What's Important in Life?
Once upon a time, there was an elder who was respected for his piety and virtue. Whenever anyone asked him how he had become so holy, he always answered, “I know what is in the Qur’an.” So when the old man died, they raced one another to his hut to find out for themselves what was in his Qur’an. “Well, what is it?” they shouted. The disciple holding the book looked up from it amazed and said with wonder in his voice, “What is in this Qur’an are notes on every page, two pressed flowers and a letter from a friend.”
There are some things in life, whatever its burdens, however it is spent, which if we cultivate them will never die, will be the source of our joy forever, will sustain us through everything.
“Two pressed flowers,” beauty off the bloom, memories of past good days, remain in memory and heart long after the event has ended.
“Two pressed flowers” become the treasury of those moments in time when spontaneous laughter made a moment rich and unforgettable. They echo on in life long after the moment ends and ring a reminder to us of the incessant, bedrock beauty of life, however long or many its sad days. They remind us that there is in life, down deep, and unexpectedly, an essential basic and beautiful goodness that redeems all the moments we ourselves overlay with greed or hatred or anger or self-centeredness. The holy life cultivates those moments. They are the heartbeat of the universe. They make us glad to be alive. They hold us up in hope when everything around us seeks to drown us in despair.
“Notes in the margins of our holy books” lift us above the mundane and make us look again at what we are, at what we are called to be. They require us to be reflective about what we do and why we do it. They remind us that there is a greater purpose to life than simply making a living. Reflection–this conscious comparison of the goals and hope of my life with all the possible purposes of life–gives us a new sense of the nobility of life. It stretches us to be everything we can be, in even the worst of circumstances. It refuses to remain mired in the search for power and security that isolates us from the rest of humankind.
Finally, friendship– “love letters from our friends,” touch us so that we might eventually learn to touch others. We come to this world from the moment of birth unable to function without the help of others. We grow, then, into that purpose ourselves: to care for those around us so that, caring for one another, we may all live secure in the knowledge that we are safe and wanted, necessary and loved.
Our letters remind us that it is what and whom we have loved which, in the end, shapes the quality of our lives.
When all the stages of life have passed us by, these things alone remain: the spiritual treasure that stretches our souls to see what our eyes cannot, the remembrance of how beautiful life really is under all its ugliness, and the love of those around us who make the journey gentle as we go.
If the question is, What is really important in life?—the answer is only life itself, living it well, immersing it in beauty, love, and reflection.
—from Joan Chittister: Essential Writings, selected by Mary Lou Kownacki and Mary Hembrow Snyder (Orbis)