In our culture it is common to ‘look back’ at the year just past and soon the inevitable ‘best of 2014’ lists will be out, or maybe they have already been published to spur on the financial madness we call the ‘Christmas shopping season’. In a deeper way, I want to take stock of the past year, but only as it helps to move forward. Yesterday was my “New Year’s Day”, the first Sunday in Advent, and so I pause to ponder the year past.
The last time I posted was in April when I was beginning the Camino de Santiago. Because of technical difficulties I gave up blogging and communicated via email and Facebook with the ones who cared to keep up with the adventures of a quixotic middle-aged man from Nebraska. Many people have asked me to write about my adventures, and misadventures, but the experience was so profound I still cannot find the words. Someday….
I returned from Spain injured, and I was not supposed to walk or wear shoes for about two months. Nevertheless, I begged permission to ride my bicycle and I spent the summer exploring closer territory as unlike the Camino as anything I can imagine, but in the same spirit. As soon as I could I started walking and hiking again, I even hosted a family reunion of sorts at 10,000 feet up in the Rockies, and so life continued to be good.
Although I was not looking for a job, the Nebraska Department of Education contacted me last spring and I began working for them in August. I had come to realize that I had not properly grieved the ending of my full-time teaching career, and it was an opportunity to work in education in a slightly different way. My cards say I am a ‘facilitator’ for a behavior program, but they call me a ‘coach’. Each time my boss refers to me as a ‘coach’ or talks about ‘coaching’ a smile comes to my lips as I think of the number of times I was asked to ‘not coach’ in various schools systems. Irony seems to be a close companion as I age….
And so, after the deepest, most profound experience of my life I am mostly doing things I did before the Camino. I substitute teach, and “coach” for the state, education is never far away. I minister a little less in my parish, and a little more for my diocese, and though it seems little enough, it is still the work I take the most pleasure in, and where I find the deepest meaning. I even had the opportunity to preach a short homily at a retreat to fellow ministers, and a couple of priests, and my comments referred mostly to how much we really know as compared to how much we think we know. I think it was well-received….
When I consider the past year this Advent, one person keeps coming to mind. I met a fellow pilgrim named Jim in Spain. Jim is an Episcopal priest, an intellectual, an amazing speaker, and a superb writer, I just read his latest posting this morning. Jim and I have stayed in touch although half a continent separates us. The older I get the more I believe that humility and gratitude are the only ways to appropriately approach life, and I am humbly grateful for the opportunity to meet, walk, and talk with Jim. If the Camino was the major event of the past year for me, meeting Jim was one of the many things that made it magical.
I made it a habit on the Camino to never look back, the journey was before me. In just the same way, Advent reminds me the year is ahead of me. I am profoundly grateful for the year past, and it was a year of enormous change and adventure in my life. I have no great adventures planned for the new year, but life is adventure enough. Being a husband, father, teacher, ‘coach’, minister, grandfather and any other thing you might mention, is enough to “fill a man’s heart”, and although the context is different, Camus’ words come back to me, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy”.