Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seven Billion Trails

What if each of us could speak without fear and listen without prejudice?

I was contemplating the course of life this morning. Of my father's life, in particular. He's now 88 years old. He still lives independently. He's an Italian immigrant, a child of the Great Depression, and fought in World War II. He experienced modest career success (modest because he was an educator, success because he was deeply admired and respected in his field). He experienced the joy of six children, and the tragedy of the death of one. He was the primary care-giver to my mentally disabled mother for eighteen years.

He has had a hard life, in my opinion. I saw the arc of his life like a trek up a craggy mountain face. Shimmering moments of beauty. Terrifying moments of danger. Many moments of fear.

He continues to climb, serving as a father and grandfather to a single mother my age and her eight-year-old son. He doesn't have to do this. And yet, he does.

The arc of his life has taken him on a path that has shaped his character. He really has no choice but to be who he is. And so, the path he walks is the path that he sees. 

The path that he sees is the path that his eyes and feet are adapted to. His choices are limited. Not uncomfortable, mind you. But limited.

I found myself asking "Why?" 

The answer was actually pretty simple. It's not a trail if you're not adapted to walk it. And it is, if you are. 

A gecko can walk up a vertical wall. Trail, or not a trail?

I look at my life. I am fifty. The path I have taken is so vastly different from my father's. Mine began when he was thirty eight. The terrain had changed by then (or had it?). 

As I look at the terrain - the topography, flora, and fauna - of my journey, and of his, I see a grand landscape between us. Millions of paths, an infinity of experiences and contours, that separate us. At the same time, they also connect us.

Before this morning, I could only imagine that 7 billion people is a bad thing. But as I contemplated my father's life, and mine, and the terrain between us, and that 7 billionth beating heart in the baby Filipino girl, I thought, "Hey - there's 7 billion paths being walked…"

What if we could share our experiences, illuminate the trails we see in front of us, teach each other the way we walk our paths? 

What if 7 billion of us could speak without fear about the terrain we see, and listen without prejudice to the adaptations we have developed to walk them?

Our options might open. Our eyes might open. 

Our hearts might open.