This funny little play on words and wise adage is familiar to anyone who has ever experienced the Twelve Step movement. It came to mind as I pondered the recent death of a much loved friend. His illness played itself out before our very eyes. It was his experience, not ours. Yet we would have thought and certainly hoped he would make other choices.
In contemplating his steady diminishment and certainty of diagnosis, I found myself getting into the "if only" mode. Somewhere in the midst of the internal carping I realized that perhaps I had better turn my reasoning, my disbelief to focus a bit closer to home. Were there some questions I had to ask myself? Could I squeeze a positive, life-giving energy out of this sad event?
Then I thought of the adage. "Denial is not a river in Egypt." It is easy to imagine the Nile River running its long course in peaceful tranquility, flowing gently between grassy banks. That's the common picture, although not necessarily always true. Yet it is a nice, undisturbing image. On the other hand, real "denial", placid only on the surface, hides real danger. Roiling beneath the surface are the consequences of avoidance par excellence, with great potential for disaster.
So what am I in deep denial about? What am I choosing to ignore at my own risk and at the risk of others to whom I owe some consideration? What is going on in my life that I refuse to face? What am I refusing to deal with and thereby courting great peril? What is going on in my relationships that I sweep under the rug and choose to avoid? All of this began to sound like a very good new angle on the examination of conscience. Somehow the usual list of suggested questions to ponder before the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not get to this kind of thinking.
It was not easy to plumb the depths of this river. No wonder we decide not to go there at all. In doing so one is forced to look at unpleasant things, ugly truths, the side of yourself that you wouldn't show to the camera. As if the sight of these realities was not enough, once seen clearly they begin to demand attention. Worse yet, giving them attention reveals that CHANGE is necessary. Awful! Awful! Who wants to change? Who can change? What is the prospect for success?
It could all end there in self-defeat or rapid retreat to the redoubt of denial. Then, with God's grace doing the prompting, it is possible to move into contemplation of the consequences of denial. What is sure to happen if I do pursue change? What could happen between myself and others if I made a move? What would a change surely mean for my future, my well-being, physical, emotional or spiritual?
So in this way we move on, move along, and pray that our God will companion us on the difficult but necessary journey. Propelled by honesty, begging for courage, we do it one day at a time.