Liam, my 10-year-old friend, recently asked me if I was a philosopher.
“Yes,” I replied.
“What do philosophers do?”
“We think a lot about arguments,” I said.
That seemed to satisfy him, and it satisfied me. But philosophy is deeper than arguments. It also summons reflection on the grisly vicissitudes of life—what breaks the heart and binds it back together. Philosophy originally was a discipline for finding out not just how to think, but how to live.
I am that rare person who has found my vocation and avocation to be one. I don’t need to escape into hobbies to compensate for my day job. As Robert Frost put it in “Two Tramps in Mud Time”:
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.
I do what I love, and it usually benefits others. Research and teaching and mentoring is where I flourish. The gifts given to me have been confirmed, as the late seminary professor Howard Hendricks would say, by finding people with the gift of benefiting from my teaching and writing.
For years I’ve pondered the topic of lament. This is partially due to my melancholic nature; I once read a book called Against Happiness—and enjoyed it. But my wife, Becky, is the main reason for my scrutiny of this topic. A gifted writer and editor, Becky had been bedeviled by a bevy of chronic illnesses, each year worse than the year before. None were fatal. All were miserable. They handed down not a death sentence, but a life sentence. It was ailment upon ailment without respite. We lamented as we sought relief.
The losses compounded and gathered into a pattern of a ...