By Kathy Berken
The Catholic Messenger
I went out on my bike again less than three weeks after my most recent surgery, which was a good thing. I finally had my chemo port removed after a year and a half, and my surgeon filled in fat around one of my breast implants, explaining that he was using liposuction which would give me the six-pack abs I always wanted. I’m still waiting for that to happen.
The 13-mile bike ride along the Mississippi that unseasonably warm and sunny morning after several days of clouds and rain gave me a perspective I didn’t expect. Weeks had passed since my last ride. Most of the leaves had fallen, although there was still plenty of blazing color left to appreciate the stunning beauty of autumn in the Midwest.
So, as I was biking along the path, I heard this song in my head. “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me down. It’s going to be a bright, bright sun-shining day!” But a couple of lines played more loudly. This is an upbeat song, filled with optimism and hope; it’s a day to celebrate life and God’s gift of creation. What’s with the obstacles still being there? And what am I seeing more clearly now that the rain is gone?
Yes, the sun did help me to see what was on the path ahead of me so I could slow down or ride around things to avoid an accident. But as I pedaled down the city street to get to the bike path I found it much harder to see the potholes that could easily cause serious harm if I hit them. Shadows made it nearly impossible to distinguish holes in the pavement. The sun was not helping me see those obstacles, but obscuring them. So much for seeing clearly.
However, the sunshine and the leafless trees gifted me with the ability to see deeper into the woods, gave me a clearer view of the river, and at one point showed me a deep ravine that I had never noticed before due to all the green foliage blocking my view in the summer.
This change in seasons and the changes it brings to the landscape got me thinking about the late Jesuit priest, Father Anthony deMello, whose still-popular book “Awareness” had the same effect on me as the bright sun-shining day on my bike. The book’s subtitle, “The Perils and Opportunities of Reality” is precisely what a life of a conscious attempt to increase awareness has brought me. Living through two bouts of breast cancer taught me about impermanence. Suffering the loss of my parents when I was in my 20s and last year the death of my dear friend, Lee, taught me to appreciate even more my family and friends still living. Changing residences so often from as early as I can remember taught me to adapt to new places, people and situations. Experiencing the effects of aging continues to teach me to let go of expectations and love what I have.
It all seems too easy, doesn’t it? Learn from the hard times and go on. But you know as well as I that it’s not easy. It’s not unlike climbing a hill of rocks in the middle of a rainstorm. So I take my cues from Fr. deMello. He tells of a person who asked the master for a word of wisdom to help him through his days. The master wrote the word “awareness” on a pad of paper. The disciple said that was too brief, as if a graduate thesis would somehow teach him better the meaning of life. The master wrote, “Awareness, awareness, awareness means — awareness.”
I think of it like the actor in the old TV show “My Favorite Martian” whose little antennae would go up behind his head when he put on his super powers. That’s what being more aware means to me. Just put up your tuners and go about your life. Then see what you learn.
(Kathy Berken has a master’s degree in theology from St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn. She lived and worked at The Arche, L’Arche in Clinton 1999-2009 and is author of “Walking on a Rolling Deck: Life on the Ark (stories from The Arch).”)