Pardon my silence these past few weeks. One month ago today I was in a fairly horrific car accident and managed, among other things, to break my right (dominant) wrist in several places, which necessitated taking some time off and most likely an extended future period of recovery and physical therapy. However that may be, I’m still alive and relatively feisty, which is no small thing. Once I weaned myself off that delightful elixir known as Vicodin (ha!), I had time to do some thinking. Things have seemed a bit bleak, what with the senseless accident, physical pain and scars, and mounting medical bills that no insurance will cover, but yesterday my self-involved maunderings were interrupted by news of the death of the 31 year old son of one of my mother’s friends in yet another car accident. He was married and the father of twin toddlers. Why him and not me? There is no satisfactory answer to a question like that, but it does make me realize how lucky I am, regardless of circumstances. If you’re still breathing, and you still have people who love you and whom you love, anything else can be borne. And really, to me, it’s our duty to embrace the gift of life to the fullest, when it’s denied to others in such a seemingly purposeless way.
Having said that, I’d like to share one of my favorite images. You’re probably familiar with the Palace of Versailles in France, the exquisite home of the doomed Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The building and expansion of the palace put a horrible burden on the French people, which eventually contributed to the French Revolution and the execution of the king and queen. Ignoring the more macabre historical facts stemming from politics, economics, and the unfortunate flaws of humanity, Versailles itself has become almost a totem for me this year. I would venture to guess that few people know that the palace, arguably one of the most famous on Earth, is located on what was once inhospitable marshland, an undesirable patch of swamp and woods useful for little but hunting. Through decades of hard work and determination, from those swamps rose one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, instantly recognizable, a symbol of power and strength, beauty and longevity. The graceful simplicity of the enormous structure continues to fire imaginations centuries later. To me, it is a symbol of hope – hope that enduring beauty can rise from the humblest of beginnings, in the most unlikely of places, despite the most daunting of obstacles. It’s a good image to hold in your mind, whether you’re facing physical and financial challenges, as I am, or other losses or problems. The word it brings to mind, and which I hold as a key word for today, for this year, for me and so many of you, is indomitable. Bring it on, cruel world. We may get slapped down over and over, but by God, we’ll keep getting up as long as we have breath. And while we’re at it, why not craft a life that’s its own version of Versailles? A masterpiece, built perhaps on the wastelands of misfortune or tragedy, but in the end a glorious symbol of what the indomitable spirit of man can accomplish in the face of adversity.
These last weeks have taught me that none of us are alone (even the most stubbornly independent of us), that kindness and generosity still exist, and that life, something so basic that we often take it for granted, is of great value. I’m grateful to have the chance to discover that, and to cherish not only my own existence but that of family, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers. And most of all, of God. There is a lot of flat-out crap in this world, yes, but there is also almost limitless grace if you take time to see it.