31 December 2011

A Mid-Christmas Nonmeditation

Ever notice how we humans don’t take any too warmly to reminders of our own finitude, as distinct from other people’s? 

No doubt nearly all of us - in one degree or another, at some point or phase of our lives - have assumed  ourselves to be either immortal, or invincible, or indestructible. And even though most of us can pretty easily imagine some really bad things happening to us, that doesn’t mean we find it easy to identify with those people in our lives (near or distant) in whom the bad things are most visibly embodied. Homeless individuals, for instance. Or even those suffering the effects of a recent foreclosure. 

Which in turn makes me wonder: Since when does any conscious margin of superiority, or advantage, that I believe myself to hold over you – be it “permanent” or temporary or even imaginary - better equip me to be of actual use or service to you? Does even the shrewdest, most efficient, most dedicated merchant do a better job of serving her customers by not identifying with them? By looking down on them? By knowing – or pretending to know – nothing of what it feels like to be patronized, hoodwinked, strung along, sold a bill of goods? And if the maker of all things could see the point, not just of knowing Divinely but of living humanly our miseries – our stink and blood and excrement and humiliation and cruelty – really, who are we to presume to be any better? Or safer?

Do you know what is the very worst way of ministering to, or consoling, or encouraging, somebody who’s facing death? Old age? Debilitating illness? Poverty? (Believe me, I've done it times past counting.) It is to make an unbridgeable gulf of the differences between yourself and that human creature, and between your prospects and hers. It is to behave – however  unconsciously – as if those things either will not, or could not, ever happen to you.  

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