What are you waiting for?

Published August 11, 2019, 12:08 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.
Fr. Rolando V. Dela Rosa, O.P.

I had a terrible nightmare last week.  I dreamt I was entombed alive inside a metal vault. I struggled with all my might to get out, to no avail. When I finally woke up, I was sweating profusely, almost out of breath, feeling nervous, but immensely relieved to know it was just a dream.

I suppose none of us wants to be buried alive.  But I know some people who have already “buried” themselves even while they are still breathing. They represent the proverbial man who died at the age of 30 but buried at 70. During the intervening forty years, he regarded life the way the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay describes it: “The days are all alike, eat I must and sleep I will . . .  life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse.”

Edward (not his true name) is one such person. When I met him, I knew immediately he was a disillusioned idealist. He once had high hopes for himself but personal weaknesses and circumstances seemed to have conspired to defeat his aspirations and deflated his self-esteem. Today, having convinced himself that life is absurd, meaningless, and purposeless, he just goes through his daily routine, bereft of any enthusiasm or passion.

Last year, I met Ted (not his true name) who was almost like Edward. When he came to me for advice, he was bitter and cynical. He admitted that he couldn’t move on after experiencing the devastating loss of his wife. He had a paralyzing fear of getting hurt again. He would take no risks so he wouldn’t fail. He avoided commitment for fear of its demands. He pushes away love for fear of rejection. Ironically, while indulging in a risk-free life, the slightest pain or discomfort unsettled him.

The refusal of Ted and Edward to live fully serves as their impermeable shield against anything that can hurt them. They have buried themselves underneath a false sense of security.

You might think that their attitude conforms with the message of today’s gospel reading: Since death comes without warning, what better way to prepare for it than to treat life as a dress rehearsal for death? Life is what they do while waiting to die.

In truth, a deeper message of the gospel reading is this: LIFE COMES WITHOUT WARNING! So, rather than spending our life waiting for death, we should rather spend each moment preparing for the surprises that life offers.

I remember the story of Dan Gottlieb whose passion to live despite adversity has influenced thousands of people to see life as a blessing, not a curse.  At the age of 33, he met a tragic car accident which paralyzed him from the chest down. From that moment on, he suffered enormous pain, utter darkness, eventual divorce, deep and fierce anger and resentment. Initially, he cursed and screamed at the tragedy that befell him, but later turned it into a spiritual journey that has since been life-affirming, actively waiting for the beautiful things that life offers.

His business card reveals his love for life. There are no academic degrees or corporate titles after his name.It simply says “Daniel Gottlieb. Human.” For him, it is selfishness and lack of compassion for our fellow human beings that kill our desire to live fully. When asked to summarize his life’s work, he says simply: “I teach kindness.”

We are either waiting for life or for death. What are you waiting for?