In Times Like These

In Times Like These

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or so the poet says.  Part of the problem that we confront is that we are new to this part of history, so it feels unknown and scary. When you are confronted with the “unknown” it is called chaos, and out of that comes truth and awareness that is new to you.  It is found when a child is taken to meet a new friend and they are wary of all that is new.  It isn’t new, really, though it may be to the child or to us.  This may be the year of the internet millionaire or the Covid small business death, but it is your year.  Alone in the way that it is yours, and yet collective in that many can tell the same story.  It is the time of our lives.

Your story is simply that, your own.  From the beginning of your life through the teaching and experiences that brought you too today, it is specific. Good or bad, long or short.  Well-seasoned, with history as perspective or simply the musings of the narcissist absorbed with your own needs and pains.  The spectrum allows for any placement on the arc of that path, and while it is a path that unfolds new each day, there are corners that we take that had shielded us from what was to come.  The unexpected child to be born too soon, or the cancer that is to be discovered this new day.  All come unexpectedly and we can do nothing at all to stop or start the rock from rolling down the hill.  Perhaps it is us at the top of the hill that started the rock rolling down and perhaps we are below wondering where that rock came from, but on it rolls.  Gravity has its way and will not be thwarted. Woe to the objects in its path.

There is an amazing photo of a rock the size of a house that rolled down an Italian hill and narrowly missed a farmstead.  Only as the drone flies higher do you see the one from a generation before that rolled through the same fields.  The point? Some things are new only because you are new to see them.  Births and deaths, war and hypocrisy, perfidy, malice and intrigue have been going on since time began, but perhaps it is new to your door or your circle of friends.  CS Lewis describes it this way: “Most modern Christianity is little more than a warm meal and a safe bed. Most of the history of mankind came before the advent of chloroform and the ability to control and numb our pain.”  And so it is, yet today.  Numb to the problems around the town until they arrive on your own door.

Today is the day of our salvation, says the gospel, but that we need salvation at all is the problem that we wish to avoid.  To be left alone and do our bit on the way.  To simply live our days as is the way of man to do, seems a simple request.  It is not to be, however.  There is the rock yet already made to roll down the hillside to breach our peaceful abode and bring destruction and violence to our beau cholic existence.  Ever waiting and patient, but ever poised for the day it is called upon.  Entropy is a thing, and we should always be vigilant to do the maintenance needed to ward off the most critical items failing at the worst possible moment.  And then the earth shakes, and the rock comes forth. No preparation could forestall such an event, and no date could be set.  Then it arrives to strip you of stability and comfort.

In times like these we start from a place we had no idea even existed.  This is the definition of the word Chaos.  That which gives birth to new things, ideas, and events. If you were not surprised it would not be chaotic.  Think of this: if you look down and there is a path, someone else put it there.  If it is hard surfaced, then many have traveled that path before you.  It could be the path of education, the military, or work.  If it is less traveled there is a more specific version but still a path that was made by others.  When you are dropped into the swamp or jungle by a catastrophe, there is no path.  You are blinded by the events that brought this about, but still, here is where you are. Chaos.  Perhaps it was the plane crash into the jungle, or the car that broke down unexpectedly in the desert.  Perhaps it was the change in the weather while you were climbing up the peak of the hill in the park and the cold and the rain changed a short walk into a dangerous event.  More than likely, it was the Dr that is telling you a bad diagnosis.  Perhaps your accountant is explaining that you are in debt because your partner stole your money.  The list is endless and specific to you.  It is like there is a flight to the most feared thing that could happen, and then it does.  And there is no path and staying put is not an option.

I picked up a hitchhiker one very cold day in January.  While driving him to a place closer to his destination we chatted about many things.  He mentioned that he didn’t sleep soundly and hasn’t for many years.  His reply when I asked was that once he “woke up while he was being stabbed with a knife”… I would guess that would bring some fear of sleeping very soundly to most of us.  That is a path I have not been on.  The need to move and the lack of a path happens to most people, but it may simply be that you didn’t get into the job or school that you wanted and had set your future on. Perhaps it is the funeral of your last child before you turned 50, and now you know there will be no grandchildren and the path you thought would be your future has suddenly become a jungle with things you can’t see hiding in the shadows.

Paralyzed by fear is a horrible place to be.  To be there alone is worse.  Where then, comes hope? This is an interesting thing.  It often comes from the unexpected place.  A voice that is of a different form that you would have guessed.  It comes from an elder or a younger version of wisdom.  The innocence of a child, or the sagacity of the old.  If we will stop the screaming long enough to hear.  Our voice box may have stopped its noise, but the sound in our heads is still loud.  Constant and piercing.  Cancelling out the voice of calm and reasoned hope.  We are still here.  We are still alive.  In pain, to be sure.  Here still, and able to hear.  It is the best we can do.  It is the best of times, to begin from this point.  Blazing our path forward.  Listen to the small voice inside.

Cut your shirt and put it as a bandana on your forehead and begin to move.  Cut and slash and step forward to repeat the process.  Soon there will be a path forward. One step at a time, in a direction that may not be clear, and may even be in a circle, but here is movement, awareness, purpose.  Keep moving.  Keep track of the pain, lean into it.  Keep it as a memory of your merit and valiant labors, of all that you were called to be a part of.  The telling will come another day, but now it is only to survive.  This is your task.

When the time is found to be the teller of your tale, be willing.  It is in the telling of your story that others can find hope for their time in the desert with no path forward.  Theirs will be their own, different in details, but the same in isolation and struggle, looking outward for the Hope that is within us.  It is that which is the same.  To be found in the way that a chick has to find its own way out of the egg.  It is found in the power of the struggle that we have been given.  Carry on then.  It is the best of times.


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