These were the last spoken words of the acclaimed professor and father of US presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, Professor Joseph Buttigieg, who passed away on that Sunday afternoon of 27 January 2019 at the age of 71 years.
At the sunset of his earthly pilgrimage Prof. Buttigieg coined life so well when he compared it to a trip! A journey! Life as a journey has always been the keen interest of various writers, poets, philosophers, artists and you name it. The first example that comes into my mind is that of the American essayist, philosopher and poet who led the mid-19th century transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson. This resourceful man said: Life is a Journey not a Destination.
By this dictum Emerson must have thought something on the lines of this poem written by an unknown author: “In the spirit of the mystery, the Mystery of Spirit,/ to live is to live as variously as possible,/ to groom one’s curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred/ climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day./ Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and,/ despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours,/ life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length/. but, what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.”
Indeed, life is that savage and beautiful country that lies in between. With all its ups and downs life offers you and me a beginning, direction, destination, obstacles, turns and ultimately an end. Thus, the Greek word for life ζωή (zóé) presents to us, humans, the perspective that we are yes called to navigate through life, more often with that providential helping guide of a travelling companion or companions. Let us not forget that no man is an island! Moreover, the Greek concept of ζωή always takes into consideration the imagery terms προσανατολισμός ‘orientation’ and πορεία ‘progress’. Obviously all this means that life presupposes orientation and progress in and through itself. In other words, real life happens when one starts living this life and journeying this journey.
But in what sense one’s life is a journey? Many claim that life changes. There is no shadow of a doubt that it certainly does! Just have a look at the way we ourselves are conceived, born, evolve, and eventually, die. If there is an existential golden thread that knits everything together this must surely be change. Now, the concept of change really rings a bell. That is why it intrigues me very much. Change, or flux, brings to my mind and heart what the great Greek philosopher of antiquity, Heraclitus of Ephesus (c.535-475 BC), said about change or flux. For Heraclitus life is flux (in Greek πάντα ῥεῖ [panta rhei]) What this philosophical phrase means is that everything or all things experience change. What Heraclitus is saying makes perfect sense if one considers that, as this Greek philosopher affirms, “the way up and the way down are one and the same. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.” Needless to say, these things remain the ‘same’ because all of them are subject to change. They all arise from one change to then disappear into another. Yes, all things undergo a constant process of change. It is in this context then that they are the same.
The sameness of change reminds us that even our lives change. Naturally and psychologically speaking we go through change, whether we like it or not. But what about that qualitative change which we dub as human and spiritual maturity? Some of us tend to let that change change them. Whereas others seem to resist it at all cost. Unfortunately, they become fossilized in an idea or a way of thinking and, like the Platonic allegory of the cave, they never dare to venture out from it in order to enjoy the challenging dazzling beauty of reality. And, if that qualitative kind of change is badly needed what is its underlying secret?
In order for this inner change to happen one needs to embrace listening to the truth. The Bible is so clear-cut on this point. Jesus, the God-man and the Philosopher, mentions to us the difference between those who listen to his life-giving Word and those who simply ignore it. Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it (Matt 7:24-27).
When one listens to and obeys his transforming Word that his and her life, which other people also have, changes. It is simply listening by acting wisely the truth that renders our lives a good trip!