The Measure of a Man

Last night I received a letter and drawing from Catarina, a Guatemalan girl I have been in loose correspondence with since she was five years old. I was connected with Catarina, who is now ten, through an international aid organization. I’ve often wondered how much of an impact my ‘sponsorship’ has on her life, and have considered investing my money in other places, but for whatever reason have persisted in this relationship, even though I go months at a time without writing her and sometimes wonder if she is not merely writing me because the director of her center sort of forces her to. Anyway, I opened the packet from her and there was a picture of a rose inside followed by a short letter. The postscript reads as follows.

“The rose is for you, Ben Bishop. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! How beautiful you are my beloved. Everything in you is perfect. Come down with me; come down from the top of the mountains in which the lions lie. God is love. God bless all your family.”

I wept.

My life spreads out before me in a vast panorama of possibility, choice and opportunity. I find myself daunted by the blessings I have been given and the commensurate responsibility they bring with them. At times I think this tendency is to my unending shame, as the duty of the blessed is not only to bring blessing to others, but to revel in and appreciate their blessing. I have been given much and, yes, in a real sense believe that much is expected of me. And yet, I also hear a secret voice which asks me to consider the lilies of the field, which offer up nothing other than the beauty with which they were imbued by their maker.

In my short time working on the acute wards of a psychiatric hospital I have already looked full in the faces of men and women who will likely never hold any kind of job, never have the kinds of conversations that most of us would consider mutually edifying, never publish anything, never even, some of them, possess a full awareness of themselves or the world around them as I know it or be free from the inner burdens which plague them. What are they for? Do they have value? Does a Guatemalan girl looking forward to a life of hoeing corn, bearing children and sewing huarache sandals matter? The answer seems obvious. So why is it so hard to accept myself regardless of being assured of what my career path will end up looking like, how much I will make, or whether my clothes are in style?

Does life consist of accomplishment? Is the measure of a man the extent to which he is able to make good on the promise of his life, as measured by the talent, opportunity and privilege he was born with projected against the needs of the time and place he was born into? Or in the end will we, as David James Duncan asserts, “be judged by love?”

I see now that the dreams and ambitions of my youth may in fact die in a howling collapse or with a whimper, or they may shift and morph to goals similar or largely different. I see that in the end it is quite possible that I may completely fail in my attempt to achieve them. What then? Will you still love me? Will you still seat me at your table, O Lord of Life?

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One thought on “The Measure of a Man

  1. oh Ben,
    thank you for writing this. I wish that it were possible for you, me and clint to sit in a room, listen to music, drink wine and talk of things such as these. Those conversations happen few and far between–but reading this makes me long for them more.

    k

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