Events this past week, and other recent experiences, have reminded me in some touching and heartfelt ways exactly how fragile life is and how vulnerable we are as human beings.  It has also reminded me how very interdependent we are upon one another and how it takes a lifetime to nurture our relationships and care for one another.

These events have also reminded me of the necessity of forgiveness as a means to get through this fragile life.  Constant, unconditional forgiveness is so desperately needed for ourselves and for those whom we love in order to get through this life.

A lot of this has been stirred up by my accompanying  a woman for whom guardianship was granted over her affairs to a family member, even though she is still quite lucid and able to get along fairly well in life.  There was no question in my mind, however, that her faculties had diminished enough to put her at risk both physically and financially without careful oversight of her affairs.  It tapped into so many things for me, including the last painful year of my mothers life as she was struggling with an odd skin illness that, looking back on it, was probably a manifestation of the deep anxieties of a family gone awry.  Watching this frail elderly woman this past week trying to maintain her dignity in the midst of life gone out of control, at least from her perspective, made me very sad.  I began (again) to wonder how my mother must have felt those last few months.

Rarely do we human beings do things directly in response to one single motivation, for we are richly complex creatures and are frustratingly apt to have many different precedents and causal motivations in our behaviors.  Even so, I can’t help but believe that at least one motivation for my wanting to stand alongside this person whose family was trying to “do the right thing” to help her live life as pain free and comfortable as possible was to offer a small token of penance for having withdrawn from my mother’s life in that last year.  I’m fighting to avoid the word “abandon,” although it is the word my heart cries out again and again.

If we are to live fully throughout this fragile life, we are going to have to rely heavily upon our networks of support.  As we grow older, we will have to rely more and more upon those friends, acquaintances, and family members who are younger, or at least more healthy, than we are.  The damnable thing about this is that while we may have had a lot of time, energy, and will to develop and nurture friendships in our younger years, as our jobs and careers began demanding more and more time, and as those of us who have families turn to raising children and focusing on maintaining stability with partners and spouses, we have less and less time to keep these friendships robust and fresh.  And certainly we have little energy to begin new friendships with those who are  younger than ourselves for they oftentimes come with very different needs and perspectives than ourselves.  Thus, when we have greatest need to rely upon cadre of friendships to maintain our independence, dignity, and quality of life as older folks, so many of those who we would rely upon are too distant, too dusty, too disconnected for us to call upon.

And as single folks, or lesbian, gay, or transgender folks, one might think we were able to channel some of that time, energy, and resources not used for child rearing into keeping friendships strong and close.  Perhaps this is true.  It is for me, for the most part.  But I also know that other factors cause those of us who are not partnered or without children to be affected by other forces in our society, often ones that revolve around shame and self-image, and instead pour that energy and time into our careers to try to prove we are worthy, even though we don’t fit the stereotypical model our society sets forth as the married husband and wife with 2.3 children.  Alas…

So, how do we maintain, nurture, and build new relationships that, in addition to the joy and meaning they give our lives simply out of the relationship itself, might also mean we have a stronger network upon which to rely as we grow older (hopefully!) and more fragile (probably)?  Well, I certainly believe this is why we live in community and why maintaining healthy communities are so fundamentally important to society as a whole, but modern societies especially.  I believe church can be one such place where ties across age and class and other divides of humanity can be created and sustained.

Of course, this is complicated for me personally as the pastor of such communities, where there are strict (and helpful) ethical guidelines for maintaining appropriate boundaries.  This is in addition to the quagmire of being seen as “friend” to literally hundreds of persons, from those who are long-time members of the church (pillars) to the person who came to a program last week and felt a special connection with me!  But this pastoral dilemma aside, I still maintain that community is a key place to strengthen the bonds of relationship in light of fragility of life.

Ultimately, however, we must get back to that word I casually threw out at the beginning: forgiveness.  We must forgive one another abundantly and unceasingly — ourselves included.  We must forgive ourselves for not having put more time in to nurturing our relationships as we might have otherwise.  We must forgive our friends when they are unable to be there for us as much as we think they should.  We must forgive our family members when they have to make painful choices for us when we cannot adequately do so.  And, perhaps, we might even have to forgive God for not crafting our lives in the way in which we would have or in the way we always hoped for!

Wherever we are in this fragile life, we can nurture within our souls a deeper understanding of forgiveness, and seek the deep and abiding peace that comes from knowing — given all the myriad of circumstances our lives have encountered — that we did the best we could with what we had.