There is a way of looking at things. Well, there are a lot of ways of looking at things, but there’s a particular way that I am thinking about. A way of looking at difficult things. No, it’s not where you look at the shizznit that happens your life and smile and say that “God will never give you anything more than you can handle.” People who say things like that need a punch straight to the throat. No, there’s a way to stand in the middle of a crappy day, or a crappy life, and neither over or under embrace the situation.
One recent morning, because of a stunningly beautiful torrential rain, my ceiling started leaking. Well, let’s be honest, it didnt’t really leak. It spewed gallons of water onto the living room carpet and kitchen linoleum. Technically, it was a leaky floor in the upstairs apartment that was causing the damage. Ok, actually, it was a roof like a sieve that was leaking through the ceiling of the apartment above, where the tenant wasn’t home , and so it puddled up on his bedroom carpet until it could “stands no more,” and it then began it’s tumultuous descent through my ceiling.
I learned some things. A wet ceiling tile, when properly punctured, makes a fairly decent funnel. Some things smell really bad when they get wet. Dogs, wool coats, ceiling tiles. And I was reminded that nothing is black and white.
I could have been furious that John wasn’t home upstairs. The truth is, though, that I was glad he wasn’t home, because it meant he was working. He’s a struggling musician whose day job gets him out the door around 4 AM. Johnny is a good dude, and his ceiling and carpet can be fixed. The landlord could have been the object of my wrath, but she had already had someone in to fix the roof prior to this particular storm, and, apparently, there’s only one way to tell if your leaky roof is fixed. You have to wait for it to rain again. Maybe I should have been pissed that I was going to have to miss work, because I was only working the morning anyway because of an afternoon appointment, but it left me some space to get other things done.
The point of it all, I suppose, is that there is very rarely a situation that is entirely bleak. It’s hard to imagine, but many Holocaust survivors say the same things.
“There’s a long road of suffering ahead of you. But don’t lose courage. You’ve already escaped the gravest danger: selection. So now, muster your strength, and don’t lose heart. We shall all see the day of liberation. Have faith in life. Above all else, have faith. Drive out despair, and you will keep death away from yourselves. Hell is not for eternity. And now, a prayer – or rather, a piece of advice: let there be comradeship among you. We are all brothers, and we are all suffering the same fate. The same smoke floats over all our heads. Help one another. It is the only way to survive.”
– Elie Wiesel, Night
Can you imagine that the binding experience of your fellowship is that all of you have the ashes of your friends floating above your heads? Can you picture yourself thinking even THAT situation is not entirely without hope? If that situation is not entirely bleak, then nothing is really black and white, all bad or or good.
I am not talking about truth. There are empirical truths, there are ontological truths, there are common sense truths. What I mean is that situations, and people, are almost never all good or all bad. Sometimes an individual’s evil rises and consumes, as with Hitler. But life, and human beings, are generally not like that.
My apartment smells, I have to replace seven ceiling tiles, I missed work. Johnny has a job, the landlord’s calling the roofer back, and I had a productive morning. It wasn’t all bad, and it wasn’t all good, but it’s “all good,” as the kids say. Sometimes your roof is going to leak through your ceiling onto your floor, and seep through that and through the ceiling below and onto the floor below that. That morning, I chose not to over or under embrace. Consciously, I made an effort to avoid saying that my world sucks because my day does, or I suck because some of my things leak and make a mess of my life. There are buckets, and mops, and people, and jobs, and new roofs, and, well, it’s all good.