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The Heart of the Great Alone

Updated: May 8, 2020

Today is my uncle Patrick's funeral. He lived the last 40+ years of his life in a beautiful place off the east coast of Spain called Mallorca. I was blessed to have had some very special times with him there, and here in Cincinnati over the last 20 years. Patrick was very special to me. He and my aunt Stephanie were inspiring to me in my formative years as an artist, showing me that following your dreams could actually be possible, simply by the way that they lived their lives. I loved them both very much. I have lost other loved ones close to me, but for some reason, this loss has rocked me. Maybe it's my age . . . I'm over 40 now, so perhaps I'm more aware of my own mortality. Or maybe it's how he died: alone.

I couldn't be there today for Patrick's life celebration in Mallorca, so his son graciously offered me the opportunity to design the program for it, which is full of photos, poems and writings about his amazing life. Today as I reflect upon him and imagine his ashes being laid to rest next to my aunt's remains, I am reminded of how fragile life is.

In a very visceral way, it makes me want to be grateful for every moment, to be present and to really let life sink in. Time can seem so illusive . . . and sometimes the human desire for control makes us miss the sacrament of the present moment. Out of fear, we seek control by projecting into the future or retreating into the past, trying to manage our lives, other people and circumstances to 'get it right'. But the most control we can ever have is merely over ourselves, our thoughts, emotions and behaviors--and even for this we need the help of something greater than ourselves to give us strength, willpower, and wisdom.

The older I get, the more I realize that we were made to be dependent upon our Creator, taking in each moment, knowing we are never alone. But atheists and Christians and New Agers often all look the same; functionally living as if there is no supreme Maker who cares about the intimate details of our lives. The lie that we are all alone tells us that we must pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and be the captain of our own ship and manage everything on our own. It keeps us always, always in a hurry. This seems to be especially true in America, the birthplace of rugged individualism and the place where the great scientists of our age tell us that we are cosmic accidents who by chance, crawled out of the primordial ooze, the biped descendants of our single-cell amoeba cousins from millions of years ago.

The lie that we are alone breeds the fear and compulsion for control. And this is the thief that steals away the beauty and the gift of truly savoring the here and now. I am thankful today for the words of Jesus written in John 10:10 and for understanding them in a new dimension:

"The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance, to the full, till it overflows."

Today as I ponder these things, I am again reminded of Ernest Shackleton and his men after their ship sank, trapped on the ice in Antarctica waiting forever it would seem, to be rescued. What a war with time they had! And yet, somehow they were made greater for it, for enduring and persevering.

Once the ship sank, and the men were camping on the ice, Shackleton had the men engage in marches with the sledges and dogs carrying their stores and lifeboats across the ice. This was a grueling task that some might have considered an exercise in futility, but Shackleton was strategic about keeping the men from the depression of idleness, wisely observing that: ‘It would be, I considered, so much better for the men to feel that they were progressing—even if the progress was slow—towards land and safety, than simply to sit down and wait for the tardy north-westerly drift to take us from the cruel waste of ice.’ ’’

Shackleton understood the value of community and team building; and like a mother hen, he guarded his men fiercely from isolationism and depression.

It was Shackleton's fight for keeping up morale that allowed them to never give up, and to keep hope alive that they were never alone.

"We had seen God in His splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man."

-Ernest Shackleton, South

The Heart of the Great Alone. Oil on panel

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