Best wishes, Bishop Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Image via Wikipedia

Bishop Desmond Tutu announced his retirement from public life this week, as he reached his 79th birthday.  I admire not only all the work he has done, but also the example he is giving by his choice to retire.

It’s commonplace to say that, in the 21st century, we define ourselves by the work we do.  It was not always so.  Bishop Tutu was active and effective as a voice both for social change and for reconciliation and forgiveness.  He lived through perilous times, and experienced danger himself.  When greater equality and human rights were gained in South Africa, he was generous and energetic in sharing what he learned, both in his books but even moreso through is participation in many peace-keeping and peace-making endeavors.  His was a life full of important accomplishments.

But Bishop Tutu’s sense of himself is not confined to his ministry. He is a husband, a father and grandfather, a member of a particular community.  He is a lover of literature and beauty, and of times of prayer and quiet.  His active life, his ministry, include the sacrifice of those other parts of himself – equally holy and God-given.  As he reaches the evening of his life, he is making a conscious choice to live into those other commitments and possibilities.

In his public choice and retirement, Bishop Tutu is again taking up the role of a teacher of wisdom – using the method of example rather than words. We can see someone turn aside from the spotlight and choose quiet and family.   In this, he may help each of us, in our own way, to consider all the values and relationships in our lives – and perhaps to make choices for values beyond those highlighted by society.

Bishop Tutu, thank you for teaching this lesson on living a grace-filled life. May you and your family be richly blessed.

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  1. Thank you Edith for this article. I’ve been thinking a lot about how best to serve others in this, the twilight of my life and the idea that resonates most strongly within me is the need to work more intently on listening. Listening to my inner truth, yes. But also listening to others. Giving my full attention to what they are saying. So often, in the past, I listened to others thinking they expected a response . . . and in so doing didn’t listen as carefully to what they were saying as much as to formulating my response. I now realize that listening is the greatest gift we can offer another.

  2. “As he reaches the evening of his life, he is making a conscious choice to live into those other commitments and possibilities.”

    I may not be quite in the “evening of my life” yet (!) but I needed to read and reflect on this, at this point in my life. I’m living in a new community where no one knows me, which is so different from when I was in Two Harbors and everyone knew me because of my newspaper work. I’m retired, so I’m not doing “important stuff” any more–AND, newspapers around here aren’t interested in hiring freelancers. I’m having to learn to shed the “me” that had to write and photograph and do it for money, to be involved, and consider that perhaps my new life will include more prayer, as well as settling for simply being the support for those around me. God has perhaps decided to point me at a new phase, and I should quit struggling and just look toward what it might be.

    Obviously, I really enjoyed this article.

    • Thank you for such a reflective response. I’m not in the “evening of life” or even retired – but Bishop Tutu made me pause as well. A life tends to accumulate events, tasks, expectations. In the past year, I came to the realization that a person can become hostage to what she’s done before. I’ve begun to work on saying, “no, that’s not who I am anymore.” When I saw Bishop Tutu do it in such a big way, it gave me a boost. I’m glad to have passed it along.

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