increasing in me, and so is my appreciation of the good without, and the importance of choosing honestly how best to engage. My spiritual director, a wise Benedictine monk, encourages me to know what I can do at this time in my life, and do that as well as I can, and to know what I cannot do and know it's all right.

What I am discovering like an aging Ponce de Leon is that there are places and people outside that nourish the regions of my soul and lighten my life: a special exhibit of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, a Tom Stoppard play, a high school brass ensemble, Sunday Mass with fellow parishioners, vespers at the Trappist monastery, lunch with former colleagues and lasting friends, conversations with teenage grandchildren, the many works of justice and mercy that were central in my life when I was younger and that continue to thrive and flourish with others at the helm.

These make my cup overflow, as does the world of books and my efforts to play a whole Mozart sonata on the piano, so far unsuccessfully. It's never too late to delight in just being.

I enjoyed lunch with my friend that day. To be and to do were one.

[Dolores Leckey is the author of nine books, most recently Grieving With Grace: A Woman's Perspective. She is working on two books, on Alzheimer's and on the vibrant life of cities.]

A version of this story appeared in the August 14-27, 2015 print issue under the headline: To be or to do, now that is a question.

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