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When all the words have been written and all the phrases have been spoken, the great mystery of life will still remain. We may map the terrains of our lives, measure the farthest reaches of the universe, but no amount of searching will ever reveal for certain whether we are all children of chance or part of a great design. And who among us would have it otherwise? Who would wish to take the mystery out of the experience of looking into a newborn infant’s eyes? Who would not feel in violation of something great if we had knowledge of what has departed when we stare into the face of one who has died? These are the events that make us human, that define the distance between us and the stars.
Still, this life is not easy. Much of its mystery is darkness. Tragedies occur; injustices exist. Bad things befall good people, and sufferings are visited upon the innocent. To live we must take the lives of other species; to survive we must leave some of our brothers and sisters by the side of the road. We are prisoners of time, victims of biology, hostages of our own capacity to dream. At times it all seems too much, impossible to accept. We must stand against this. The world is a great and mysterious place, and it contains within it all the possibilities that our hearts can conceive. If we incline our hearts toward the darkness, we will see the darkness. If we incline them toward the light, we will see the light.
Life is but a dream we renew each day. It is up to us to infuse this dream with light, and to cultivate, as best as we are able, the ways and habits of love. Those of great heart have always known this. They have understood that, as honorable as it is to see wrong and to try to correct it, a life well lived must somehow celebrate the promise that life provides. The darkness at the limits of our knowledge — the darkness that sometimes seems to surround us— is merely a way to make us reach beyond certainty, to make our lives a witness to hope, a testimony to possibility, an urge toward the best and the most honorable impulses that our hearts can conceive.
It is not hard. There is in each of us, no matter how humble, a capacity for love. Even if our lives have not taken the course we had envisioned, even if we are less than the shape of our dreams, we are part of the human family. Somewhere, in the most inconsequential corners of our lives, is the opportunity for love. And who can say which acts and moments will make a difference? The universe is a vast and magical membrane of meaning stretching across time and space, and it is not given us to know her secrets and her ways. Perhaps we were placed here to meet the challenge of a single moment; perhaps the touch we make will cause the touch that will change the world.
Excerpted from Simple Truths Copyright © 1996 by Kent Nerburn.
Kent Nerburn is the highly acclaimed author of eight books on spiritual values and Native American themes. He received his B.A. in American Studies summa cum laude from the University of Minnesota and his Ph.D. in Theology and Art with distinction from Graduate Theological Union in conjunction with the University of California at Berkeley. His most recent work, The Hidden Beauty of Everyday Life, joins Simple Truths and Small Graces as the conclusion of a trilogy filled with spiritual and inspirational stories.
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