Monday, February 16, 2009

Thoughts about power and choice

I had a flu-bug about a week ago. Not the real flu; it wasn’t bad enough. But fever for a couple of days, and coughing. I got over it quickly, but didn’t get my energy back until late in the week. And I still haven’t felt like blogging. I’m just doing this so you all know I’m all right.

Open Cathedral yesterday was amazing. It was cold, and pouring buckets on us. It answered the question for me, “Do you really want to do this, when it’s miserable out?” Yes. I was putting sandwiches and cookies on paper plates, afterwards, and could barely move my hands. But the community really started to happen. People shared umbrellas… it was gorgeous.

I had meant, for several days, to write about power and choice. And then I bore witness to a decision, not yet public, that I deeply (and angrily) disagree with. I can’t go there yet, on this blog. But it fuels my thinking about responsibility to others.

I went to part of a “diversity day” at school, the week before I got sick. We had a large-group presentation, then we split into small groups (of about eight people). We were assigned to discuss words: culture, anti-racism, and another I’ve forgotten. We talked about exposure to things beyond our previous experience. Someone brought up the metaphor of hatching: you think the world is your little egg, and you find out suddenly it’s bigger.

Someone else said something about cracking your own egg. I asked about it; I was apparently the only one who didn’t get this. People jumped in with examples of what they’d done: move far away for college, that sort of thing. They said, surely you’ve expanded your own horizons?

I still don’t really agree. I’ve chosen things that have challenged me, on purpose because I wanted or needed the growth. But the cancer diagnosis broke the hell out of any egg I was ever nestled in. I’ve done what I’ve done, with the pieces. I’m mostly proud of the person I’m becoming. But I had no control over the hammer.

I think of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that stormed my elementary school in fifth grade. You really never can, choose your own adventure. You can buy a ticket to somewhere—but you don’t know what will happen to you there, or who you’re going to be.

It’s not what causes your hatching. It’s what you do with who you are, when you see the world around you.

So that was a Wednesday. Thursday was Community Night; the guest preacher at our Eucharist was an alum, and an acquaintance of mine from here and there. He’s rector of a parish somewhere in Marin. And he preached about how the recession is affecting his community here and his family, globally. And how it’s a crucifixion for all of us, and what that means—or could mean—for who we are as a culture. It was all about courage.

I sat there, very mindful of my own medical “crucifixion,” and wondered how in hell I’m supposed to do anything at all about the economy. I’m graduating with debt. I live in a dorm room—I don’t even have space to share. And I thought more deeply about the whole power/choice dynamic. I actively, more-or-less willingly, make myself sick. I’ll be doing it for four more months. There’s so much I can’t do, because I do this. I do it because I have access to medical treatment. And because I don’t want to get cancer again.

I didn’t choose the illness. I do choose the treatment. That’s where the crucifixion analogy stops for me. The people who are really being crucified aren’t the bankers. I don’t have sympathy for people who can’t figure out how to survive on $500,000 a year (per recent NYT op-ed article). Those who are really suffering, are the people who can’t find even a minimum-wage job in this economy. Someone told me about (I think it was) her husband, meeting people in a shelter, on a trip to New York. One of the residents asked him, “Do you know the difference between you and me?” He answered, “No.” The man said to him, “Three paychecks.”

Three paychecks, between having a safe, warm, dry home and living on the street. Jesus.

And do not start me on health care.

Anyway: Jesus chose his crucifixion. He knew what the risks were, and he took them. He knew what he was doing.

I know what I’m doing, injecting myself with interferon. And I know that I will survive. I’ll come out of this different, but I will in many ways be healed. I didn’t choose the illness—I do choose the cure. I’ve said before, that having cancer cured me of a lot of crap. (And do I need to say that I’m aware that my sacrifice is for myself, only?)

As far as the economy goes, the level of “choice” is different. I don’t know how my choices broke the banks; I’ve never owned anything as monumental as a house. But the choice in front of all of us now, is how we’re going to live when we have to alter our circumstances. The most humane thing we possibly could do, now or ever, is share what we have. I don’t have a spare couch. I do have food.

I’m caught on Richard’s crucifixion metaphor, because the element of choice for Jesus was so much greater than what I see on the street. It doesn’t really matter who’s up there (here?), and you don’t get down, without dying. It matters, what we say and what we teach and what we do. How you live matters, even when you’re stretched on the instrument which you believe will kill you. That’s the only way to survive.

We talked briefly, afterward; he knows what I’m going through medically, and I was beginning to sort through these thoughts. He mentioned that some of his parishioners in Marin—remember, uber-wealthy—have “lost everything.”

I had to interrupt him, and he understood. You only lose everything, when you lose your life.

One of my friends from Open Cathedral gave someone the extra bag of sandwiches, so he could take them back and share them with the people where he sleeps. Remember, this was a cold, blustery, soaked-to-the-skin afternoon. The man said he was okay with sleeping in the doorway at the Y, because others need shelter beds more.

That is a resurrection life.

1 comment:

it's margaret said...

Amen sistah. That is a resurrection life.