Thursday, November 19, 2020

Fear and Wisdom

Like most of us, I have wrestled in the past seven months with my own decisions. I have struggled to decide what to do about masks and social distancing and working outside of the home. I have had to re-evaluate everything in a new light, and for one reason only: there are persons in this world I love. 

That's it. It is out of love for those that I love that I have tempered some of my decisions, that I have agonized over choosing between my own confidence and a need for concern. Between what I would do for myself and what I would want someone to do for me. It's hasn't been easy. It's still not easy. It's not easy for any of us. 

And then...

And then on Thursday of last week, I was tested for Covid. On Saturday, my test came back positive. And all of a sudden, my decisions have had a real impact on others. Not a possible impact or a suspected impact or a potential for impact; others have been affected by my testing positive for Covid. So the question quickly becomes: knowing then what I know now, would I have done anything differently?

The answer, for me, is no. I would not have done anything differently. Because at every step of the way, I have made my decisions on the best wisdom that I have. And that's really all any of us can do. 

Wisdom takes a lifetime. It's the culmination of every little experience you've ever had. You spend your whole story building this library of experiences that you can draw upon when something comes up, experiences that will point you in one direction or another. You spend your whole life reflecting on your experiences and deciding what you would do differently if the same thing happened again. You spend your life learning to live your life the way that you want to live it, to figure out the indicators that you need to slow down or speed up, pause for a minute or push through. You have a whole treasury of mistakes you don't want to make again and opportunities you don't want to miss and chances you're going to jump on if you ever get them again. You have a memory box full of things you almost missed, but you're so glad you didn't, of once-in-a-lifetime things you've done that you don't regret. And, of course, of things you do regret. All of this is wisdom. All of this is what it takes to have a life at all. 

When you have to make choices about what to do next, it's this wisdom that guides you. Now, we're living in an interesting sort of time where none of us have stories about this. None of us have ever done this before, and the virus itself (I can confirm, now having it) is a very unique, wicked sort of beast that introduces a lot more questions than answers. So we have the voice of wisdom, but we also have this little voice in our head that wonders if we're wrong. That wonders what happens if we're wrong. That is worried about the consequences if we make the wrong choice. As we should be. These are very real, legitimate concerns - what happens when my choice impacts someone else? What happens when my choice impacts someone else's opportunity to make their own choice? When we live in community, we cannot ignore these questions. 

But neither is it of benefit to anyone - ourselves or others - if we stop living our lives at all, afraid of the impact that they might have when we least expect it. We can't all just shut down. We have to keep going...somehow. Otherwise, we have no impact at all. 

And the only way I know to keep going is in wisdom. It's in the library of experiences that I've built up over a lifetime that helps me to know what path to take, which way to turn, which decisions to make at any given point in time. Not just for the life that I want to live, but for the life that I'm giving to others out of. The life that I want to be able to give to them. And we cannot let the fear of being wrong stop us. 

Because the truth is that we're going to be wrong. All of us. At some point or another, we are going to be wrong about something, big or small. That's just how this thing called life works. We don't know everything there is to know about it. We don't know everything that's going on right now, let alone everything that might happen tomorrow. All we have is the wisdom we've accumulated from both making it and missing it, from being right about something and from being wrong about something. All we have is the sum of our own experiences that can give us reasonable confidence in moving one way or the other, and the humility to know that at any given point in time, we may still be wrong about something. We may still make a mistake. 

If we let the fear of being wrong make our decisions for us, then we end up living a life of regrets, of missed moments, of missed opportunities, of failures. We end up letting others down, which is the very thing that we're often afraid of doing in the first place. They can't count on us because we're too careful to be confident at all. We live every day like we're new here, like we don't know anything about this life at all, about who we are, about who God is, about what's going on in the world. 

Do I regret my decisions? Sometimes. But all things being the same, I would make the same decisions again. Because if the only reason I have to not do something is the vague possibility, without seemingly any evidence at all, that I might be wrong...that's not enough for me. Not when wisdom tips the scales overwhelmingly in the other direction. Not when having actually lived my life for this many years seems so clear in guiding me how I should live it in this moment. 

We are a people, not persons. We are a community. Our actions and decisions are necessarily going to impact one another - sometimes in unfortunate ways, hopefully more often in constructive ways. But we don't live in bubbles and we can't pretend to. And we can't put ourselves in artificial bubbles, either. What we have to do is to let wisdom guide us at all times, the wisdom we have earned by having come this far - by ourselves and together. It's not by mere chance that we're here with this moment to have. When it comes, then, to what to do with it, let us choose wisely. It's all we can do. 

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