Gladly I go
As part of my transition back to being a Maine resident, I had to change my car registration last week. As a result, I'm able to pass along a valuable tip about avoiding lines at the BMV in Rockland: go early. I was there twice on a Friday between their opening time of 8 a.m. and about 9:30 a.m., and it was very quiet.
My new license plate, which is actually my old license plate, is GLADLY. I saved the old plates because when I let the Union Town Office know that I'd moved out of state last year, the woman at the counter didn't take them. "Keep them, for when you come back," she said, proving that some people can, indeed, see the future.
Perhaps because of the relatively modest $25 fee, there seem to be a lot of vanity plates on Maine vehicles. On them people put their names, their family ("my3sons"), their sports allegiances, and more.
I chose mine as an expression of aspiration: On one level, it's a reminder to me to show a little more kindness when I drive. You want to make a left turn? Gladly. You're trying to merge in front of me? Gladly.
And on a deeper level, I would like to approach my whole life gladly, grateful for whatever comes. I want to do my job, help others, live with my partner, conduct my life so as to please God — gladly.
I don't mean to whistle a happy tune at all times, pretend that evil doesn't exist or deny life's darkness and pain. Just the opposite, in fact. I believe that when I, or anyone, can let go of the need to control what happens, and when I can get past my expectations and see what is actually around me, there is nearly always the possibility of joy.
So far, I have only been able to do this — let go of the outcome of a given situation — for a few minutes at a time at best, and only once in a while. I give it to God and I take it back, give it over and take it back. It's hard and I'm not good at it. But I'm still trying. And, from the tiny moments of living this way that I've experienced, I'm convinced that joy is worth the effort.
Of course, joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is about getting what we want, a fine thing in its way, but over-valued in our culture of self-gratification. Joy is both subtler and stronger, less ephemeral.
It can co-exist with suffering and pain, can survive our not getting our own way. Joy has to do with valuing our inmost self, being connected to the God within, and also being connected to everything else in the world.
It is sharing the amazing beauty of Yosemite National Park with a friend and realizing that even though I didn't go to church that day, I went to church.
It is talking over memories of my childhood with my elderly father, for whom the past is more vivid than the present, and being grateful for the time we've had together and glad to still be able to share those memories.
It is knowing deep in my being that I am of infinite worth, as is everything else that lives, and that I and all of creation are one.
When I can truly own that knowing, I will have attained my desire — to live gladly, with an open heart.
Actually, I suspect that there is no "once-and-for-all" about this, that it is a piecemeal, two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back, lifelong journey. One where to arrive is to wake up, at last, in God's everlasting embrace.