816 God is in good hands, so long as we just take care of each other
Day 816: Friday June 10, 2022
"God is in good hands, so long as we just take care of each other." Thoughts from the Barricades... by Brother Toby
I started today the same way many of you probably did — signing petitions that arrived in my email. This morning it took me back many years. The guru for many of us centuries ago, when I was a millennial, was Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) and he wrote of scenes that
“stand alone in the picture book of my memory, and then are lost … singularly strange and nameless.” As I was signing the petitions, I recalled a lost scene from many years ago.
A French student asked me, “When I am on the barricades waiting, what should I think about?” It must have been in the late spring or summer of 1968. That was when the students of the Sorbonne, and other universities, struck for human rights. The police responded with great brutality. The students constructed barricades surrounding the universities.
It was a great question the student asked me. I have no recollection of what I said!
I remember where she and I were standing. But nothing about our conversation. That picture in my memory book fades quickly. Whatever I told her coming out of my 37-year-old brain was undoubtedly better than what emerges from its 91-year-old descendent. But before I take a stab at that question, let me ask you how you would answer it today. One of my emails this morning said, "The time for revolution is NOW!" Well, it's not going to happen overnight.
I feel we are constructing barricades again today and waiting for some political explosion. Whatever the future brings, there is going to be a lot of waiting so what do we think about? We may be on these barricades for a long time.
What got us to where we are? It is a good time to remember our dreams. Simple things that have a way of fading as we handle the challenges of daily life. In 1937, when Europe was experiencing the barbarism of Nazi occupation, Hesse remembered when he was a young upper-middle-class student, and he met a poor lame boy who taught him how to fish. The lame boy was the object of ridicule to other boys, but he knew the river like no one else.
What an odd thing to remember when Hitler is knocking down your door. I think Hesse was dreaming about a time when the poor and the disabled would have equal opportunity with those who are well off. Whenever we are on the barricades there are no classes of people. We are all equal.
Our government seems to again be unwilling to improve programs that support those who are not well off. There is not sufficient willingness to lessen tax advantages to the most affluent among us.
I remember that poignant saying of Etty Hillesum on the postcard she threw out of the boxcar on her way to Auschwitz, “God is in good hands, so long as we just take care of each other.” Well, perhaps God is not in very good hands at the moment because we certainly don't seem that interested in taking care of each other.
I'm sure everyone reading this has seen examples of what I'm talking about. Right at the moment I'm concerned about the health care of a number of people in very serious situations, including a two-year-old child. Her dream is to get out of the hospital. One of her mother’s dreams is finding a way to pay for the medical expenses. Another mother with three children, deserted by the father, unable to find work. She has a very simple dream — a tiny house which is a safe place for her kids to sleep and be a family.
If we have a common dream, it is that we take care of each other.
American individualism has always been something of a stumbling block to concern for each other but, in the present situation confronting us and our future, a respect for the common good and welfare of our people needs to emerge. It's not something that's going to come from the top down. It's going to come from the bottom up.
You don't read these Friday Reflections for political commentary. But if you feel like you are on the barricades waiting — think of your dreams. They give us strength. And sometimes that strength is enough to make our dreams for ourselves and our society come true.
What if we are left on those barricades much longer than we thought? The great Japanese poet Basho (1644-1694) had only a few days left to live when he wrote,
my neighbor —
how is she doing?
One of our longtime companions suggested that asking that question is the sign of a mature society. She has a point. So — How are you doing?