For the most part, I focus on posting stories in this blog that point to paths towards respect for all human beings and the increase of justice in the world. As I type the words “point to paths” I am reminded of the Buddhist injunction to not mistake the teacher’s finger for the moon. Of course we need to pay attention to the pointing, but we need to keep our focus on the goal. Our eyes should be on the moon. (Which is not to say that we should be mooning over justice and human rights, but then, this may be that kind of free associating blog? So stay awake. Watch out for slippery slopes!)
So, here is a story for you. A bit of an old chestnut (well worn story) I think.
Once upon a time in middle America there was a god fearing farmer named Harry. Harry was a devout member of his church, a well respected and generous member of his community, married with a son and daughter. He and his wife, Matilda, were deeply in love. They worked together tending the farm that had been in Harry’s family for untold generations. From the farming, some crafts they sold, they managed a comfortable living. They worked hard, but by and large life was sweet.
And then Harry’s wife was taken ill. They used up all of their medical benefits, and still the doctors could not diagnose her illness. She just kept wasting away. Harry prayed. All the members of the church and community prayed. But Matilda’s illness persisted. Harry consulted with the local pharmacist to see if Kohlberg might be right, but the pharmacist had no remedy to suggest, not for any price. And all too soon, Matilda passed gently into the light at the end of the dark night. Harry was bereft. And then his faith carried him, he dried his eyes, looked up to the moon, and with a heavy heart said to his children, “the good lord gives and the good lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the lord.” And life on the farm went on.
And as time went on, Harry Junior was walking down the road to school when a drunk driver struck the boy and killed him. Harry Junior’s death was instantaneous. Harry Senior was inconsolable for a time. And then, he heaved a sigh, looked up to the moon, and said to his daughter, “the good lord gives and the good lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the lord.” And life on the farm went on.
And life went on for a while. And then the draught came. And Harry had to take out a mortgage on the farm. And he and his daughter worked even harder to make ends meet. And then the daughter got wanderlust, enlisted in the army, was sent to Afghanistan and was killed when her truck drove over an IED. Harry was devastated. He wept – an act that was unheard of for a middle American farmer, but he wept. And then, sighing deeply, he looked up to the moon, and said to no one in particular, “the good lord gives and the good lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the lord.” And his life on the farm went on.
And then a draught came, Harry had to take out a mortgage on the farm to pay the bills. His heart was breaking. One day he was out in the middle of the fields working the land that he loved. The land that he had grown up with. The land that had nurtured him body and soul. The land that was now so dry he could barely coax subsistence from it. And the winds began to pick up. Soon the winds were howling. As Harry looked up from the field where he was working, he saw a tornado the size of a New York skyscraper thundering right towards him. Before Harry could think to react, the tornado was on him. It lifted Harry and the tractor like they were bits of wheat, tossed them about like a child playing with her first baseball, and then dropped them like a hot potato – with the tractor landing squarely on top of Harry squishing him like a pancake. Harry died, walked toward the light, and found himself at the Pearly Gates where indeed he met his maker. Harry looked up, took a deep breath, and said, “Dear god, why? Didn’t I honor you? Didn’t I follow all your commandments? Didn’t I …”
And at that point, god grimaced, and said, “Harry, I don’t know, there’s just something about you that pissed me off.”
Now, that was a too long story. And what does it have to do with respect for human dignity, what does it have to do with human rights and social justice? Not much – except that sometimes we just can’t know. Sometimes you do all the right things and everything goes wrong. Sometimes there is no knowing why. But all the time, you just have to dust yourself off and keep going. Because even as we gaze at the moon, even at the time of the waning moon, we can always know that the sun will come out tomorrow!
Be of stout heart and good cheer … the sun will come out tomorrow. And then together we can sing our songs of hope and peace.