Have you noticed yet? Spring is sneaking up on us. When I was driving this weekend down Highway 641, I saw the red tint in the treetops of the Red Maples that their buds create as they first emerge. I’ve noticed a few insects, falling from branches like they are a little drunk, not sure they should be awake yet. The world is starting to wake up.
My Lent activities have been relatively successful so far, besides not really finding a place to volunteer outside of the house. This is a combination of me putting off searching for places to help and the fact that some places that could use help just don’t want it. It’s not that any organization couldn’t use some free labor, but the more you encounter an organization with an anal-retentive system, the more they can’t possibly envision someone coming in one day, out of the blue, just asking to help. It is funny to me how we sometimes deny help when it falls into our laps. We don’t want to put someone else out. We don’t want to feel like we owe someone. We think they are just doing it out of courtesy and don’t really mean it. We want to make sure we do our share so no one can say we slacked. We don’t want to take the time to instruct someone new. Or, maybe we just don’t want to be around people. I’m sure there’s even more reasons–the point is to pay attention for this. Watch how many times someone will offer to help and get turned down. I bet it happens more than the help getting accepted.
These days, it seems, you have to go through intensive training, fill out a lot of paper work, and get on a calendar a month in advance to volunteer somewhere. I understand liability and waivers and protection of our children etc., but what if someone just decides they want to help somewhere at the spurt of the moment? Is there nowhere? On one of my last trips to Chicago, I decided that I would try to volunteer somewhere, because I wanted to spend some time helping the city that I’ve received so much from. I figure in the huge city of Chicago, there has to be some place where I can volunteer for an afternoon. But, I couldn’t find a place. My lack of connections and knowledge probably factored into this, but it still blew my mind a little bit.
I know that part of this comes down to being a little braver. There are things out there to help with, and you may not find them on the internet or in pamphlets at church. But, to do them, you gotta go out looking and be willing to start some potentially awkward conversations. Just before my friend, Mark, died, he was having the time of his life in Costa Rica. As I look back on his stories to me about his time there, I can’t help but think that he had found a kind of perfect fit for life that I haven’t approached, even now, almost 11 years removed form his passing. The last email I got from him, he told me that he had been riding a bike through the country there and stopped in someone’s yard. Out there was a 60 something year old woman in a tube top doing yard work. Mark put whatever he was doing on hold and helped this perfect stranger do her yard work. I don’t think they were even able to communicate verbally, but he spent his afternoon helping her out. Then he hopped back on his bike and carried on. On one hand, when you think about this, it sounds weird and mundane. But there’s a part of me that hears this story and thinks, “that’s the freaking life! I need to be out there doing stuff like that!”
I wonder, though, if I did find a 60 something year old woman in a tube top doing yard work, how that would translate here in Murray. Would I even consider stopping? How quickly would she call the cops? If she didn’t fear for her life when I stopped my bike and walked onto her lawn, what would be her reason for politely declining my help? If I didn’t speak her language, would it make her more likely to let me help or make her dial 911 faster? I don’t think I’m all that alone in wishing for experiences like this–a want for more sharing and community in our lives, and yet we are all very nervous and avoidant of it.
I have found a good bit of peace from my fasts and time spent in the wilderness. I hiked today in Land Between the Lakes, making my
way out to a bay, where I sat on the exposed roots of a Sycamore tree. The tree shielded me a bit from the strong wind, and I watched the gulls diving for food and soaring like kites in the air. As I was taking the second bite from my apple, I thought I saw a heron taking off from behind me, flying over-head. At the closest, he was about 50 feet from me. I was thinking about how maybe this tree had kept him from seeing me about the time I realized this was no heron. It was a bald eagle. And, it was huge. I was dumbfounded and a little scared, but more in awe than anything else.
A part of that experience I really enjoyed is how I felt a part of that place. The animals in that little bay did not seem to worried over my presence. They went on about their business as I sat there having a snack, watching what they were doing. They didn’t go retreating somewhere, they didn’t changed their pattern of flight. I was one of them. It was cool. It is good to have these moments of belonging in foreign lands.
When Allyson and I went to Italy, we were in Assisi one day, just about to catch the train for our hotel. I wanted to see a certain cathedral and Allyson was ready to sit for a while, so she waited at the train station while I checked out the Saint Mary of Angels Basilica. I knew I would be cutting it pretty close to see this beautiful cathedral, get some pictures of the figures on the outside, and make it back to the train station, so I tried to rush. As I was leaving the church, I asked “che ora sono?” in my best Italian The guy looked at me kinda funny, and I realized he was not Italian. I pointed at my wrist, and he nodded and showed me his watch. I had made him think I was Italian. I belonged in the home of one of my favorite historical figures.
As this season carries on, I hope to look more and more for ways to fit in more deeply to this place. Tomorrow, I will go in search for places to volunteer, where I might seek out the women in tube tops doing yard work of this place, that I might feel like the same way I did on those days when Saint Francis and a bald eagle were essentially my brothers. I am still a bit timid about finding these things, but this is the challenge of Lent. The anniversary of Mark’s passing will happen during the Lenten season, as it usually does, and I always reflect very hopefully that I’m doing something adventurous enough for him to be proud of. This quiet and reflection is preparing me for something. I can feel this change coming in the air. There are hints that life, pushing out, ready to explode in green as daylight gets longer and longer. Our time is coming.