I spend a lot of time talking to my life.
I keep telling it what it should produce for me, like joy or peace or some other thing that I desperately seek. I talk and talk and talk. “Let’s experience ‘this’ today,” I tell my life. And then I set out to create that which I have decided must be.
So far, my life doesn’t seem interested in what I have to say, because the harder I try to conjure things like the perfect holiday or the most pleasant of afternoons, the more elusive those things become.
This past Wednesday evening, though, I finally stopped talking to my life long enough to notice that it was speaking to me.
I was with my family, and we were all stretched out on a blanket in the Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. We had come to watch as the sky moved into a darkness waiting to be transformed by the Perseid Meteor Shower. The cloudless, moonless night created the perfect canvas for the beauty to come.
Lying there in the quiet, just waiting and watching, well before any meteor tore open the heavens, my life began to speak to me of the moments that had filled the few hours before.
I remembered the wonderful meal my family had shared together on our way to the park. And though I could remember little from our conversation, I thought about how easily and joyfully our words had come.
I thought back to the short hike we had taken together along my favorite trail in the park, the Bear Fence Trail. The hike is little more than a rock scramble, but it yields into fantastic views at various points along the way. And there is something about it that makes you believe that you’re on some daring adventure, but you’re never really afraid. (Of course, only four of my five family members would agree with that last part.)
I remembered the group of four from Belgium that we met at the highest point along Bear Fence. “We’re used to cobblestone,” they had told me. “And flat.” I smiled as I remembered their words.
I remembered the taste of blackberry ice cream and marveled at the wisdom of having ordered two scoops.
I remembered the excitement of the couple I talked with near the visitors’ center: “We saw three bears today,” they had told me with more joy than I’d seen on anyone’s face in a long time.
I remembered the simple thrill of wandering along the deer trails that wind through Big Meadows, and our excitement about running into several deer parents with their spotted fawns chasing along behind them.
As these memories streaked across my mind, I stared up into the darkness, where I saw for the first time in decades the Milky Way carving its milky way across the sky. And in the quiet of that moment, I realized a surprising truth: I did not need anything more from that day.
Or from my life.
As if on cue, the night sky came alive as meteors streaked before our eyes. And our cries of joy filled that wilderness sanctuary, mingling with the voices of others among the gathered congregation in that darkened meadow.
And in those moments, I gave thanks. For the people stretched out on the blanket with me. For those unknown eyes beyond our blanket’s edge who gazed heavenward with us. For the simple grace that dances into my life in such unexpected ways.
And I discovered once more the wisdom of Frederick Buechner’s invitation to let our lives speak. He writes,
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
In the quiet of that night, I finally stopped talking to my life and let my life speak to me.
And when it finished speaking, I just couldn’t stop myself. I had to speak once more.
Only this time, I wasn’t telling my life what it must become or produce for me. I was simply saying thanks.