If you walk through a rectory in which I live, you will usually find a few pictures hanging on the walls that do not seem to fit.
One such picture I have hanging just outside the dining room is a framed picture, an old sepia picture, of a young college baseball player. He is standing in front of a weathered outfield fence, in his uniform, looking at the camera, looking so serious.
His college, Columbia, is printed on the front of his uniform.
People will sometimes see the picture and ask if we are related, if he is my grandfather perhaps, and while both my grandfathers played baseball, he is not a relation to me.
It is an old picture of Lou Gehrig.
The reason I have that picture, and the reason it touches me still when I look at it, is that it is taken years before Gehrig would become the “Iron Horse” of the New York Yankees. It was years before he would set a record for consecutive games played that would last for 56 years.
It was years before he would stand before a stadium full of fans on a beautiful Fourth of July in 1939, less than two years before he would die of the disease that now bears his name, and declare himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Years before all of this, he was just a young college student, playing baseball, who one day had his picture taken in front of an old, weathered outfield fence. Everything was in front of him, and he had no idea what the future would hold. I know what it held of course, his future is my past, and because of that, when we meet in that picture, I think about the unknown.
It is the same feeling I get when I look at the picture collage families often put together to honor a loved one who has died. As my eyes gaze on old hunting pictures, wedding pictures, military pictures, formal pictures, informal pictures, I think about how we live our lives, always attempting to hold at bay the realization that, no matter how much we plan and schedule and prepare, the future is always beyond our control.
The old wedding pictures touch me the most, young couples in these black and white pictures, dressed up, smiling, nervous, in love, and then I look at the later pictures, when the same couple is older, much older, and surrounded by children and grandchildren and I wonder about all that must have happened in between.
They had no idea what they would have to live through, the joys and sorrows and the ordinary, when they joined their hands before their family members and friends and the Altar of God and pledged their lives and love to each other. The not knowing is a gift; who could endure the weight of that knowledge?
Perhaps it is because the future is unknown and beyond our control that we spend so much time and attention on it. Before we have even finished something, we are wondering what is next on the agenda, what will happen tomorrow, then the day after that; we flip the page on the calendar and are stunned that each little box for the next month is already filled.
Our future is planned, but, really, it isn’t. We know what’s next, but, really, we don’t.
That is how we live, and perhaps how we must live.
But then those faces from the past look at us and challenge us to remember that our lives are not found in the future, our lives are known and lived only in the present, in the moment. We are challenged to have the awareness necessary to recognize what is happening in the moment, our sorrow or joy, or perhaps just the boring routine of life, how we feel, what we are experiencing, this is the gift for us to notice.
It is not easy to do this, we have too many experiences from the past, and the pull of the future, but the moment matters. It is the challenge Jesus gives us: “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Matthew 6:33-34)
We are blessed, enormously blessed, and we can lose this reality when our eyes are only on tomorrow, and the blessings that might come. A small gift that an old picture of Lou Gehrig reminds me to embrace. The future is unknown, but what is known is how blessed I am at this moment.
This knowledge helps us live.