I will restore to you the years
which the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.
Joel 2: 23
This verse almost comforts me. Almost, because I long to know for certain that the wayward years of my life have not been wasted but I cannot quite believe it. Will the Lord really restore those years it seems were eaten by locusts? Looking back, I think I must just have been too lazy or self-centered to do the good that I might have done. I’m less worried about some of the really stupid things I did as a teenager, actually, and far more worried about the time and talent (such as I have) I fear I have squandered along the way. The locusts that ate my years were misdirection, or fear, or something like that–a failure to extend myself.
The funny thing is that I have long known that I had this kind of relationship with the past. It has always been coupled with a dreamy optimism about possibilities for the future. So, in my high-school scrapbook, I pencilled in, ‘Yesterday is already a dream, and tomorrow only a vision; but today, lived well, can make every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.’ I know…but it spoke to the 17-year-old me, and the somewhat (!!) older me still understands why it did. Living in the present is so hard. It’s hard because I wonder what might have happened if I had done better, worked harder, been more patient and less foolish. And so I think about that future time, when I will always do my very best, be more diligent and patient and wise…and live happily ever after, of course.
I knew at 17 that I would be like this. If I had something to say to my 17-year-old self, I would say ‘thank you.’ Thank you for memorizing that sentence. For long years it has worked in my heart, and although I still struggle to live today well, at least I know what I am trying to do. So worry less and laugh more: you will achieve what you set out to do (I have, oddly), and find that the happy ending is still a long, long way off.
The reading from Joel was a reading specially chosen, I think, for the harvest Mass at school, and it was coupled with the gospel reading which concludes with Jesus saying, ‘Let the day’s own trouble be enough for the day.’ Set together, the two readings exhort us not to worry about the future or the past, but to attend to the day at hand. This is so much harder than I realized at 17! Because as the years go by, the past mounts up unchangeably behind us. Mixed in with our milestones are missed chances; achievements mingled with regrets. And the temptation is always there to project into the future: I will do this, not that, and all will be well.
All will be well, but not because we have made it so. All will be well because the One who made it will make it so. Our power, such as it is, is limited: we cannot alter the past or predict the future. What we have in our hands is just one day. Let us live it as well as we can.