Vol 6, Num 21 :: 2007.11.16 — 2007.11.30
For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
(from Matthew 5)
That particular October week began with a scene out of a Paul Thomas Anderson film. We left Pittsburgh early on Sunday morning, heading home to Michigan after a wedding. The foothills of eastern Pennsylvania wouldn’t be complete at 7:00 a.m. without fog decorously filling its folds and valleys and we were suddenly headed into a wall of it. “It looks like the end of the world,” I said, with a faint feeling of nervous excitement. Cognitively, I knew that the bridge would continue into the cloud, but my imagination was wanting for something more fantastic. The world disappeared. Not too far in, flashing lights appeared ahead. Closer, we saw that in addition to emergency vehicles, this particular incident involved a small bulldozer. It wasn’t until well past the scene of the accident that I was able to register what I saw as we passed: the motionless bodies of five bloody cows.
There was, of course, a reasonable explanation for the scene, which I found online when we returned home. The cows, scared through the electric fence by dogs or coyotes, wandered out onto the foggy highway and were hit by two vehicles whose drivers saw them too late to stop. But I still had a sense of something unreal and devastating. The two-year-old cows were all pregnant—sad lives ended suddenly and tragically.
Returning to “normal” life that week, it felt as if we’d be away much longer than a weekend, but the routine quickly returned. And then our friend got robbed. At gunpoint. By a man on a bicycle. In a neighborhood where, just a week earlier, I’d just been walking by myself after dark.
The day after the robbery, a co-worker got hit by a car on his bike. A car ran a stop sign at a residential intersection, one which I rode through on my bike just an hour and a half after his accident, a slightly altered replay without the cars, without the ambulance. Doctors aren’t sure yet whether he’ll be able to run again.
Around the Thanksgiving holiday, the word “blessed” gets bandied about like a ball of string laced with catnip; tucked inside its single syllable is a mind-altering drug that sends us flying euphorically about our lives and then helps us sleep well at night. I believe the word can still capture something good and true for those who use it well—a sense of abundance beyond what we can understand, abundance that we can neither earn nor hold onto. But its use too often requires the quiet shuffling-under-the-carpet of all things painful and confusing and serves to affirm qualities of the God we’ve created in our image.
As many of us enumerate our blessings this holiday from the comfort of middle and upper class homes in North America, our lists might begin to reflect a particular theme: security. We are grateful for that which makes our lives safe, comfortable and predictable—for greater financial stability, for good homes, for a free country, for the assurance of heaven. And yet, to consider as blessing that which gives us security implies that those in this world who are insecure are cursed. If I’m grateful for the blessing of good health this year, it implies my co-worker’s health was cursed. If I’m grateful for the blessing of a safe neighborhood, it implies a curse on those who have to live in the shelter in the neighborhood with the higher crime rate. And yet security is so fragile, cracked wide open in an instant by cancer and war, fire and death, fog and guns. In fact, as everything from Hurricane Katrina to the stock market crash to the war on terror has been trying to teach us, security in the sense of settled predictability is a lie. Security may just be the addictive chemical at the core of a distorted notion of blessing.
Heading toward the holidays this year, my husband’s family is full of concern for a six-year-old niece who suddenly can’t balance, can’t grip, can’t get up by herself as she falls more and more frequently. With her in mind, I will stand before the notion of blessing with the trepidation and wonder of Moses before the burning bush. It is right to give God thanks and praise for the good things we enjoy. Let us be mindful of the pain that precedes the resurrection, holding loosely to our sense of security while remembering those in our communities and around the world whose lives are marked by insecurity. Let us not cower so low behind a façade of certainty that we can’t mourn with those who mourn at the senselessness of suffering.