The pain of the world moves me -- the rat-cage of our late-modern, imperialist, consumerist, capitalist "civilization." Especially its sheer brutality and utter disregard for any genuine human values. The vapidity and indolence of its popular culture and the aloofness of much of its "high culture." Another friend, or friend of a friend, has contracted some form of cancer. Another acquaintance has lost a young member of her family, snatched away from life too early by caprice or malice or negligence. (On everybody else's behalf) all the indignation of the wounded agnostic wells up in me, and I cry out: "What sort of a provident god would set things up this way!"
But to whom am I protesting so virulently?....Check.
It's a rainy summer morning, and I'm running to catch the bus for work. I have no boots. Or raincoat. Or umbrella. I'm angry, partially at myself. But at someone else as well. Who? (I recall the Zen saying where a boater feels the jolt of another boat crashing into his boat. Anger wells up in him and he jerks himself around only to find that the other boat is completely empty.) It rains on the just and unjust alike.
Still, by the time I get to work, grumpy, I've worked up myself to quite a lather. In my mind, I began cursing, and pounding on something. That something is a wooden stake.
And the cross is not empty, but I'm pounding the person affixed to it to a bloody pulp....Check.
Another time, back when we still had a car, my wife and I have the 1:30 a.m. munchies, so I hop into the minivan and head down the street about one mile to the closest 24-hour convenience store, where the clerks make less than $15 an hour, to purchase an ice-cream-cookie sandwich wrapped in cellophane (for me) and a bag of smart food (for her). It's snowing, and the flakes are making long streaks like comets in my headlights. I'm listening to the overnight classical station. It's something from the Renaissance.
And time stands still....Check.
It's a Sunday morning at a church we used to attend. One of the grumpiest persons in the community, one I can never seem to get along with, is kneeling next to me at the communion rail. The Eucharistic ministers comes to her first and offer her a wafer and a sip and say a few words.
Then they come to me and offer me a wafer from the same plate and a sip from the same cup and they say the same words....Check.
Flash forward to earlier this week. A friend who struggles calls in the wee hours of the morning. She's in the ER with severe pain. Her toddler is staying with the neighbors. She doesn't know whether she'll be admitted or not. "Surely, they'll just admit her, at this hour of the night, when there are no buses and the cab companies aren't running. And it's single digits outside," I assure my wife. (Because I speak with authority.)
I awaken with my early alarm and realize I'd missed her call. We find out she's still in the ER waiting room because, of course, they wouldn't admit her. We give her a number for the cab company and offer to pay the modest fair when she comes. When she arrives, she's wearing one thin layer of clothing and is wrapped in a sheet. She's in almost too much agony to climb the three steps to our front stoop. She slouches onto our couch to get a little sleep and wait five hours until she can call another friend to come pick her up.
That morning she texts me while I'm at work, thanking me for our hospitality. I smile because, what did we do anyway? It wasn't really that much of an inconvenience. Just a little cab fare.
"Hospitality." I smile because, actually, she doesn't know me that well, really. The day before when we had a house full of people, I hid upstairs and buried my head in my blankets. I just couldn't face anybody.
She doesn't know me, really. If it were just up to me, truth be told, I'd probably never let anyone into our house at all.
If it was just up to me....Check.
Flash back about nine years ago. An older couple had moved into town just a year or two before. To enjoy their retirement. They had come to our church and gotten very involved. We all became good friends and got together in their home frequently.
Then one day, he complains that he's not feeling well. Then there are tests. And a diagnosis. And a shock. And a temporary remission. And gratitude for some time to prepare and say goodbye to his children and grandchildren. And there's much sadness, but still he has such a zest for life, clinging with a certain resigned joy to every last minute of it. He recounts that a priest had said to him, "You already died long ago when you were baptized."
Toward the end, we're together with our friends. He's at peace. He's smiling. He talks about a walk in the woods. He can see something I can't see, but I see the reflection in his face. But I want to see it too. And somehow I know I will see it too.