When teaching, for any significant assignment, I gave my students a handout explaining not only the rationale for the assignment and every expectation, but several ideas for a theme. It was a comprehensive set of directions, a roadmap for growth and success. Most ignored most of it, but they eventually learned it was necessary for success, and by the end of the year, far more read the handout and their writing reflected it.
I do the same for my young male relatives when assisting them with new tools, or building things. I tell them: “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Usually, they wait until all else fails. It’s human nature. We do it because we think we’re smart enough to deal with any challenge. We do it because we don’t want to admit we lack some necessary knowledge or skill. We do it because we don’t want to admit we need help. We do it because we’re human.
It took me many years and many failures to understand the Bible is the owner’s manual written by the Manufacturer, directly translatable into every language. It’s the set of instructions for doing it right, the steppingstones over the torrent of human nature.
Mandatory disclaimer: I’m not proselytizing. I’m a Christian, and all may be Christian if they wish, or not. It took me many years to understand why I’m a Christian. Ultimately, when I read the Bible—the Ten Commandments are a good place to start—I find myself nodding and muttering: “right; of course.” I understand how truly screwed up we can get when we ignore the owner’s manual. Perhaps it took all that trial and error, making a mess of myself and hurting others to sort it out, all of that embarrassment and pain before I could read the world of God and know if I’d only listened, and hear, earlier…
God knows that, and He knows we come to him when we’re able, when we’re ready. Faith is a choice. We can, using imperfect human science and logic come close to proving the existence of God, but the final leap is always a leap of faith.
I don’t think less of those of other faiths. I don’t think myself special or somehow more worthy. I absolutely don’t run around trying to convert everyone in sight, engage in dueling scriptures, or couch every utterance in holier than thou speak. I’ve always believed one example, how one lives and treats others, always speaks louder and more eloquently than words. I look at my past, even my present, and am mortified at just how imperfect I am. I’m a better person than I was, but I’m a work in progress until death. So it is with us all. It’s easier, understanding that, to better suffer the imperfection of others. As Mark Twain said:
Nothing so needs reforming as the habits of others.
It wasn’t until retirement I understood the need to forgive myself for once being young, for all my foolishness and willfulness, for all my mistakes and the pain I caused. I also realized I need to forgive myself for growing old, but even with that realization, something was missing.
Years ago I stumbled on a full set of Babylon 5 DVDs in a used video shop. I always enjoyed that series, and it was cheap, so I snapped it up, and watched a few favorite episodes. My all-time favorite was Day of the Dead, which was episode 8 in season 5. But I was busy with teaching and music and life and put the videos on a shelf with many others.
It wasn’t until I retired, and because much of fall, winter and spring isn’t really riding weather in Wyoming, use the recumbent exercise bike in our home weight room for daily aerobic exercise. I’ve discovered watching hour long—actually about 43 minute—TV episodes make the time and pedaling much more pleasant. Sure, it’s more fun to ride out there in the real world, which requires concentration and situational awareness, but riding in the basement gave me the opportunity to watch Babylon 5 from start to finish, one episode at a time.
Watching Season 1, Episode 14—TKO, I found what I was missing.
In that episode Lt. Commander Susan Ivonava is visited on B5 by a family friend, her Rabbi, who urges her to sit Shiva for her estranged father, dead some two months. Her father was a distant man, not outwardly demonstrative of love, and she’s never forgiven him. There’s more backstory, but that’s sufficient for this article. Ultimately she realizes what I needed to realize: forgiveness isn’t for those who have wronged us, it’s for us. It heals us, allows us to grow, to become better people, to be what God urges us to be. Sometimes it’s brutally hard, and forgiveness doesn’t require we forget those who have purposely harmed us, forget what they did, and lower our guard in the future, but it allows us to cleanse our souls, because hatred is corrosive.
Yes, I know that’s in the Bible. I know it’s there for all to find in the owner’s manual, but we don’t always read the instructions, nor in reading do we always pay adequate attention.
The other lesson is one I always taught my students. It is in good art– literature, music, drama–we find and expand our humanity. That’s why I read, and reread not only good literature, but guilty pleasure reading. Whenever we return to good art, we find insights, understandings we missed the first, even the last, time. We learn more about ourselves, what we were, where we’ve been and where we might be going. We do that not only because it’s difficult to take in everything on the first pass, but because when we return to a text, we’re new, we have new experiences, new understandings, many hard won, that allow us to see, to comprehend what we could not before. As Twain also said:
The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.
Is Babylon 5 good art? Surely not in comparison with the finest works of literature and drama, but here and there, it rose above mere entertainment. Here and there were gems of wisdom and insight for those able to listen and hear, watch and see. That’s one of the delights of good science fiction. We find wisdom and insight in unexpected places if we’re looking, and sometimes, God just thumps us on the head to get our attention.
Forgive yourself for being young. Forgive yourself for getting old. Forgiveness is for those who give it.
It was there in the instruction manual all along. It took me 68 years to hear and see it.
Perhaps you can do better, earlier.