And if you ask me which are the most precious things, will they really come into mind so that I may tell you? Or are they maybe too deep for me to name, much less grasp?
But already that you can ask what is precious to me--this is precious, no? this possibility of asking and waiting for an answer. And my hearing you ask and taking time to think how to answer--already these are a gift that is mysterious, hard to define.
Is language a gift or a trap? Is it to have this tool for understanding the world and myself, for constructing the world? Or is it to have been constructed myself, this "tool" that has already made me even as I begin to use it? "Eric," "you," "me," "mama," "no".
Is language, this precious gift, is it also this tool that is a system both flexible and stringent, open and learnable, and that is also a mystery, and a trap? Is it a tool, as I believe, that brings you closer to me, or is it rather one that puts you behind names? "Student," "teacher," "mine," "brother," "you".
And if you ask me about God, is sensing God's presence a gift or a delusion, I would say a gift, and to me precious. That God's presence can be sensed, and that God made himself known in Scripture--again in language, but language that brings one closer to Another; or separates, if one is not careful.
But can we really be careful in this way, careful so as to know when we bring closer and when we push away?
Also the mystery of the Bible that always challenges me: Which of its phrases are true, the voice of the Spirit, and which are those that are human writers trying to speak the voice and getting it wrong? But this mystery--isn't this also a gift? The mystery in all these things--is it not part of what is precious?
Also to have someone to love, and the gift of this love lasting many years: my wife. This is precious to me.
And the mystery of our connections to each other: all of us, all humans, family and others, coworkers and strangers; the mystery that we can communicate and sympathize with each other in language and other ways, even if only a glance. This is a great gift and still always a mystery.
That I can hear the voices of people around me: feel and hear the shape of their voices in different languages. Again: the mystery of the way these different languages have made the world (or trapped it?), in some ways the same world, in other ways different for each language and each person.
Also the gift of writing, that I can hear the voice and feel the shape of the world of others long dead, friends who died hundreds of years ago, friends who left me the gift of their texts, and I, also a friend, give them voice by reading them.
The gift of all my friends, many of whom are my students: watching them develop and try to make sense of the world. Watching them laugh and joke. This is a great gift: something precious.
Of course the gift of health and sustenance, not to be overlooked just because, through undeserved good fortune, I have had them. Many, through undeserved bad fortune, have not. May I learn to do more to help them.