Last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. Whose voice will that be? T.S. Eliot
It is early January. I had just returned from several mundane errands. Hurrying, for no apparent reason, I turned off the car, and gathered my shopping bags in one hand. But just as I was about to enter the house, a streak of white caught my eye. I stopped to see this graceful egret slowly yet methodically sauntering across the front yard of our Florida home. Her deliberate measures, in tai-chi-slow-motion, captivated me. She gave no indication of noticing my presence or the cars speeding by. She was fully present in her mission. I read that waterfowl spend their days searching for food, so I was left to surmise that she was in search of food. Her survival depended on this quest, yet she continued, with elegant, careful steps.
The egret amazes me with her grace. I do not have to rummage for food to survive, yet my pace is rushed. I can learn a great deal from my surprise visitor. She reminds me to slow down and live in this moment, a moment that symbolized grace.
My encounter with the egret prompted me think more about symbols. Well before the acquisition of written language, our ancient ancestors carved pictures on cave walls. Knowing so little about their natural world, their search for meaning was as critical as hunting and gathering food. Drawn to the illuminations in the night skies, early humans looked upward and found meaning in the formations of stars and an ever-watchful moon that squinted but never blinked.
Their natural world was a giant mystery, so they created symbols to represent and explain important events in their lives. Eons later, with my smart devices and nonstop newsfeeds, I live in a world I do not understand. Like my ancient ancestors, I often find myself in the dark, searching for meaning.
The Search for Meaning
Psychologists say that the search for meaning is intrinsic to our human existence. In his bestseller, Man’s Search for Meaning, world renown psychiatrist Viktor Frankl advises that we do not create meaning, we must find it. And meaning doesn’t have to be one big question; rather, meaning is found in everyday moments. And we express these meanings in symbols.
Thinking more about symbols, and Dr. Frankl’s advice, I went looking for them. Amid the NFL playoffs, I see folks proudly displaying symbols that represent the home team. I see tee shirts and logos that are telling. I recall the peace symbols of the 1960s. Certainly our national symbols provide much meaning to us as Americans.
Most of us have packed away our December symbols of Hanukah and the birth of Christ. Early Christians used the fish as a secret symbol. As a young girl, the nuns in my catechism class suggested as a nightly routine, that I took seriously. Each night before I fell asleep, I would trace the symbol of the cross on my pillow, to protect me during the night.
And many recall a time when written letters were the primary form of distance communication. As a precursor to today’s emojis, I used to draw a smiley face or a heart or a small stick-tree at the end of my letters. Returning to the egret, today’s symbol of grace, I wonder about other symbols that give meaning to my life. What would I etch into my cave wall today?
Years ago, I studied Judaism and discovered a deeper understanding of Jesus, who was a Jew, who quoted Jewish scripture and who died a Jew. Thusly, I decided to learn Hebrew and found meaning in the Hebrew letters, especially the vet or beth. It is a symbol of a house with a dot in the middle, representing the One who dwells within. It has meaning for me, because many of my dreams involve my search for home. It is also a comfort for me because I know the ONE who dwells within.
Dr. Frankl is convinced that the search for meaning is essential, especially in times of doubt and despair. He wrote, “there is no situation that does not contain within it the seed of a meaning.”
So, here is what I might etch into the wall of my cave today:
— the egret as my symbol of grace
—a butterfly as my symbol of transformation
—the tree as my symbol for growth and rootedness
—the triangle as my symbol of unity; working together to reach our highest potential toward oneness
—the beth, the home that all nomads seek, with the full knowledge of the ONE that dwells within
What will you etch on your wall today, the seeds that give meaning to your everyday moments?