Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Post-bike-ride thoughts…rephrased upon seeing a Swiss photo.

The other morning, on my bike ride,
on the Rillito trail,
I rounded a bend and saw a wheelchair off to the side…
I thought—who’d abandon a wheelchair?
Then I saw a bundle of blankets on the ground,
and, in it, a person sleeping.

A wheel-chair-bound homeless man,
sleeping in the desert in the middle of a city.

I wanted to ask the guy if there was something specific I could get him that morning…
Breakfast? a cup of coffee? some toiletries? a number to call?
But he was sleeping so soundly, I couldn’t wake him.

I wished I’d had with me something immediately useful for him—
a granola bar, a bottle of water…
but I had nothing.
I did have a few dollars, though…so I anchored them under a rock on the seat of his wheelchair.

Next to him, on the ground, was a bundle of papers, including a map of Tucson.
Was he new to the area?

How’d he get here?
How’d he end up wheelchair-bound and homeless?
So many stories…

The old phrase “There but for the grace of God go I” came to mind.
Any of us, through unforeseen circumstances, can end up in dire, dire straits.

Later, though, that phrase replayed in my head,
and I realized that I actually find it a distasteful, even offensive, in its implications.

I was looking through some old photos for a project,
And I came across this one, of a statue of a Swiss reformation-preacher in Neuchâtel:

(The statue is of Guillaume Farel, a 16th-c. associate of Calvin...Ahh, the cold Calvinists who became as intolerant as the Catholic Inquisition they rallied against…)

The idea of absolute predestination.

I know that the English phrase ‘there but for the grace of God go I” is not historically of Calvinist origin.

However, the wording implies that “I” am favored, predestined to not be suffering, and that
the person upon whose misfortune I am looking is obviously not benefiting from that 'grace.'

(To my mind, it’s the same sentiment in the phrase “God bless insert country here” which then implies ‘and curse the rest.’…which in turn reminds me of one of the most famous lines in French history—during a crusade-like campaign in the 13th century:
Tuez-les tous; Dieu reconnaîtra les siens.”
In July 1209, in the city of Béziers, a papal legate, when asked by ‘crusaders’ how to distinguish the heretics they were about to massacre from innocent bystanders, replied:
kill them all; God will recognize those who are his own.” ...Wow.)

As a high-school teacher, I too often hear the phrase, among students’ conversations, “well, it sucks to be you.”
A modern, harsher, absolutely devoid of empathy, adolescent re-wording of the 16th-century English “there but for the grace of God go I,” perhaps.

The writer of Ecclesiastes penned these words:
“time and chance (or ‘unforeseen occurrence’) happeneth to them all.” (Eccl 9.11)
Unforeseen occurences. “Temps et contretemps.”
An imperfect world with too many gaps and cracks to fall into…

Stuff happens. Don’t blame a higher power…
And may none of us think we are ‘overly favored’…


...it's been almost two years, now, since we returned from living in León...these were my 'wheels' there...my wife and I still find ourselves occasionally reeling from the surreality of the contrast between our daily life here and our daily life there...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post, Joe. That was a nice little meditation for a half-lidded, caffeine-enabled early morning work session.