My Little Black Book

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die. (Eccl 3:1-2)

This well-known passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes emphasizes the many diverse experiences that are part of the human journey.

I encountered the same thing recently when I began rewriting my personal address book, my little black book. (Actually it was green but "My Little Black Book" makes for a better title.) In an age when many people have their address books on their computer, the fact that I have an address book in hard copy makes me a dinosaur, I guess. Nonetheless, I do and once in a while it needs to be updated.

My little black book had 116 entries involving about 182 people. It had been about ten years, I think, since I rewrote the entire book, and I was stunned by the number of changes that have occurred in the lives of family members, friends and acquaintances during those years.

Fifteen people have died, including my mom, my brother, and an aunt. May they rest in peace.

Some experienced serious illness in recent years. Some have recovered, some are suffering still.

Lots of people have moved, sometimes more than once, usually in search of bigger homes, (although some of the older folks have downsized) or new and better jobs.

My family and friends are not immune to social trends, and sadly there have been far too many separations and divorces, disrupting the lives of families and children, resulting in the loss of contact with extended family members whom I had come to know and love.

The changes in my little black book reflected lots of good news, too. There have been beautiful weddings, the birth of precious new children, families growing and prospering, baptisms, confirmations and graduations, new homes, new schools and new professions.

I'm surprised at the number of people I was in contact with ten years ago who have disappeared from my life, usually not through animosity or anger, but more often as a consequence of people moving, becoming busy and losing regular contact and shared experiences. One author observed that most relationships, short of marriage, are destined to end through natural causes, and when they do, we should be able to say simply, peacefully, "Better for having met, no worse for having parted." It seems like a cold, heartless saying, but in reviewing my address book, I think it's true.

On the other hand, in establishing my new address book, I'm pleased by the number of people I've met in recent years, the new friends and acquaintances who have become part of my life's story.

"There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens."

You may or may not have a little black book, but think of all the changes you've experienced in your own life over the last ten years. Maybe members of your family and friends have died or struggled with serious illness. Perhaps you've gotten engaged or married, or suffered a painful separation and divorce. Maybe you've moved to a new home or taken a new job. Perhaps you've lost contact with some really close friends or met that one very special person destined to be your best friend, your confidant, your lover.

Without a doubt, life is filled with unpredictable change, and for that reason it's nearly impossible to foretell the future, the silly claims of psychics not withstanding. Who knows where you'll be or what you'll be doing 10 years from now, or next year - or even tomorrow for that matter.

There are three things, however, I can predict of the future with absolute certainty.

First is that it will be a mixture of good and bad, success and failure, victory and defeat, health and illness, life and death. I can predict that with certainty because such experiences are part of life every year, every day.

Secondly, the future will be as good or as bad as you choose to make it. The good and the bad, the successes and failures, the moments of life and death - these events are the natural resources, the raw materials God places into your hands. What you do with them, and how you respond, is up to you.

Finally, I predict that regardless of what you encounter in the future, God will be with you. That's one of the primary tenets of our Christian Faith, isn't it? We believe in Emmanuel, "God with us." And we find courage in the words of Jesus, "Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." (Mt 28:20)

The point is this: In the midst of all the changes that come our way, our faith in God is the rock-solid foundation on which we build our lives, the harbor that gives us safe shelter from the stormy seas we are bound to traverse in our voyage of life.

(This column originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)