By PAT WEBDALE, AUTHOR, FREDONIA, NY
As a high school sophomore I failed world history. As a senior citizen I have out of this world concerns. How do we rate our life performance? I know it is human to fail, to have regrets or to wish we had done better. I think of the prayer in the Catholic mass where this congregation says aloud "I confess" "what I have done and what I have failed to do". I could make a long list of confessions. I was not a good mom on countless occasions, I was not a good granddaughter when I hung up on my grandmother, I was not a good citizen when I slipped through the red light. I don't get to cross things off of this list; unfortunately it will always stay in my mind. I ponder what I have done that is less than exemplary and why. I can see that in each case I have learned a life lesson and used that experience to improve my behavior.
I recently finished reading a most inspiring book. The title is Miracle on the Hudson, the story penned by the survivors of Flight 1549, the ill fated landing in the Hudson River caused by a flight of geese which collided with the plane engines. Although the story is very interesting as to what really happened after the landing; it was not the most compelling part to me.
If you watched the drama on television it looked fairly calm and was over within twenty four total minutes. However, what you did not see were the people trapped in the back of the plane where water rose to neck height. You did not see people freezing and slipping into the water. You did not see the mom who would not hand her nine month old baby over to a man in the raft. What we did not hear was most important. Thoughts in people's heads, sometimes spoken out loud. Thoughts of imminent death and life review. Thoughts of apology to loved ones or words of prayer to God. Many persons were sure they would die on impact. Many others were sure they would still drown or freeze to death before they were rescued.
One hundred fifty persons were on board; aged nine months to mid eighties. I will pass on some of their insights; "One, be ready every day, two embrace life, three, make a difference with your life." Another said "It's very difficult to pray when it is going to be your last time on earth. I finally looked up to God and said 'you know what I'm thinking, what kind of person I am' and there's a calm that came over me". A mom, age 42 "There are those moments when I realize the hole I would have left and the impact it would have had on my family". A younger woman says, "The prayer now starts out as thank you so much for leaving me on this earth. I still want to stay longer. Leave me here until I am old and wrinkly". A dad on board with two kids and his wife wrote, "Clearly this brings out something within you that makes you feel like you have a higher purpose and we've not yet found what that is. There's a need to try and give back. You're less tolerant about some things and a lot more tolerant about others." I was touched by their comments and take their words to heart.
Desmond Tutu, as Archbishop of Capetown, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid. He was awarded the Gandhi Peace prize for his efforts on behalf of AIDs victims. In his lifetime he has witnessed many horrors and hatreds. His belief is that God loves all of mankind 'just because'. His newest book, written with his daughter Mpho is entitled “Made For Goodness.” He wants to tell us, "that evil cannot have the last word because we are hard wired for goodness". The message goes on "goodness is not just our impulse, it is our essence".
Phew, that is good news to me. As I absorb the daily newspaper and worry about the present and future of the world and my own descendants I tell myself that there are more good people than bad in this world. In a sense I want to believe what he is writing about. I want to shout out to my grandkids that I want them to be good citizens, I want them to be all they can be, I want them to care about themselves so they can care about others. In short I want us to contribute.
Tutu believes we can cultivate compassion and fight our uglier inclinations. I mull this over. I am lucky to have been born into safe and good circumstances. Many have not been so fortunate. If I can live the best of what I have learned and pass it on to others I sense that is what I am supposed to do. To teach, to share, and then to enjoy. It is my philosophy that God wishes us to enhance our own souls also. There is a lot of wisdom in Tutu's book. He covers not only global conflict but marriage and parental struggles as well. He tells us that goodness is our home and has no wagging finger attached to it. So as I reflect on the lessons of the airplane survivors and my own past deeds and misses I conclude that NO, we cannot fail life. We are good because we are here, each life equally important. Prayer can help us find the answers to the quiz we call life.
Pat Webdale is a freelance writer who lives in Fredonia N.Y. where she raised six children. She is now known to nine grandchildren as MaPatty. Pat has retired after twenty years as a payroll clerk at Brooks Memorial. Pat won a Woman’s Day and American Library Association writing award in 2003. She has had numerous articles published and has appeared as a public speaker on a range of issues.
After her daughter Kendra was killed in 1999, Pat and her family were instrumental in passing an Assisted Outpatient Treatment law in New York State designed to bring treatment to those who suffer from a mental illness. She is a former board member of NAMI New York State. Email: email@example.com.