I didn’t start planning for retirement until well into middle age. For most of my life I’d been a performing artist and a spiritual seeker, so rarely had steady employment. It was only in my years as a pastor and chaplain that I finally had the ability to start putting money away for old age. Despite this, my present monthly income isn’t sufficient to enable me to travel or go on adventures. I know I’m not alone in this. We each walk our own path in life and often that path doesn’t include the accumulation of wealth.
Throughout my life I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had the freedom to be adventurous without having to take others into account. I’ve hitchhiked around Europe, taught English and acted in Tokyo, lived in Cuba, visited dozens of countries throughout the world, and lived in many different states and cities in the United States.
In spite of this, I sometimes feel sadness knowing that some experiences will forever be out of my reach, that it’s just too late.
What gives me solace and provides me with a bit of serenity are truths found in one of the Christian texts and in the writings of a Persian Sufi poet.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to the disciple Thomas, “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” I’d grown up thinking this was solely about going to heaven after death. It wasn’t until I was no longer working and found I didn’t have the means to leave home and have new experiences, that I truly came to understand this passage. The teacher is saying not to worry about having missed out on things in this life, because in the next life—in God’s house—there are all these places you can reside where you will experience everything that was out of reach in this life.
Many forces and constructs keep people from doing and experiencing things they’d like to do. Class, gender, and racial discrimination, along with physical ability, can restrict what can be achieved or realized. The scripture is telling us that the dwelling places are the opportunities that will be made available to us to do, have, and see whatever we weren’t able to experience in this lifetime.
We’ll be able to fulfill the dream of an occupation we weren’t allowed to have. There will be mountains to climb and oceans to swim with strong youthful bodies. We’ll be able to feel what it is like to have a beloved and to parent a child. We’ll wander the world. Whatever it is we need to feel complete will be provided.
The second text, from the mystic Hafez, reveals this:
Inherent in most suffering, especially of the mind or heart, is feeling, is believing that you can miss something in life. But that is not true. For on your wedding day with the Sun, one of His presents to you will be—if you want it—every experience that has ever been known or can be known. Yes, a divine treasury awaits each soul. It is the infinite, INFINITE possibilities that you can really borrow from at any moment right now.
This is even more astounding because it states upfront exactly what awaits you at the time of death! And not only do all these things await you, but knowing that, you can even now, while still in this existence, benefit from those things you will experience in the next life.
I’ve accepted the fact that I no longer have the means to travel or go on adventures. But I believe in the promises made to us by the teachers. And knowing this, any feelings of loss or grief are dispelled.
Everything I may have missed out on in this life awaits me in the next.
Stephen Sinclair lives in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Earlier in his life he enjoyed a career in show business while working out of New York and Chicago. A career as an ordained Unitarian Universalist parish minister and a hospital chaplain followed. Most recently, he worked with the homeless and is a weekly volunteer visitor at the Monroe Correctional Complex.