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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Crash

A few days ago I went to visit my brother and his family. I got started a little later than I’d wanted to (really only about a half hour) and had my sister’s GPS to guide me. If you have a GPS, you know it will give you an ETA (estimated time of arrival). I was a little obsessed with the ETA, especially since I succeeded in making it go down a minute or two in my first hour of driving.

And then the progress I’d been making ended. Traffic slowed…and then stopped momentarily, and then picked up, but only to a speed of about 7 to 10 MPH. “Oh, no!” I thought, “How will this impact my ETA?” I was annoyed with whatever or whomever was causing the delay.

Then I noticed that across the median there was no traffic going in the opposite direction; zero cars were passing by. At that point I knew that the cause of my frustration wasn’t construction. It was an accident and a pretty bad one to have stopped traffic in one direction and slowed it down considerably in the other. A minute or two later, I saw, going in the same direction as I but in the lanes across the median, two ambulances speeding to the scene.

That was when my ETA obsession disappeared. So what if I arrived a little later at my brother’s house? At least (I hoped), I was going to arrive there. There were other people whose plans had changed a lot more than mine. I would ultimately arrive at the destination I set out for. Others were instead going to a hospital. Knowing that, my short-term priorities were set straight.

I sometimes seem to have a split personality. There are times when I think I do a decent job putting others first. That morning I had worked with a group of students at a food bank. There are other times when I know my life is way too focused on me. That afternoon I was (at least initially) annoyed with people who would dare to inconvenience me by slowing me down. Hmmm…

I think my desire to write about this comes from my own need for reminders that life is not all about me and what I want. It is not about speeding from place to place. It is about caring for others. It is about noticing others- not just those I want to notice, but those who need my attention, whom I might otherwise overlook. While I couldn’t do anything to help those at the crash scene, I could pray for everyone there… and I did. I could be thankful for my own good fortune…and I was and am. I find it unsettling that it often takes witnessing someone else’s misfortune to remind me of the abundant blessings in my life. Perhaps this particular reminder will help me to recognize the blessings without first observing a contrasting tragedy…Perhaps it will help me notice and reach out to those who need my care and my prayers, even when giving them that attention disrupts my own self-centered plans…

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cracks in the Sidewalk

I wrote the following in May of this year...

I was pulling weeds the other day. I haven’t had time to do much in my yard and there are lots of weeds. That day I focused on the weeds in the cracks in the sidewalk. I was amazed at how many weeds there seemed to be in cracks no larger than a centimeter wide…

When I work in my garden, I let my mind wander. That day it wandered to my students. We are nearing the end of the school year and there are a few students who have been, to put it nicely, trying. I have been frustrated. I have been wondering if I have gotten through to some of my kids.

As I was pulling weeds, I was reminded of the parable of the sower, who throws seed on all sorts of ground and in all but the fertile soil, the seed-throwing seems fruitless. Sometimes when I am teaching, I see some growth from the seeds I plant and I feel like I am throwing onto fertile soil. Most of the time I see nothing come of it… I wonder…I feel like I am throwing seeds onto something as life-depleting as my concrete sidewalk.

Except…there are cracks in the sidewalk. And in those cracks, it was clear to me that day, things can grow. Lots of things can grow. In fact, the growth I find in those cracks any time I try to clean them up is persistent, insistent upon growing. What I see growing there, what I pull up, I call weeds. I didn’t plant them. And yet they’re there.

What if I did throw seeds there? What if I planted seeds there, trusting that there could be growth in those small openings? How many of my students seem to have a rock-solid exterior, but really, within the tough exterior have some cracks? How many are waiting for someone to notice the cracks and to plant seeds in those spaces? How many might allow those cracks to widen if they know that care will be taken with those fragmented places, those places others might call weakness?

Even in the smallest spaces, life finds a way. In fact, it is from those times and places of weakness, when we "crack," that we experience growth. It is when someone takes the time to tend to our cracks that unexpected life emerges. We may not know what’s coming, but life springs forth.

And so I continue throwing seeds, even towards those students who appear to be a concrete sidewalk, even when it looks like doing so is a waste of time and seed. Maybe there are cracks there that I cannot see…Being generous with the seed-throwing, I won’t have to pull out weeds that just happened to take root there. Instead, if I take the time to notice, I may be delighted by the beautiful growth that emerges from just a tiny crack.