Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Wisdom of Understanding Backwards

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Soren Kierkegaard
Royal Library Garden
Copenhagen, Denmark
When I happened upon this quote, I knew that another piece in the puzzle of my life had fallen into place. I don't expect this jigsaw to be completed in my lifetime, so it's always exciting when a new part fits snugly among its interlocking predecessors.

Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, theologian, and poet, is recognized as the first existentialist philosopher. He died at 42, quite young compared to today's life expectancy in the developed world. Yet, it's clear from the above life-defining statement that he had learned an  important truth about wisdom. The only way to live is forward, relentlessly forward, frighteningly forward. Only when connecting one's "life dots," linking them into a single, unified chain, do bits of understanding surface, those exhilarating Aha! moments of "so that's what it meant." The mystery of the future remains, but with each new level of understanding comes a deeper sense of peace and--more important--courage to keep going forward along the dimly lit road ahead.

The experience of understanding backwards has played a major role in my life. In my teens and twenties, I made a life choice that I sincerely intended to be "forever." In my thirties and forties, I experienced a call to some indefinite, but siren-like, "new." For the next decade-and-a-half, I saw my life as consisting two opposed, but equally important, halves. Then, something changed again. Another piece of the puzzle of my life fell into place, cozying up quite comfortably with my life, Parts I and II. I now see clearly that each new expression was a link in a single chain. 

In one sentence, I went from "capital 'F' father" to "lowercase 'f' father" to "spiritual father" of those whom I now serve as a lay minister. The unifying theme--and divine call of my life--is to fatherhood. I have chronicled this journey to light in my book, The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean.

I wish I could have said it the way Kierkegaard did, but that's why he's famous, I guess, and I'm . . . .

(c) 2013 by Alfred J. Garrotto