Wednesday, January 20, 2010

His eye is on the sparrow, yes. But what about me?

A neighbor of ours just dropped off a load of firewood. Spontaneously. For free.
This is in addition to a load he dropped off the other week.
He is a forester and said firewood was really easy to come by for him.
A wood-burning stove is our only source of heat. There was an oil heater in place when we moved in, but it was ancient and in a very odd place and well, I just didn't trust it. At the time, we had friends who primarily heated with wood, so it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Well, it remains a good idea, but it's a job of work keeping the woodshed and the woodstove full. David usually takes care of the wood getting. I take care of the wood burning. Usually. Before Willoughby was conceived I was a menace with a wood maul. I split wood every day. It's a great workout and an even better tension reliever.
Getting wood for yourself is ideal. It takes time, a willingness to work hard and a source of timber, but it doesn't cost a lot of money. Unless you've got no time or no place to cut wood or are unable to work hard due to illness, injury or equipment failure. This year, we've had frequent shortages of time and money and stuff that works like it should when you need it the most. But we have also been so fortunate. We know a man that is happy to sell us all the wood we want for cheap and on credit, friends who have let us raid their wood piles and these neighbors who give us the fruits of their labor unsolicited and for free.
There are moments when I envy people with push-button heat. Like when it is 13 degrees outside or when the fire goes out overnight and I wake up with a cold nose and a fire to start. Around about February, I get so tired of hauling firewood I could spit. But then, I never open a huge electric bill, either. And I don't have to worry about calling the propane or heating oil companies, either. Wood is a renewable source of energy. And although it may seem counter intuitive, I would rather have my home's exhaust vented here, rather than from some coal-powered power plant far away. It's my waste. It should hang in my atmosphere.
But this is not a treatise on the wonders and glory of heating with wood. No, this all comes from the initial charitable act. These neighbors who randomly knock on my door bearing gifts of firewood, baby rabbits, turkey eggs to hatch or freshly-made sausage, they are evidence of my own personal bounty. My cup overfloweth to such a degree it's a wonder those of you downstream can still see your feet. But I feel horribly conflicted saying that I am blessed, even though I feel sure that I am. Because for me to be blessed, doesn't that mean that others are "unblessed"?
Cast your eyes about in virtually any direction and you can't really miss the suffering. Chuck a rock and you'll hit someone in pain. Real, life-altering pain. Unendurable, unceasing torment. Job, 2010.
Although I am a Christian, I am not a fundamentalist. I look to the Bible not as the inerrant word of God given to man, but as a collection of ideas about God; a God that is still being revealed to anyone and everyone that is paying attention.
There are things that happen to friends that I can't bear thinking about. A husband is killed. A child dies of cancer. And more. These are the things I can't say out loud; things I can't think on too long without my throat threatening to close or my eyes filling with tears. Sometimes, when everything in my house is quiet and my husband touches my hand or I hear one of the children sigh in their sleep, life is so sweet, I can't imagine things continuing on this good for much longer. It's like we are all dancing on the head of a pin, whirling closer and closer to the edge until one or eleven of us flies off and the rest of us are left there, reeling, before most of us turn back to the dance. I'm among those who cast a glance back, watching the bereft left wringing their hands. Because I know, I could be the next one flung into the abyss. Or worse.
I know that I am a good, worthwhile person, but in terms of my contribution to society, I'd rank a solid "fair". If Mother Teresa were exemplary and Hitler, the worst. A nice C. Maybe a C+ on a day I spend more time thinking about others than I do myself.
When you stack it all up, how am I here? In a comfortable house, with healthy children, a cherished marriage and more than the essentials in everything? Why is this my lot in life? With my cup running over, filling my lap, chair and shoes? I'm afraid it's a magic trick or a bubble on the rise. I do not deserve this. On any poor bastard's scale.
It'd be lovely if Christianity incorporated Karma, wouldn't it? There wouldn't be such a wrestling between the seemingly "blessed" and the "unblessed". I'd be successful because of my own hard work in lives past. And those of you stuck in the gutter, well, you made your bed, so lie there, Sucker.
Instead, I'm a tight rope walker. I've got my blessings perched on my arms and ahead, each atop its own pole, spinning. And somehow, I have to keep moving forward and keep things just so or, I know, the whole thing's going to come crashing down.
But then, I don't seriously believe that anyone else's misfortune is due to a misstep or a sudden sneeze. So I know it has nothing actually to do with me at all.
So is it God? Like a kicking-ass Santa Claus? Creating life and taking it away? Handing out the goodies to the good and smiting those who don't do right? Yeah...No. I believe a lot. But I don't buy that. I just don't. If that were true, my slack old back sliding self would be cast so deep in the pit of pestilence there'd be fifteen different kinds of plague with my name on it.
No, I think the world is the world and it is up to us to make it as good as we can for as many as we can. I believe that we are the bringers of God's Kingdom. But then, that's no answer to the question of why some suffer so much and why others so little. It's actually kind of a cop-out dodge.
This is an old and worn discussion. I know. I don't have anything new to add. I hope there was no hope for answers. Because this neat package is wet on the bottom with a hole besides. I'm stumped. Flummoxed. Stupefied. I just want to gather the whole world up. I want to kiss its cheeks and murmur, "Everything's under control. There is a plan. All of this is in there. Trust me. I'm in a helicopter. I can see it all from up here. Everything's going to be alright." Mostly, I guess, I just want to believe it myself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Insomnia's only a problem if you have a bed to sleep in.

