My life changed while I was lying on the roof of a beat up Chevy van looking up at the stars and drinking beer. I'd been living as an atheist for years though I would've denied the title. I preferred the term agnostic. I thought shrugging off truth as impossible to know was the intellectually superior position.
You see, while many atheists may look down on Christians, agnostics look down on all Christians and atheists. Poor Christians, on the other hand, have nobody to look down on but it seems to me that may perhaps be the point after all.
My friends and I rode from bar to bar every night of the week in that old van. That night it was parked in a dirt lot outside a bar. Like I said, I was drinking but that was nothing different for me. It wasn't so much as drinking "again" but "still." I came out to the parking lot and climbed up onto the top of the van and laid down. I would've laid down inside the van but it stunk too bad, and in case one of my buddies brought a girl back to the van I didn't want to intrude.
It was a Sunday night. I remember staring up at the stars and it hit me that that was all there was. Just matter, shifting in form. And we were simply accidents that occurred during a blip in time. Looking back I think it odd that that realization didn't horrify me at all. But it didn't. It just was. Accidental blips don't get offended by realizing they're accidental blips, I guess. At least this one didn't.
But as I lay there something else came unbidden into my mind. It occurred to me that either the world is an accident or it was made out of love. The possibility that creation was a conscious act, a completely free giving of love puzzled and astounded me.
As I lay there considering that, it became clear to me that a choice was necessary. I realized that in order to be intellectually honest with myself I could no longer pretend that the answers to the big questions weren't shrug worthy. Either the world was an accident or it was made as an expression of God's love for each of us. It seemed to me that the answer to that question wasn't just a matter of rearranging the furniture of my life, it would necessarily affect every action in my life.
So there it was. I laid there staring up at the stars for I have no idea how long. But it was all the time I needed. At some point in the night I chose love.
I'm not saying that I changed completely at that moment because I didn't. But the world did -- at least the way I saw it did. I remember my friends came out of the bar and we ran down the hill to a crowded pizza shop. As I sat there eating pizza I looked around and it hit me that these people mattered. Sadly, this was a new thought to me.
It struck me that if the world was a gift of love, then these people too were all created for love. These random people who were of no consequence to me just hours before mattered so much. Everyone mattered. That realization still bowls me over. I still remember feeling not only amazement but a responsibility as well. If these people mattered, then every interaction I have with others matters. A great deal.
My life didn't change right away after that. It was like entering a new world to which I hadn't found the map. I didn't know where I was but I was grateful for the gift of knowing I was lost. Sometimes that's all you need.
In my life I have chosen love, and not just that one night.
When I finally got my act together enough to attend college I found the woman of my dreams. She astounded me the first time I saw her. Unfortunately, she was a wonderful Catholic girl. But I stuck it out anyway. I chose love.
Believe me, nobody in the world was more upset to read <i>Humanae Vitae </i>in college than me. I finally found the girl of my dreams and then I had to read that wonderful document which hit me the way only truth can. On reading it, I was presented with a choice. Do I do what just about every part of me is telling me to do or do I choose love. I chose love.
I chose love because we are not called to simply be honest about what we want from each other. We are not called to simply avoid hurting each other. We're not called to randomly bounce about in skirmishes with each other like bumper cars with nerve endings. We are called to elevate each other. We are called to love.
When my wife and I married we made a decision to be open to life. We chose love. And we've gloried in each of the births of our children and suffered with each other over our babies that didn't make it. But that's part of it too. Sometimes I think we forget that love isn't supposed to protect us from grief. It's been my experience that love and grief are part of each other. But despite the pain, I assure you it's infinitely preferable to indifference.
I watched my father comfort my mother as he lay dying by patting her hand. Sometimes that's all we can do, comfort those whom we afflict. Sometimes I think I have to do that more than I should.
But I'm just talking about the big moments here. It's not enough to choose love in the big moments. It's choosing it in the every days.
Sometimes the most loving thing you can do in a given moment is exactly the thing you don't want to do. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is as mundane as taking out the trash or checking homework or giving a bath to the kids. Sometimes small things are the big things.
Love, even expressed in our mundane ways, is profound. Everything you read from the Church is about how to love. It truly is the most beautiful call in the history of the world. And I know it has changed me forever.
When given the stark choice between indifference and love, I chose love. And it has made all the difference.