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Appreciation, and the Story of Job

The Book of Job is a fascinating exploration of the relationship between man and God under different circumstances. God and the Devil have a bet about how Job will respond to losing nearly everything, so the Devil gets his day and makes Job's life miserable.

For whatever reason, Job struck me most not for his courage under pressure, but what happens afterwards. God takes the reins again, after he tells Job no explanation is due to him. Job gets everything back and then some. More kids, more wealth. But it wouldn’t be the same, would it? Appreciation would be high, enjoyment would be different. No longer the usual careless pleasure, something somber and joyful.

My first brush with this, perhaps close in time to reading Job, was when we found that my baby brother had some vague and serious health problems. I remember holding him on my lap and looking at his sweet face, and thinking “I can’t enjoy him the same way as the other babies. I’m nervous, it’s different.” At that age I couldn’t thread the needle of joy in fragility.

Later, I watched both my grandparents bury their spouses and remarry with obvious excitement a few years after. They both seemed very happy, even young again. Married myself, and unwilling to even imagine the prospect of dating again, I tried to parse the steps from losing and grieving a spouse, to taking the plunge again on this crazy gamble called marriage. In my 20s, feeling unequal to the prospect, I vaguely shuddered.

The few times I’ve had a loss or brush with loss, I’ve felt a little sad and embarrassed that I couldn’t later enjoy the person or situation or thing as much as I wanted to. The sense of wonder and detachment overrode the natural delight. I felt like I was failing somehow, pulling back, not balancing the possibility of loss with the happiness of the present moment. Perhaps I’m just a worry wart. Or perhaps, more likely, this is one of the great unspoken truths of adulthood, that the enjoyment of many moments is colored by the knowledge that you’ve already lost or nearly lost what is precious.

It’s becoming normal to me that the blessings of adulthood come with the sense of their fragility. And whatever feels normal, even this sense of detachment, fades into the background, and gives back a bit of that carefree fun of youth. Gratitude no longer solemnizes all the fun.

But when I see young people stretched on the grass talking with friends, the difference strikes me. They are simply in that moment. They don’t wonder if they are enjoying their moment enough, if they will have another time like this. While if I lay on the grass and chat with friends, there is both that moment and so many others, and the sense that it might not come again.

I can briefly suspend it through beauty and humor, but when I roll up the blanket, it’s back, the feeling that I can’t and didn’t appreciate this moment enough. And I think, “It’s true, I didn’t, I never could,” and breathe the lovely air.

And I think of Job holding his children, and the wonder of it all.

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