Living in this World

Monday, December 28, 2009

#86 Containers

I put my lunch into a plastic bag, I wonder what we will do when they are gone. They are so convenient--though I heard somewhere that their average useful lifetime is twenty minutes. How did people use to carry things anyway? My mind goes to my wonderful mother-in-law, wiry and active at 93, taking her basket to market. Now that’s a different kind of container.

And there are others. I think of Evelyn. For the last year or so, a group that my husband and I gathered together as a little non-profit to support the school of a dear friend in Northern Uganda has been meeting over dinner at the home of one of our members. While everyone brings food, she always cooks a main dish, makes sure there are drinks, thinks where we’ll be most comfortable to eat. She recently wondered if she was pulling her weight as a board member. None of the rest of us had a doubt. She was seeing to the container, reminding us that we are family--each one welcomed, each one valued, each one deserving of attention.

For years I was chair of the board of a community organization that faces a constant struggle to survive. Our meetings were full of bad news. So I always started with sharing good news from our lives and the world around us. We got to know each other better, celebrating each others’ milestones and successes, strengthening the container that was our board, so it could hold all those challenges without cracking.

Our bodies are containers for our days on earth. Our neighborhoods are containers for community. Our natural environment is the container that holds us all. What are we saying when we make our containers disposable, when we throw them away heedlessly, when all our attention goes to what they hold?

Some of the things that go into those plastic bags and styrofoam trays and cardboard boxes support life, I’m sure. Some of the work done at all those meetings where only the task is valued must benefit humanity. But there is a distortion, a tendency toward short-term thinking, a disregard for what matters and what lasts, that does not bode well.

My mind goes to Evelyn, warmly welcoming each one of us into her home, and to the beautiful and sturdy baskets that have hung on the nail in my mother-in-law’s basement stairwell for as long as I can remember. You think about what you put in those kinds of containers--and it’s not likely to be crap.

It will take some adjusting when I no longer have an endless supply of throw-away bags at my disposal. I don’t quite know how I’ll manage. But I’m pretty sure it will be good for my soul.

Snowed in

Walk to the farmers market at the park
in freshly-falling snow
Bring home potatoes and parsnips
in the pack
make fruitcakes & potato filling,
Set off for the Messiah sing
in dark and ever-deepening snow
picking through drifts
raising voices that each count
when most are caught at home.

Snow falling all night
car buried in unplowed street
shovel the walk a third time, then
potato filling balanced in a basket on the arm
set out through knee-deep snow
hoping for the trolley
walking, looking back
then climb gratefully aboard
enjoy the service, the singing, the holiday meal
with those who ventured out
and found their way.

Snow day—--stay late in bed
walk to the used bookstore
choosing the route most shoveled,
gather for evening class
with those who can walk.

Visit an elderly neighbor, then
bake a great batch of cookies
fill sixteen little bags
tie with bright ribbon
walk the neighborhood
to storefronts where we’ve shopped
throughout the year,
in snow and winter sunset
offering blessings, getting back as much
or more.

As life returns to normal--
cars, work, rush--
give thanks
for these four days.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

Three towns in Maine that have passed ordinances stripping corporations of the rights of "personhood", in order to stop the extraction and sale of local water by giant for-profits like Nestles.

Ex-US president Jimmy Carter's continued work on mediation and peace-building around the world.

Innovations in Polish education, that move away from test taking for assessment and toward project-based learning.

Ecuador's new constitution that includes a section giving Nature the right to maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, and charging the State with protection of nature.

NEWLY AVAILABLE: A resource packet on Faith and Economics, which I developed for my denomination:

Check out:, a home for all the parenting
writing I've done over the past 20 years.

Also: START: a way to study and work together with
others to create a better world.

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