Last night I read a reflection written by my father two or three years ago. Every culture, he said, seems to have a legend about a “golden age” when things were better and people more virtuous and the goods of this life more abundant. Along the same lines, most people have their own picture of “back when things were better,” usually drawn from the misty memories of childhood. Some spend their lives trying to recreate that golden time—but it’s a mistake. That was Eden, and the way back stands barred by a seraph with a flaming sword.
I feel the pull. There was a period when I was a boy that seems now like a lost paradise, and there was a period early in my marriage that in retrospect seems calm and enviable. Recent years have been hard: bad health, strife at work, a difficult baby, my wife exhausted—sometimes I have felt that it just couldn’t go on.
But I realized even as I read my father’s note that this, right now, is my Eden. My wife and I enjoy a kind of deep friendship only possible after trials have worn away the sharp corners of selfishness. I have an easy, natural friendship with my oldest two children, a friendship that promises to be life-long. My younger kids are too young for real friendship but they are neat people and just beginning to show their future selves. My baby is soooo attached to his Papa that I can hardly leave the room without a scene. My colleague next door at the office is a true friend, someone who calls me up when I’m depressed and forces me out of my self-imposed isolation. Never in my life have I enjoyed such a cornucopia of different kinds of friendship—and not just any friendships, but the ones that will seem meaningful at death’s door.
Friendships and hardships together have brought me closer to Christ than at any point previous. I know firsthand what St. Francis meant about “Sister Death,” and why the cross is the most beautiful object in the world. I know by experience that we only find ourselves in a sincere gift of self. This, this now, is what I have wanted from life.
At first, just glancing from far away, in my present sorrows I see a flaming sword between me and Eden, but that’s a trick of perspective. Close up, I see a pillar of fire leading the way to the promised land.