Reflections on A Birthday – of but a Single Pang
Allow me to start this reflection by offering a poem from the venerable Emily Dickinson to celebrate those who with me are experiencing another “but single pang”.
Birthday of but a single pang (1488)
Birthday of but a single pang
That there are less to come—
Afflictive is the Adjective
But affluent the doom— 
As one gets older (and presumably wiser) birthdays start to become a bit of a “nudge” announcing each year that you have used up yet another of your “nine lives” and spotlighting the question : “So what have you done with your life this past year? “ If you answer that question honestly it is so easy to lapse into a kind of fatalistic resignation that since actions have fallen so short of expectations there should be a lamentation. In my case it is easy to assume that since I have reached the dreaded “old age” feared from the time of youth I am now useless. So why keep trying to do much at all? Why not just retire, file for and collect social security, file for and receive Medicare and travel. Go to the mountains, go to the seas, go to Europe, create and fulfill a “bucket list”.
I confess to having all these thoughts from time to time, and shame on me. In a world full of hurt so much in need of God’s love what a cowardly act to go off into a corner and simply “be comfortable”. Oh, I mean no condemnation of those who wish to pursue such a course. We all have to do what we have to do and are called to do. Old age, disease, and infirmity can wreak havoc on the bravest soul and render them unable to move beyond immobility to active participation. I find a bit of that in my own life when arthritis, allergy flare-ups and just simple aches and pains conspire together sometimes just to make moving a difficult and complicated proposition.
But, life is a “battle” It is a battle from when we first take a breath until we take our last and the battle never really ceases. The battle is not for riches or power or domination. It is a battle between light and dark. It is a battle between forces which seek to alternatively “destroy us” or “redeem us.”
For me a key weapon in this battle is the “voice”. Not the voice (or the show) you hear on television, the radio, on Facebook, the cell phone, or even at the Met. It is that voice that Samuel heard as he lay on his mat in the dark while trying to sleep. It is the voice that connects us to our source – to that which as Dame Julian says we try desperately to return to our entire lives. So viewed that way things are “on course” as they should be. But, wait – the voice demands more than our comfort in knowing that everything is A-OK. The voice wants our involvement to continue. It asks that you dedicate ourselves to others and take up arms against a “sea of troubles”. It asks you to dedicate yourself to alleviate their fear, their insecurity and give them that peace which the world cannot give. It wants you to be a conductor for the force which redeems.
So if after a certain age you think it’s time to go sit in a rocker and watch the world go by, think again. Not so fast – for you have unfinished business and the “voice” is watching and prompting. Failure to follow the voice invites “darkness” which will seek to control and destroy thereby turning the soul into a hollow shell without substance. So beware as the “Devil your adversary prowls around like a hungry lion seeking someone to devour.”
Over this past year of my life I have been blessed with the acquaintance of and friendship with many special and wonderful people. Through them I have seen God in a whole new light and will be forever grateful for the insight and inspiration they have shared. In the course of this past year, and the year before, I came to learn that sometimes one has to follow the “voice” even when it means earning the consternation and disapproval of others. Sometimes suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune helps to bring about a lasting healing in someone’s life. It brings about a healing that could only have been accomplished through steadfast patience and endurance along with a willingness to be slandered from time to time.
So to answer our interrogator as to what I have done with myself this past year of life I am proud to answer “suffered in the service of the living God”, and I plan to do it again this year. Am I rich? Do I have all the material things I want?, Do I have all the friends I desired? Certainly not! The reward does not come now and indeed a “reward” is not the end goal of the battle. The scars from the battle serve to mark the passage and the growth; they are the stigmata of our soldiering which brings about our transformation over the course of a lifetime. I suspect that no matter how close to “the end” I get the voice will continue to demand participation and service. I can hear him now “Up and to work lazy soul.” Ah, the hound of heaven never rests and “the bell doth toll for thee” Amen.
The juxtaposition of “good and evil” or “redemption” and “dark”
- Angel by Desiderius Lenz (Peter Lenz) –1873
- Demon – Codex Gigas Early 13th Century
All works are Public Domain
 Interestingly the word spell checker wants to change “there are” to “there is”. What would Ms. Dickinson think of that? Not much, I surmise.