Susan Baller-Shepard: Your Life Matters in the Big Scheme of Things!


YourLifeMatters #BookofLife #BigSchemeofThings #BarbaricYawp #AmWriting #BeingWritten #PepTalk

Your Life Matters in the Big Scheme of Things

Let this be a pep talk to you on a day in which you doubt this fact. Your life is written on a page in the bigger book of life. While you're living, it's hard to trust that it matters. It's hard to trust that your days are connected to a string of days, connected to lives that are connected to other lives in ways you'd never imagine, that you never get to see. 

Can you trust in this? Can you trust that the very earthy fabric of your life spreads out in ways you'll never know, with threads you'll never see? 

Sure there are detractors. There are those who'll tell you something is wrong with you, that your life doesn't have value because of some aspect about you: your gender, or skin color, your orientation or mood or hoarding or language or addiction or education or failures. Whatever. There'll always be someone somewhere who'll tell you your life doesn't matter. That's when you've got to dig deeper.

Teilhard de Chardin wrote, "Above all, trust in the slow work of God." The beauty of the slow work of aging is that it begins to carve into your soul, if you let it, the things that really are important, the things that really matter.

We'll never fully understand what our lives mean. 

Emily Dickinson never saw all of her poetry published in a collection. Confucius died thinking he was a failure. The list is long of those who died thinking their lives stopped with their last breath.

Lately I've been researching my great great grandparents for a book I'm writing. My great great grandfather, not long after arriving in this country, was mustered into Company H of the 118th Illinois Infantry in the Civil War. I'm struck by the fact that because he was, I am. Because his wife Hattie braved the Atlantic, braved life in a new country, because she was, I am. Because they survived, I am here today, breathing, with children of my own. 

The poet Jalal al-Din Rumi wrote, "Do you know what you are? You are a manuscript of a divine letter."

You are this. Your life is written daily.

Recently I had the great fortune to attend a writing residency at Hedgebrook. Hedgebrook is a writer's dream, highlighting radical hospitality. For a week I got to spend hours writing in a cabin in the woods. In each cabin, journals are kept on a shelf filled with writing by women who have sat in those same seats and worked on their manuscripts, they're records of those who came before. Late at night I'd read these journals, moved by the words of others who were there before me, knowing others would fill the pages after I left. 

Those journals, chronological on the shelf, were a visible reminder that our lives are part of this bigger something. You can call it the river of life, that flows through. You can call it the communion of saints, or the great cloud of witnesses, or the whole throng of people marching through time. Call it what you will, but know this, you matter in that great throng. 

I'd been thinking about this continuity of time, of lives, driving in the early morning dark to the community college where I work. I'd been scrolling through some music, and came across Andrea Bocelli and Cecilia Bartoli singing G. F. Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, from the Messiah. As I listened on the way to work, my eyes welled up with tears.

In high school, I was part of a large high school church choir. On Easter Sunday, we'd join the adult choir for services, and some years we sang Handel's Hallelujah Chorus together. I'd be up there, in the choir loft, in the mix of people, one face among many. I'm not a strong singer, having neither pitch nor tone, but I always had plenty of enthusiasm. There I was, never sure where I was supposed to be vocally, but in that group, my voice was enhanced by singers named Lola or Carolyn, whose soprano voices took us higher and higher, like angels. Hallelujah Chorus has moments where each section is featured, then recedes, then comes forward again, all doing their part, each with something to do, supporting each other. 

This past week, I started my 8 a.m. class by playing the Hallelujah Chorus, asking my students if they'd ever heard it. Many of them said yes, in movies, when a character was having a flash of insight or a victory. I gave my students the background on the word, "hallelujah," a transliteration meaning, "'praise to 'Yah,'" Yahweh, the one we'd been discussing in class from Judaism. I tell them the concept is ancient and tribal. It's the unpronounceable name "Yahweh," which is all about being, "I am who I am," or "I will be, who I will be." 

As we think about how our lives matter, as we sound our "barbaric yawps" to the universe, maybe there's something to trusting One whose name is "I am who I am." Maybe that tells us something about owning who we are now, being who we are now? Maybe we can rest in the comfort that we don't know the full story of our lives. They are still being written.

G. F. Handel's Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah


"barbaric yawp" is a quote from Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself" which you can read and enjoy here