Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Filling Holes

I've just about finished reading The Tide Is Turning Towards Catholicism, by David J. Hartline, and of all the lessons it's teaching me, there's a simple one that it seems I will be re-learning over and over again, as yesterday I learned it for the millionth time: to learn how little I really know.

I'm not much into sports, so when I got to the book's 11th chapter, on "Catholic athletes and coaches", I was mightily tempted to skip it, and zip ahead to chapter 12, "Megachurches, Salvation, and other debated issues", which sounded much meatier and more to my interest. Ankle-deep into that next chapter I mentally forced myself to go back and tackle the book in the order the author intended; how could I know whether or not the previous chapter was not worth reading, unless I at least made the effort to listen to what he had to say? Why was I presuming that the author wouldn't find a way to at least make his stories interesting? He had, after all, succeeded in doing so in every other chapter I had read so far. So I steeled myself to read it.
Was I ever glad I did. It ended up being the most inspiring chapter of the book to date, and introduced me to someone a non-sports person like myself would probably never have heard about otherwise: the remarkable Coach Lou Holtz.
Author David Hartline quotes from an interview he had conducted with the former Notre Dame football coach, and it was so inspiring that it whetted my appetite for more. Taking my lead from the chapter that I almost chose not to read, I searched for the full interview at the author's website; at the end of the online interview came this marvelous suggestion for a game plan for living life:
Coach Holtz: You know Dave it has taken me a long time to figure this out but I now live by the belief that if something isn’t going to bother you on your death bed then it shouldn’t bother you now. I can’t say that I do that with every problem, but I am trying.
[Let] me leave the Catholic Report readers with a couple of thoughts. There are four things that we must do and have to succeed in life.

1. Something to live for
2. Someone to love and love us
3. Something to hope for
4. Something to believe in
Due to my vanity I almost ended up missing out on discovering this most helpful advice. I can't help but think if I had heard it twenty years ago I would have lived a much more meaningful pair of decades... if I could have summoned the humility to feel the need to listen to him in the first place.
Goes to show that we can just never know what lies ahead; try as we might, think as we will, we really can't know everything. We can't really know who will and who will not prove to be of service to us.
When we're young we're taught the sensible advice, "Don't Talk To Strangers". But like so much else in life, that should be a principle, not a rule; as we are changed through aging, this admonition should adapt as well, growing as we grow, maybe even to the point of us growing out of its first formulation, in the same way that we eventually outgrow the teeth we first use to chew our daily bread.
If we never listen to strangers, how do we test our ideas? Is it so impressive to win an argument against yourself? Even if we're convinced we're right, do we really have the whole truth..? Do we really see the big picture... or are there holes needing to be filled? How do we even know what holes might need filling, unless we interact with different people with different experiences, holding different pieces to the puzzle.
The old analogy of the blind men and the elephant comes to mind; the lord of a castle looks into his courtyard, and watches a group of blind men examining an elephant, by touch. Being blind, they can't know that it's an elephant, so they are busily relaying to each other the conclusions they are drawing from their individual pieces, together trying to define this big picture. Their best guess is shattered by the lord surveying the test, who shouts down to them: "You're describing an elephant."
In our own lives, we tend to think of ourselves as the lord of the castle, and not who we really are, one of the groping blind men, with holes to fill.
UPDATE: Welcome readers of the Catholic Report! Thank you for visiting our Canadian team blog. My usual "beat" is to write about European news, searching for stories that don't seem to get picked up by other North American sites.

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