Over the past couple weeks as I’ve been living in October’s “over-drive” mode, I have had a couple brushes with ordinary mortality. A seemingly healthy, not-much-older-than-me neighbor died suddenly. Close friends are battling with cancer. In the course of being a helpful-yet-boundary-setting social worker, a client made a threat against me. Candles lit by friends and colleagues and co-workers on pregnancy and infant death remembrance day reminded me of how many lives end before they even have a chance to flourish. These are the kind of incidents…the daily ordinary… that can prompt us to take a breath and realize: life is fragile.
Life is fragile and precious, and our days are of limited quantity. Most of us know this. We don’t care to think about it, but we know it.
What is weighing on my heart…and making me a bit snippy, I will admit…is how we act in the face of that knowledge. Lately, fear fills every newscast, newspaper, and social media streams. I am growing increasingly impatient with people’s fear-filled and distant responses to tragedy. It starts small, “How did he die?” someone will ask, with an undercurrent meaning of “let’s hope that it was something unrelated to the risks I take in my own daily life…” Or, in the tragedy of Hannah Graham, missing college student from the University of Virginia, we second-guess why she was where she was and give lectures to our daughters about self-protection as if we can shield those we love from every evil by the cut of our clothes. Then, the fear and distancing grows. We begin talking down about people and trying to point fingers of blame. We start building up the “us vs. them.” statements, speaking of “those people with HIV” or worse yet, thinking of a new uprising of Ebola as something “those Africans” experience. Somehow it didn’t seem so bad when it was “over there.” Our statements become infused with political rhetoric, racism, sexism, ethnocentrism. We lose sight of the fragility and connectedness of life.
These distinctions we make serve only one purpose: to ease our fears by trying to control our personal circumstances. What we can fail to recognize is that our circumstances are a part of the human dynamic. What happens to one person, affects every person. Wise leaders, like Martin Luther King, Jr. have spoken those words:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
So, today, I am suggesting that we stop and ponder for a few minutes the possibility that our individual circumstances are not “ours” to control.
While writing this week’s faith formation series for my faith community, I heavily pondered this idea of “giving to God what is God’s.” What if that statement applied to our fears, our preoccupation with controlling our individual lives, our fascination with trying to ease our conscious worries by keeping more and more walls of protection between ourselves, and our neighbors? What if I could jettison some of the cargo that I carry: trying to protect, prevent, isolate, distance. What if I could hand today’s worries off and instead live deeply into the present moment of being a force for love and grace in the world. What if each of us could see that our daily ordinary worries of human life really are God’s worries: for each person, and for the whole fabric of humanity.
At one of the counseling agencies where I worked over the year, my colleagues and I used a particular phrase with our clients and each other: Jettison Cargo. We carry so much pain, grief, despair, and fear. What if we could mentally jettison that cargo away from our lives and into a greater understanding of what it means to be alive. Even for a moment, giving up some of that angst can transform us.
I believe that this courageous act of letting go is what propels those who serve, those who care for those experiencing the pain and suffering of this world: from Ebola, or cancer, or grief, or poverty. For one suspended moment, I can stop trying to control my own destiny and realize that I am a part of something far larger than myself. That moment is transformative, to ourselves and to the world around us. That moment is divine.
This is Sunday, and in my faith tradition many of us will make our way to a church. Many others will worship on this day or other sacred days in their own faith traditions, too. We may listen to wisdom and inspiration shared in word. We may be reminded of Divine Presence in music, in prayers, in community. We may shake hands with and embrace others, greeting their divine spirits with our own divine spirits. We may be invited to make our communion with God. If and when we do any of these things: Jettison Cargo. Give to God what is God’s. God’s love and care for each person, God’s love and care for the fabric of humanity. God’s benevolence to the Universe in creation, evolution, science, knowledge and wisdom. God’s grace in granting us minds to question, hearts to love, hands to serve each other. Jettison the human cargo. Give to God what is God’s.
Be transformed in that present moment and let it nourish you throughout your week. In Monday’s world, this may make me a more caring professional, a more loving partner, a more patient parent, a more committed human being. I may move to other moments of transformation, living with, embracing the possibility of the present moment instead of fear for the future. I may live differently.
We may be amazed.