Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Under the vine

So Jonah gets pissed off at the world, forsakes mankind, retires to a hill above Nineveh to ponder and reflect while awaiting the fireworks which he had been promised, and which, suffice to say, he had been considerably inconvenienced for. And a gourd vine grows over the sulking Jonah and gives him shelter from the sun for which he is quite happy about, but curses when it dries up and dies. And then God shows up and goes LOL Y U MAD THO?

This day my major concerns were:
  • Taking care of my dog who had surgery on her ear yesterday and convincing her to wear an e-collar.
  • Worrying about finishing work for this open-source project I'm horrendously late with.
  • Debating whether backbone.js and/or JavaScriptMVC is worth learning and using over plain old JavaScript.
This day the biggest issue for tens of millions of men women and children in Africa, and hundreds of millions all over the world, was whether or not they're going to get a drop of water or a bit of food, and whether or not they're going to be alive tomorrow.

So I've been pondering how many gourd vines have been sheltering me. I am so accustomed to thinking that everything I have is somehow the result of my own efforts, but the reality is far from that.

It's the kind of circular existential question which is strictly illogical and makes no sense, but still plagues us: What if I had been born somewhere else? What if instead of sitting here in my yard feeling the breeze, watching the sunset and writing a blog post,  I was trudging dozens of miles in the desert with my emaciated children to get to a horrendously overcrowded relief camp on the off-chance I might get some grain or water, which would postpone starving to death another day.

I didn't build this house - my grandparents and aunt did. The only reason I'm sitting here is because they worked all their life to provide for their family. The only reason I can read or write or use a computer is because they sent me to school. Having the chronic pain of depression and dissociation and social phobia is pretty terrible and leaves me wrenched and exhausted at the end of each day, but still why do I have the use of my two hands or two eyes or two legs or anything that works properly on my body, when so many people in this world don't? At least I have the ability to work towards getting better - while so many with chronic, debilitating illnesses have nothing. My life is a long way from perfect or even happy but why do I even have the things that I have when so many people don't? My family doesn't have a lot but still, why are our cupboards and fridge always filled? As much as evil has touched my life, why have I been spared the kind of horrors I see on the news every night - violence, destruction, death? Luck, chance, fate, karma, what is it? It's nothing I did, that's for sure. It's sort of frightening how little I have actually contributed to my own existence. The truth is that, like Jonah, I haven't had anything to do with the vines that have grown up to shelter my life.

It's like the older I get the list of things that are really important shrinks,  while the list of things that aren't important grows and stretches by orders of magnitudes. But the list of things that I realize are in my control also shrinks, while the list of things that are really outside my control also grows. Not coincidentally, each list aligns with the other.

There's so many people who go to such extraordinary lengths to acquire the things that are not important. The ignorant ones bow down to their idols: money, cars, clothes, parties, sex, approval, popularity, recognition. The evil ones lie, cheat, steal, injure, slander...every abomination and inequity their conceit can fashion, to acquire what their stupid small minds lust after. They both stack these things up like some massive altar and gaze on them, as if it can compensate for how stupid and empty they are inside. Everyday on these call-in programs on TV you hear people lamenting on how bad things are in this country. And I feel like if we could question the politicians and magistrates and lawyers and doctors and engineers and business owners and everyone in this country who have been given responsibility for other people's well-being, and force them to answer truthfully what they consider important, we might see the reason why things in this country are the way they are.

I've always wondered what it is people see in these meaningless things. It's just like Wallace said in the quote in the last post: when you've drunk your fill of these things what are you going to do? I can't understand how people can be so uncaring and selfish and ignorant. If you think life is only about having the most money and driving the best cars and having the most people comment on your Facebook profile, then do you realize what little control you actually have over what you acquire in this life? And when you lose them, which for most people is inevitable, then what are you going to cherish and hold on to? What about the people like in the picture above? Do people realize how close they are to being in a state like that: how easily fate could have given them that burden to carry? Do the billions of impoverished and disadvantaged people in this world really mean anything to anybody?

But I suppose that while most things in life change, a few things don't. The sun and moon and stars and planets change. The earth itself changes - the day that comes tomorrow is never the same as the one before. Knowledge changes, science changes, technology changes. But people don't change. I guess that's one of the main reasons I picked up reading the Bible - the recognition that the stuff that goes on today is exactly the same as the stuff that's been going on for thousands of years.

The truth is that as much as I want the same things other people want, I'd rather work for $20 an hour and go home to a one-room hut by myself and read all night, than to covet what most people in this country covet, and to act as they act. Because what is in my heart is the only thing in this world I can control. Whatever life brings or takes away I have to accept. I can't even control my own health or emotions or thoughts. But the one thing I can control is whether or not I do evil towards anybody else. And as much as so many things weigh on me, just like they weigh on everybody else, the thing that is most important to me is that I try to keep a clean heart. Covetousness, selfishness, deception, hypocrisy, ignorance, and all the myriad ways of evil people - whatever vines grow over me or fall down and dry up, the only thing that I can really control is how far I distance myself from these things.

I always remember back in July 1990 A.N.R. Robinson declaring "Attack with full force!" fully knowing the thing he heard next most likely would have been the gunshot that killed him. It was like the first time in my life I had ever really seen a politician in this country who believed in something beyond their own existence. It was like for one minute somebody put something greater before themselves. Patrick Manning and Basdeo Panday, two of our greatest sons of the soil, had managed to find themselves elsewhere on that day, when their country needed them the most. I have a hard time seeing them do something like that. It's not really hard to see what they really believed in inside - what they thought was important.

 If somebody asks me to help them and it's within my power to do it then I usually do it. I've had so many people including my supposedly close friends take advantage of me for this, but it's cool. Because I believe it is what we were asked to do. And the truth is that I actually am an extremely selfish person. Whatever other people want or take from me they can have it - if it wasn't worthless I wouldn't give it. But see I'm not doing it for them. And I know that is something they will never understand. The real reason I do it is because maybe one day when I really need help, somebody or something might help me. Maybe if one day I'm stretched out hungry, emaciated, dying somewhere with the sun beating down on me, a vine might grow over and shelter me.

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