A Lack of Earning Potential

There is no manual explaining why life has been given and why it ends.

Duo Dickinson / 9.24.21

Three months ago, friends, who moved to New England to be near us, joined us for perhaps our millionth dinner together. “Your begonias are out of control!” my dear friend noted, herself a great killer of plants. “It’s a strange year,” I replied.

And it was. The tomatoes that delivered unending salads last year were oddly colored, shaped and infested with some ailment that split their skins before ripening. One new rhododendron was fully enraptured at its new setting, another died a silent and sad death. The grass seed, planted 38 years ago, loves being mowed every  three weeks, rather than two (I have been busy). The full frontal assault of an insane acorn crop from our 260 year old white oak has bombarded our house, rather unnerving to my wife’s psyche as she works under a large skylight that magnifies the barrage into a drum solo.

Despite all efforts, life is not under our control. No amount of hope, promise, or expertise can offer it. The bizarre changes of this season are just one window into our incapacity.

begonia in bloom

My dear begonia-loving friend, who settled here to join us for 30 years of dinners, went to play tennis. Her life of mental and physical fitness was a model for me — my own BMI and thought production fully wanting. But in the delight of a pickup tennis doubles match, our friend had a aortic dissection. Part of the pathways taking most of her blood simply broke. No one could have scanned it, no lifestyle change could have prevented it, no cure exists when it happens outside a hospital.

The lack of control was fully realized in minutes.

Last week, my car simply stopped going faster than 15 miles per hour. Humans designed and built that car. One week later, one of four pistons in the engine was reconstituted. Humans had built the piston; humans could fix the piston.

We did not make ourselves. We do not understand how or why or even what we are, but we are as real as any car, or begonia, or aortic dissection.

I want to earn the fruits of my efforts. I want to get what I want, not as a gift, but as a transaction. My effort leverages my desires. But I cannot earn life. Life is the last fully inscrutable gift that defies control. The least of us can last for four thousand weeks, the boldest athlete can cease to live in a second. We are the same in our incapacity. We are here, like my car, and we want to do more than eat acorns and sleep. So we play tennis, drive our cars, plant our tomatoes.

But what we start, we do not always finish. We begin our actions and finish only what we have been given the capacity to do. I wish that there was a human-based alternative to God. I wish Jesus was a great scientist who unlocked the mysteries that prevent us from controlling our lives, where we could codify and expand our lives through our own insights and production.

Jesus was not a mechanic that magically fixed our DNA. Not yet, anyway. For now, his creations just need to know that we have been given this. We are not owed a thing, even the things that we lose. I cannot understand how my car was repaired, though I could learn to fix cars and control those things that humans make. I cannot know how my friend slipped out of life, beyond the trenchant Dr. Internet distillations of the mechanics, but I can understand that I cannot understand.

Having faith in meanings we cannot define is simply not me. I want to know the whys and meanings of all these acorns and split tomatoes. I am confident that I could fully research and feel assured that I know the ephemeral causalities of such things. But the reality of life is that there are only unsatisfactory hypotheses, the meanings beyond the machines we can understand. There is no manual to study that explains why life has been given and why it ends.

The limits of our knowledge hide within the periphery of our vision, We guess at meaning, unless God can be heard. But in any insight or faith we have, our lives remain beyond our domination.

I am left, again, with the God that never leaves, like a bad house guest, I would like to have the pat comfort of earning my definition of the undefined, but no, I do not have that earning capacity.

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