There's a story -- I true one, I believe -- about three priests sitting around talking. Two of them were playing a game of chess.
One of the men posed this question: What would you do if you knew the world would end in fifteen minutes?
The first priest said he would immediately go to the church and begin to offer Mass. The second priest declared that he would attempt to ease some one's pain and suffering. The third priest said that he'd finish his game of chess.
To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. So wrote the author of Ecclesiastes 3:1 and so sang the Byrds in 1962.
That's a more poetic rendering of a valuable proverb: Do what you're doing.
So, is finishing a chess game holier than offering Mass? I think the moral of the story is to embrace the duty of the moment. When you're supposed to be offering Mass, offer Mass. When you're supposed to be cooking dinner, cook dinner. When you're supposed to be playing chess, play chess. One activity doesn't substitute for the other, and all are equally as worthy if that is our duty for that moment.
I've been thinking about how I pass my time. In some ways, I feel that I've had a lot of it on my hands lately because Dave has been putting in some long, long hours. In other ways, I feel like I haven't had a spare minute because Dave has been putting in some long, long hours.
Off he goes in the wee hours while it's still dark. He's home again, home again late in the evening when it's dark once more. When he is clocking sixteen and eighteen hour days, I look at my time a little differently.
There's no competition to match his stress. In the game of suffering, we try to avoid one-ups-man-ship and mostly we're successful. Oh, I can host a pity party. Believe me, I can whine and kvetch and rant. I can play the woe-is-me card (seems I always have a few of these up my sleeve).
The better choice is to just do what I'm doing.
I pray for Dave. I try to lighten his load. If he's getting dressed in the dark, it's always helpful to have clean socks right where they should be. If he's eating at the office, I try to lay in a supply of Lean Cuisines in varieties he likes. I try to be a tad more faithful with the jobs I historically neglect. (Entering receipts would probably garner the most contrite Mea Culpa, and I think I'm presently up to date on this one). I can handle a few pain in the neck jobs that Dave usually takes care of -- that nagging (and long overdue) doctor's bill we're still haggling over with our insurance company, locating that elusive Boy Scout memo, dealing with that pesky toilet that was acting up again yesterday morning.
Dave appreciates all of these gestures of support. But if I could send him a thank you for the hard, hard work he does to take care of us, I think he would most appreciate knowing that his family is peaceful in his absence. By far my biggest challenge during seasons like this is to maintain a cheerful atmosphere here at home.
It isn't easy to pull this one off, and some days I can do nothing but lament how far short I fall.
More than clean socks, Dave wants to hear the happy voices of John and Ainsley on the phone. He wants to hear about the park we visited, the bubbles we blew, the bike ride we took. He missed Tim's soccer game, but he wants to hear Tim report that his team won. He wants to know that Kolbe's been fiddling with his wood burner and working on his stop-frame animation.
He wants to know that we love him and that we miss him and that we offered a Divine Mercy Chaplet for him.
He wants us to keep doing what we're doing as he's doing what he's doing.
I've been married long enough to have experienced what Ecclesiastes highlights: There are seasons. Some better than others. Some mercifully short. Some blessedly long. Some you embrace. Some you endure.
And then the season changes.