A triptych is usually an icon with three images together. In the last few weeks there were three separate moments that have together spoken to me.
The first was at Sunday Mass two weeks ago. We attended the children’s mass at Old St. Pat’s here in Chicago and after Gospel, the presider called all the children in the church to gather on the steps to the sanctuary. He asked them if any of them had any special gifts and talents. He gave them examples of silly things like being able to roll your tongue or cross your eyes. He also gave them other examples like being able to sing and dance. Every child there happily rose his or her hand and acknowledged that they had a special gift.
The second moment was Saturday evening watching the US figure skating championships. The top two winners in the competition would represent the US at the Olympics. Some of the women competing were in their mid 20s which is considered old for this sport and this most likely would be there last chance to go to the Olympics. The commentator gave them a lot of credit for training for so long and encouraged them not to leave the sport with any regrets otherwise they would wonder for the rest of their lives what if…
And lastly, yesterday at Sunday Mass the presider quoted Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes” in his homily. The poem ends with this sentiment, “When death comes… I don’t want to end up having simply visited this world.”
At a glance, these three things may not seem very cohesive. But each of them made me pause and consider what are my gifts, am I using and developing them so that I won’t have any regrets, if I were to die tomorrow would I feel like I had only visited this planet. I know that I have been blessed by God with various gifts and talents but like the youngsters at St. Pat’s can I readily and willingly name them? Can I claim them with joy and exuberance rather than putting my gifts down as nothing special? And what of the skills that I have that are perhaps not as good as another’s in the same area? Am I still developing and using them, still trying my best while I have the energy? And when the time comes can I let the younger generation replace me? Am I living so that I won’t have regrets that will make me some day ask what if I had really tried to write some poetry or create some lovely artwork, what if I had learned Greek and Hebrew? There are no simple answers to these questions.
However, as I prepare to take on the work of forming the new members of our community these questions become more important because these are precisely the challenges I will have to present to the young women in my care. I will want to help them discover and use all the gifts they have. I will want them to make the most of their formative years and move forward with no regrets. And if I am to be an authentic witness, if I want to leave this world not as a visitor then I must do the same myself.
Several years ago, I came across some excerpts from the works of Erma Bombeck. Though she was known for her funny stories, it was some of her more inspirational writings that have stayed with me. As I face these questions about how I will choose to live my life these words of hers are a source of hope and inspiration. She wrote, “”When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’ “