Living in this World

Sunday, February 28, 2010

#87 Swimming in the Same Sea

When I was growing up, there was a pond nearby, and everyone came to the pond to swim. I can remember later, being in an airplane and seeing housing developments spread out below, almost every one with its little dot or squiggle of blue in back--the swimming pool. What we used to do in public, in common water, we now did separately, through our own resources, on our own property. Swimming was becoming more and more individualized and privatized.

When Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake this winter, I felt that I ought to be grieving more deeply for so much terrible loss than I found myself able to do. I looked for excuses, and they were there to be found: our family was still reeling from a beloved grandmother’s debilitating stroke; a treasured mentor--a giant of a man--had just died; a cherished hope that a loved one would come home had to be laid to rest. I was filled up with my own sorrows. There just wasn’t space for any more

While there was weight and truth to all of this, it didn’t satisfy. It left me too much on my own, too separated from the folks in Haiti, too disconnected from the larger world. As I was reaching for an understanding that I could live with, the image of a great common sea came to mind. What if I didn’t have to think of all these troubles as my own private little pool of grief. What if I could leave my backyard and come out to the sea with everyone else who was grieving all the loss of the world? Then those impossible questions, “Why me?” and “Why them instead of me?” would lose their sting in the recognition that it’s all ours.

It’s not that we want any of it. It would seem that a person could save a lot of heartache by choosing to just stay out of the water altogether, passing up both private pool and common sea. Many of us put considerable effort into creating lives that skirt the edges of heartache. We decide not to look, not to take things in. We close our eyes when it seems like too much. But the price of hardening our hearts is high, and ultimately we don’t have control. A loved one is snatched away and we find ourselves drowning. Or the image of a single desolate child in the news slips through our defenses and into our unprepared hearts. Somehow I think that if we come to terms with the reality that we are going to be swimming in these waters whether we choose to or not, then we can learn to swim well. And if we come to the common sea, if my tears can flow in with the tears of those who lost so much in Haiti, then we can be bound together in our loss.

Maybe it’s really all the same grief. Maybe that string of personal losses just loosened my share of the tears of the world. Maybe those tears flowing down my cheeks are mine to feel, but not mine to possess or control, not mine to ascribe to this particular loss or that one.

The same would have to hold true for love. It’s easy to think of our loves as private affairs. But what if there’s a great sea of love that we all get to swim in? Any loving that I do, then, is part of the great loving of the world. I’m left thinking that who we can grieve for and who we can love is less important than whether we are willing to step into that common sea, and do the big loving and grieving that our world needs.

Red light

Hurry past the food truck
rich aroma wafting.
miss the light
am drawn back
to that tantalizing smell,
Inhale its goodness
savor every big deep breath
of ethnic fast food,
on what costs money and
what satisfies.

The vendor wonders what I want
I have to say I’ve taken it—
without pay.

Then hear my name
a long-time neighbor
known since he was small
now moved away
buying from the truck.
asks how I am
sends regards to the block.
We smile, remember
all those years.

The light has changed.
I cross through biting wind
savor all the life lived well
in that brief red.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The diversity--and passion--of people who gather together in the urban gardening and greening movement.

The Food Trust, a model for bringing fresh food to poor urban neighborhoods, and one of their members, Jeff Brown, a grocer who just wants satisfied customers.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics, when all the countries march in, and all are respected and welcomed equally., a fast-growing movement to get people and institutions to move their money from Wall Street to independent, community-minded banks and credit unions. (This is a really simple thing that everyone can take action on, and spread the word for others to act.)

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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