This month I was fortunate to attend the largest analytical chemistry conference in the United States. The Pittsburgh conference, or “Pittcon” as it is referred too, is so big that only a few cities have convention facilities large enough to handle the exposition and attendance. This year Pittcon was in Chicago, which for me meant early morning train rides downtown and back home again in the evening. Fortunately, the conference runs a series of buses throughout the city that we can meet up with to go to the convention center from the train station or hotel.
On the third day of the conference I was in my typical early morning lull and staring out the bus window at the city as we went by. I was probably thinking about my schedule for the day and taking mental notes of what I wanted to see. As we got close to the convention center, I noticed the train stop that I used for previous Pittcon meetings I attended. For the previous conference in Chicago in 2007, I was still living in Michigan so I stayed at my parent’s house on the south side and rode a different train line to the conference each day. I hadn’t thought about those commutes in a long time. I wasn’t expecting it, but a flood of memories came back at that moment. Back in 2007 when I rode the train from the station I just casually noticed, I was dealing with melanoma. I was less than a month past an operation to remove some lymph nodes before attending that Pittcon. Because of an issue with bacteria the surgery site on my back was open and had to be flushed out each evening. My wife, who hates the sight of blood, had proved once more her love for me by flushing and redressing the wound each night. While at the conference in Chicago, my dad was dressing the wound for me. For Pittcon in 2007, my only goal for attendance was to find a job after being downsized. Each day I went to the conference dressed in a suit and each evening I returned home to my dad who had to help me take off the bloodstained shirt that I kept hidden while at the conference. Back in 2007, you did not let a future employer know of any medical issues. For the conference and subsequent interviews I kept any sign of an operation hidden. Looking back, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. I was simply a dad knowing he had to get another job to support his family. It is hard to for me to believe it has been 10 years since I went through that ordeal. Or rather, my family went through that ordeal. It is even harder to believe that I had basically forgotten the experience as our lives moved on.
My morning bus ride went from a lull to an emotional roller coaster thinking of my dad who had since died. My casual glance out the window became a flash of memories. I laughed to myself noting that something as insignificant as seeing a train station can jolt us back into remembering challenging periods in our lives. My wife and I look back at that time in amazement. We wonder at times how we actually got through it. Reflecting on this, I noted all the times that have gone from challenging events in my life to memories. I also recalled how God was there helping us through. I have learned to lean on my gift of faith to get me through life’s struggles. I also too often forget about this leaning on God when times are good.
For the rest of the day at the conference I was in a pretty good mood. Being jolted back to reality is good for the soul. I was reminded of my true priorities in life which really have little to do with analytical chemistry. It also reminded me that our lives are a journey.
It takes flashes like these to wake us from our routine and give us a moment of reflection. I started thinking about Lent. Lent is a time the Church gives us to stop, take note of our priorities and take ownership of how those priorities may have taken our focus away from our relationship with Christ. Lent also begins with a jolt, such as the ashes that remind us to “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Our systems are rebooted by a fast.
This Lent, my bus ride reminded me how life’s priorities change as we journey from cradle to grave, from parents to empty nesters. I never thought there would be a time where I’d rather read a book on theology than chemistry. Then again, I never really thought there would be a time when I would actually sit down and read a book!
If you really want to make this Lent special, forget about the giving up of chocolate. That aspect of Lent is for us to get our discipline back. While valuable in that regard, it is also something we do to get our younger faithful participating. However, the faith of our childhood needs to grow into an adult faith. An adult faith requires reflection. This Lent, take some quiet time simply to reflect. Take note of those times in our lives which we were caught up in the events and trials. Then reflect how you’ve grown from them. It won’t be too hard to see God’s presence during those times. When we see God’s presence in our lives then we can joyfully embrace his love for us. We can also reflect on those times where we ignored God’s presence in our lives and see our need of repentance.
Jesus asks us as he did his Disciples, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22) I believe many times in our lives we do drink from that chalice, yet we forget this notion while we are going through our struggles. Ultimately, we fail to remember it as we move on with the next step in our journey.
Lent is not a time of spiritual hazing. It’s a special time of the year for us to again focus on the relationships that are so important in our lives. Our relationship with Christ and, each other.