Reflections, Shadows, and a Life Worth Giving

Almost exactly four years ago, I wrote a post entitled The Shadows We Cast, exploring the consequences, noticed and unnoticed, of our passing through the world. The post came back to me recently in a conversation with one of my nephews, now an adolescent and exploring the edges of his own creative energies.

As we were getting ready to leave a family gathering, he asked, “When are you going to publish another book of poetry?” I laughed and quipped, “I don’t think the world is ready for another book of my poetry.” Finishing hugging my rather extensive family in the form of an extended “Midwest goodbye,” I turned to walk out the door and heard his voice, barely audible amid the din of our group, “I am. I think it’s beautiful.”

Be still my beating heart. His words have rolled around in my head numerous times since then and have had me looking over my shoulder repeatedly asking, “Have I behaved in such a way as to deserve such words?” Trying to remember what my teenage self read, valued, or was even able to articulate, I struggle to recall anything so deeply heartfelt, or nearly so sincerely engaging.

What is it in anything we see, read, or hear that touches us? When has it been enough to prompt us to share it or, (gasp), mention it to the one who touched us?

Years ago, a close friend gave me William Danforth’s book, I Dare You, a short but compelling call to live a “four square life.” I’ve quoted Danforth numerous times in my posts, particularly his conclusion that “Our most valuable possessions are those which can be shared without lessening; those which when shared multiply. Our least valuable possessions are those which when divided are diminished.”

What are the things that multiply when we give them away? Here are some examples:

  • Faith
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Love
  • Time
  • Forgiveness
  • Mercy
  • Knowledge
  • Wisdom
  • Commitment
  • Understanding
  • Safety
  • Hope

Reading over the list above, I cannot think of any item that lessens in its giving. Curiously, when we share the treasures above, it often happens with little thought or intention. Certainly we can be intentional, but more often, they come about in the shadows we are casting through how we live – through who we are as human beings. We may only see them through a glance back along the path we’ve come, probably due to someone else reminding us.

One interesting reality of a shadow, is that it cannot be cast without a source of light. Our shadow shows the outline of who we are relative to that light source and marks our impression upon the world around us. Standing in the light, we are actually blocking its direct impact upon whatever lies in our shadow.

The inverse of creating a shadow, blocking the light, is reflecting the light. Where the shadow shows our indirect passing, the reflection shows our being more directly. But what is the light? The light is the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. It is the moral center, the absolute good, the ultimate reality, built upon objective values that do not sway with fashion or passion. In the light of the good, the true, and the beautiful, the virtuous, and not-so-virtuous aspects, of our being are reflected directly or shadowed indirectly upon the world around us.

Whether direct reflection or indirect shadow, the truly humbling reality is that we are creating both whether we know it or not. There are a cast of characters in your life at this very moment who are receiving, on many wavelengths, exactly what you are reflecting, or refracting. Most will never say anything. Many may not even recognize it. They exist in the obvious places within your life, along the edges you seldom notice, and around the corners you may choose not to turn. All along the way, you are giving, you are receiving, and you are taking.

Wherever you are today, pause and consider those in your life and which reflections and shadows they are receiving from you. Look closely at the quick glance, the slight smile, the subtle frown, the strained laugh, or the soft sigh. Listen carefully for the barely audible voice reaching for you amid the noise of the world. Someone is looking at you this very moment, and you have the most valuable possession to give.

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