Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hope Where You Sit

Outside the confines of my suburban home and tree-filled neighborhood there lies a crazy world. A world where governments fall with abandon and reporters risk their lives to cover the news. A world where two billion people live in deepest poverty, earning less than one dollar per day. A world in which the climate changes yearly, racking up ever-higher average temperatures and record rain or snow falls, while other areas suffer 100-year droughts. When we dare to peek our heads out of our suburban turtle-shells, where do we find hope?

A quote from Philip Berrigan pointed me in a new direction. I heard it yesterday in Engaging Spirituality: "For Christians, hope is where your ass is!" For Berrigan, hope could be found only in engaging the issues of our time and dealing with them fisthand; fighting poverty in the inner cities, fighting the build-up of weapons at a nuclear weapons facility, tending to the prisoners in prison. He made me think about where my derriere resides most of the time - on an office chair in my kitchen or in a Toyota minivan. Not sure which place is less likely to spring forth with a fount of hope.

Actually, my body usually resides in a location where it can function for my family, and they are a source of hope for me. I serve them (often grudgingly, it's true) and give up my desires and goals for their betterment. This kind of service is rewarding, but since I ultimately want them to love service and to be a better servant than I am, we should probably ALL be out where the need is greatest. Three cute little tushes and two bigger ones could all be in a soup kitchen, senior center or day laborer's site together.

It's a struggle to know where to place my ass for the sake of hope; it's hard enough to fit it into my favorite pair of jeans. But hope is a valuable commodity and if we want to face the realities of this world and live a relevant life we have to engage and we have to have hope. Right now my rear end is glued to the kitchen chair and there's not a whole lot of higher energy around here, so it might just be time to move.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Failing Better

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” - Samuel Beckett

I am not an artist. Never had any pretensions of being able to draw or paint; putting science diagrams on the whiteboard was the limit of my artistic ability as a teacher. My children praise me every time I produce a piece of paper with colors on it, but that’s because they like the time we spend together – and, let’s face it – they still idolize me. I’m almost out of time there . . .but I’m always my own harshest critic so nothing they say could make me feel less adequate in the art department. Which sentiment made last Saturday’s escape to “Paint and Sip” quite an adventure.

The principle of this new type of outing is for a group of friends to come together and enjoy a glass of wine, some art instruction and all manner of art supplies in a painting frenzy. Most of our group tended to overlook the instruction and paint away furiously at colors and scenes of our own mad design. I fell into this mindset; after painting a lovely background I threw some dark brown spots in a corner that failed to come off with additional water or brushing. So I turned the canvas upside down and moved from a forest scene to a cliff / ocean design. I had the misfortune of sitting next to two good artists, and when people roamed around to look at other people’s paintings (shocking, I know, I was not prepared for that) they oohed and aahed over my neighbors’ and stopped speechless at mine. Some of the comments I got: “oh, that’s a boat!”, “is that actually land over there?”, “aren’t you having fun.”

I did enjoy the process and the companionship but was frustrated by my lack of results. How hard could it be to paint a cliff and an ocean? Pretty darn hard, as it turns out. Fortunately, my forgiving family greeted my painting at the door with appreciative whistles and outbursts like “How did you DO that?” which I chose to interpret as positive feedback. My boys even offered to have it hang in their room, which was sweet, though every time I go in there to vacuum I am tempted to throw it in the closet.

But no! My point in this rambling is that for the first time in my life I get Beckett’s quote. It’s not only OK to fail – it’s expected. And if I go painting and sipping again, I’ll most likely fail again, but that will be OK, as long as I ‘fail better.’ I may not be aging gracefully but I am at least learning that we should not do anything based on expected results. Cleaning house, writing, teaching, raising children - pretty much all of my activities fall in this category. I can’t worry about the results, but only rest in the knowledge that I will try, and I will fail. Maybe eventually I will fail better.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unintended Consequences

The outdoor temperature was – 17 degrees this morning. Even with all the windows shuttered, curtains drawn and doors locked tight, cool drafts feathered in from under the stove and slid cold fingers forth from sliding glass doors. I was so grateful to be in a warm house with functioning pipes that I did not even mind the drafts. In fact, the frigid air reminded me of a story I heard at lunch several weeks ago, and reminded me to welcome a bit of outside air.

Back in the 1960’s builders were working on building airtight homes for the first time. They planned to eliminate the leaks and reduce heating costs – admirable goals. But they were well into planning and even building the first few models before some reputable builders noticed a problem – if there was no air coming into the house, the furnace would have nothing to burn. Fires need to burn oxygen, and in older homes this oxygen came directly from leaky windows, doors and faulty joists. When homes were sealed, builders needed to devise a new method of bringing oxygen to the furnace – via air piped directly from the outside. They also needed to return the exhaust specifically to the outside. Without these precautions, people could actually die from inhalation of fumes or, actually, from suffocation. My lunch companion thought he could remember that several people actually did die from these circumstances, but I can’t find these stories to verify them. Anyway, I’m grateful for my modern furnace and for my leaks.

Another - more humorous - unintended consequence has brightened up the last two days of staying home with the children. (School was closed for “extreme cold” if you can believe it. I am sure that when we were in school it was only cancelled for flash floods, hurricanes or multiple feet of snow.) We’ve been home together, talking, yelling, crying and singing for the past two days. Turns out my four-year-old has quite a song repertoire. He learned to sing only in the past year, and due to the lateness of this development his collection is peppered with dance music from his siblings, old favorites of his parents, and the soundtracks to various cartoons. When he strings his favorite phrases together it goes something like this:

“Row, row, row your boat . . .and take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the girls are pretty! Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way . . .and tonight’s gonna be a good night, tonight’s gonna be a good, good night . . . when you spin my head right round, right round and you go downtown.”
I’m so proud, and happy to be entertained by unintended consequences rather than snuffed out by them.