Ad Astra Per Aspera

#Trust30 Prompt: “When good is near you, when you have life in yourself, it is not by any known or accustomed way; you shall not discern the foot-prints of any other; you shall not see the face of man; you shall not hear any name;—— the way, the thought, the good, shall be wholly strange and new”. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Can you remember a moment in your life when you had life in yourself and it was wholly strange and new? Can you remember the moment when you stopped walking a path of someone else, and started cutting your own?

Write about that moment. And if you haven’t experienced it yet, let the miracle play out in your mind’s eye and write about that moment in your future.

Thirty-three years ago, on a cloudless July night in Nebraska, I was walking along the Platte River. It was the night before I was married and the wedding party had just broken up. It was late and my groomsmen had seemed half-asleep already as we said our good night. Tonight, however, was my night and I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts raced. I thought about my own father and what a night like this might have been like for him. I thought about my life’s role as a youngest son and kid brother and how I felt that my birth order had something to do with not being taken seriously. I thought about my courtship and how much it had been a time when I became truly alive. The last year had started with such promise, but fear and uncertainty had entered when my fiancée was diagnosed with a serious, debilitating illness that required six months of hospitalization and emergency surgery. It was an awful experience, but she had made it through and now we were to be married. She had nearly died on several occasions. She had suffered and so I had suffered with her.

I was here along the river more than ten miles from the nearest town of any size. As thought about the juxtaposition of suffering and feeling misunderstood I prayed. I prayed that I would be a faithful and loving husband, and I thanked God that we were privileged to suffer in a small way so that we could perhaps be present and available to others who suffered. These last words surprised me because I had never really thought about suffering except as something to be strictly avoided. It now occurred to me that it was a vital refining ingredient in the crucible of growing up, of becoming truly human. My fun-loving adolescent self seemed to rise up at this moment as well, unwilling to let go quite so easily: “Hey buddy! Get a grip.”

I opened my eyes and looked at the sky. I had consciously expected for a fraction of a second that I would be encountering the blackness of a midnight sky observed from a remote rural place. But I was wrong. The sky seemed so ablaze with sharply-defined constellations it was as if I had never looked at the sky before. I was incredulous that there could be so many stars and galaxies hovering above that I had never beheld. I laid down and stared in wonder until I fell asleep, and slept until the chill of dew on my bare arms awoke me in the dark, illumined morning.

As I made my way back to shelter and my bed I realized that for me the wedding later that day would be the commencement of leaving my parents and cleaving to my wife, but that a differentiation–from my parents, my childhood, and my adolescent self–had already taken place. For the first time I had an inkling of what love was; I was filled with anticipation of growing in it and sharing it. She was one who would be a faithful witness to my life.

I was grateful for those stars and for the suffering. A generation has passed since that starry morning, and suffering has made all the difference. Ad Astra per Aspera.