Today has been a strange, strange day, a day that started with me going off to work with mismatched socks. After arriving at work I noticed that I had walked around campus for at least 10 minutes with my fly open, and then I remembered that I left my lights on in my car, so I had to walk back and kill the headlights.
This did not start as a day in which clarity of thought reigned supreme or even held pretense to the Throne of Thought.
I muddled my way through a lecture, not as sharp as I could be, but being saved because I knew the material well (this was a lecture discussing important 18th and 19th century figures like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Herbert Spencer). I could give this lecture in my sleep, and I also benefited from some late night reading before I fell asleep last evening.
It was after class talking with a student that a semblance of clarity hit me, and the insight was this: the calamities of life happen so we are later able to help other people with their struggles. The specifics of the student's problems do not matter in this post (and I am privacy bound as well to protect confidential conversations), but I shared with this student an anecdote about my drinking career.
I stopped drinking over seven years ago. I may or may not be an alcoholic, depending on how this loaded term is defined, but let's just say for conversation's sake that at the beginning of the new millennium I was driving down a one-way highway to Alky-ville with an open bottle of Stolichnaya in my lap and a case in the trunk.
With no headlights on and the accelerator glued to the floorboard, to extend the metaphor.
Anyways, I recounted to this student a moment of clarity that occurred toward the end of my two-year bender. I was working in a restaurant that served booze, and I conned my way into a bartender pouring me a frosty tall glass of vodka, probably 8 ounces of hooch and four ice cubes (it was a big glass, remember). As I turned to hide ill-gotten gains, I slipped and fell on a wet spot on the floor. As I was falling, my first reaction was to save the Stoli.
In trying first to protect the booze and only secondly to break my fall, I would up with dozens of shards of glass in my hands and blood everywhere. A lengthier version of this pathetic booze story can be accessed from an earlier post, but suffice to say that this moment of clarity stands out in my head as a beacon, the sort of Life Changing Event that makes for sappy television dramas.
However, I am convinced that such moments are more than mere chance, and I believe that we experience pain and suffering for a reason, though the reason may not make itself evident for many years. Like the Zen Buddhists you might decide to call this phenomenon satori, or you might refer to this as a wakeup call from God, but there are moments in life where everything comes together and ...makes sense.
The student with whom I was conversing made the connections about the reasons why we have suffering and pain, and while this student might be too close to the events to have the needed wisdom, it was evident to me at least that I was destined to cross paths with this student.
On this day, and at this particular crisis.
And after these moments of clarity (both present and recalled), my day returned to its absurdity. I suppose that God needed me to be wise and sharp only for a 15-minute stretch, and He returned me to my present state of befuddlement in which my cell phone and land line seem to be in competition in providing me with time-sucking phone conversations.