I couldn't sleep last night.
It happens sometimes. And when I can't sleep, my normally pragmatic mind runs to some otherworldly weird and violent scenarios - like my children being hit by cars or a bear attacking them in the yard while they're doing their chores - that make my actually falling asleep even less of a possibility. Last night, I couldn't stop creating scenarios involving the death or grave injury of my youngest son, Willoughby.
It's a strange state to be in. Not asleep. Not awake. And not entirely in control of my thought processes. But in the middle of one of these horrible visions, Willoughby, who sleeps with us, rolled over, putting his feet against my belly and throwing out his arm straight across my face. A gentle rebuke, I guess, but an effective one. It woke me up enough to remember not to fear the millions of horrific possibilities the world has to offer, that will probably never happen and certainly couldn't be prevented due to their randomness and sheer improbability.
I removed his hand from my face, causing him to shift his position again, lining his back up against me so I could feel his every breath.
And this is how I eventually dropped off to sleep, his every breath reminding me he was there and safe and I had nothing to fear.
Now imagine our house falling down and my sweet-cheeked, breathing consolation Willoughby stuck under it and me running back and forth helplessly there trying, desperately to get him out.
Which is rather like what is happening in Haiti.
Where for many mothers, day-to-day survival is more of an actual battle than it is here. You know, my pantry is rarely bare. I mean, there's always something. Even when we are at our lowest moments financially, I can't think of a time we've actually been out of food. Maybe we don't have exactly what we want...or maybe I can't make what I usually do, but we've never gone to be hungry due to an empty cupboard.
In Haiti, mothers don't love their children any less than I love mine. And I can hardly bear to think of the desperation, the horror, the helplessness swirling about in the air there today. What can you do when the ground gives up and quivers all around you? You can't hold anyone close enough. You can't protect your kids from that. As hard as you work. As rich or poor as you may be. It's a great leveler, in more ways than one.
One of the things I love the most about Christianity is the idea that regardless of our individual circumstances, I am no more or less in God's eyes than anyone else. So my children, though they mean the world to me, are no more valuable than any other children on the planet. I have taught them this from very early on. Before the Jesus-Me. It's fundamental, isn't it? Not to bring everyone else up to our level, but more to bring us down a few notches.
Many is the time, I've looked around me and felt a little smug. I take good care of my family. We have a comfortable house we're not in danger of losing, largely because of my insistence, initiative and creativity. My marriage is loving, stable and secure. There are moments when I am dangerously close to falling into the trap of thinking myself somehow "better" than someone else who does not share my good fortune.
But how different am I than the alcoholic when I eat more than I should, to the detriment of my health? Not to mention my kids who may not have a mother drunk off her ass on the sofa, but still have one who spends way too much time there.
How different am I than the person with thousands of dollars in credit card debt when I spend too much at second-hand stores? Both of us are spending money we don't have, just in different venues. And both of our families are suffering from it.
How different am I than the mother who does everything she can for her children - feeding, clothing, sheltering her kids the best she can in whatever environment she was born into? I'm not different at all. We're exactly the same. We're all the same. Me and you and people half the world away. We're all the same, one for the other.
National and cultural boundaries, they are all man-made. Even religious boundaries, they're bunk too. If my children were buried under the rubble of our home, I wouldn't care who the rescuer prayed to. Neither would you. And we live in a world where oceans of water no longer profoundly impede us. Mountain ranges, either. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, they are crying. Especially in Haiti today.
And since we're no different, don't we have a responsibility to help them, like we'd help any other neighbor? Because I'm pretty sure they'd help us, regardless of our skin color, our country of origin, our financial status.
NPR has set up a page telling us how. Please go and consider making a donation. Because unless you're chartering a hospital boat full of food, water, and heavy equipment, it's the least you could do.