I've been reading again this evening about the small village of Le Chambon, in south-central France. This village, unknown to most people, rated its own documentary film, "Weapons of the Spirit", about the role its villagers played in harboring five thousand Jews from the Nazi threat during World War Two. I've mentioned before, I'm sure, how much I love Pierre Sauvage's 1989 documentary, and the simple interviews contained there.
The village's people were, in the main, descended from Protestants, from the Huguenots. Catholic people in the town enthusiastically joined in as well. The film's interviews make a few points about how it was not "ambition" or "planning" that made the difference. As Englishwoman Lesley Maber, who moved there prior to the war, said "People who seem very ordinary can do great things if they're given the opportunity." As Magda Trocmé, the pastor's wife, said: "If we'd had an organization, we would have failed." Marguerite Roussel, one of the Catholic minority said it simply: "We never analyzed what we were doing. It happened by itself." In this way five thousand unarmed and largely unworldly people saved five thousand people from near-certain death.
It's always tempting to try to define oneself in terms of what one has done or achieved. I am not among those who disparage all achievement, as I think that a drive to meet goals serves an important purpose. I dislike when projects drift purposelessly. I like to check off the boxes mentally once in a while.
Yet the artworks upon which we all engage ourselves in painting--the stories of our own lives--feature so many things beside accomplishments. Today after church I took Ted and Bea to the little Glendover Park down the street from our home. On our walk back from the little pond, we encountered a gaggle of parents and kids by the swingset. Both dogs are extraordinarily kid-friendly. A two-year-old toddler exhibited her excitement when she saw the dogs coming, and then she had the thrill of petting the dogs while they stood patiently by, overlooking the mild indiscretions in her dog-handling style.
I can assure you that I had other things I could be doing than standing by while strange toddlers figure out dogs.
I had work and hobby projects by the score, ready for me to address. I can also assure you that I had no active part and get no psychic credit for simply politely holding two dogs for a passing child to pet. It's the work of a moment, the ultimate in nose-skin-less-ness.
Yet that moment, not planned, not special, somehow kept the faith. When I was a child, I would have wanted to pet patient and friendly dogs. "The faith", in my view, is not a series of formulas or creeds, but the spiritual/social glue which holds us all together.
I become less interested, over time, by the good we do through grand intention. I don't want to minimize great reformers an sea changes, as they matter, whether we are speaking of the civil rights movement, the movement to secure safe working conditions, or the drive to discover new vaccines and cures. Yet there is a social glue that interweaves through everything, which is accessible to all. I like technology which is user-friendly, and available to every consumer.
I think of myself as on the whole quite contented with my life. I have the besetting half a dozen flaws and failings which, if we compared notes we don't all weblog, might not differ much in degree or disappointment than those flaws and failings that someone else might endure. I once in a while pause, and pull up, and say "I'm but three years from fifty, and look at how little I've done, really". I've had a good run, but I've never been the brightest, the strongest,the most talented or the most popular. I'm just a guy from Arkansas, really, that only a few dozens of people know.
A kind, bright and attractive woman in high school wrote in my high school yearbook something which appealed to my vanity so much that I remember her words thirty years later: "I expect to hear about you doing something great, because you have a greatness about you". Yet my life did not prove me among the great, but merely among the people who live a life.
I think, sometimes, of what I would have considered "greatness" at age 18. I imagine I would have defined it as some dramatic saintliness, culminating in a reformer's achievement through zeal. I sit in my suburban home today, living in comfort and some success, but not of any particular success, spiritual or secular. I don't say this to prompt comments,
as the point is not any personal feelings of this particular middle-aged man. For that matter, I do not have some grand lesson to teach nor some grand design to explain.
I only have this: a fellow I heard speak today said something about how we all keep far too much score, and life as it is best lived is not the story of these pursuits, but the story of a fullness we bring to it--a troth we ply in the great marriage tapestry of life. We are all interwoven in its threads--part of what the Unitarian Universalists call the interdependent web of all things.
I tend to believe that things are "meant" and have "meaning", while I know that there are other satisfactory hypotheses given the lack of definitive data. I recognize this may be my construct, but I will indulge it all the same. I believe that we are meant to find ways to share and experience compassion. I'm not saying that we need to down tools and
stop seeking worthy goals. I'm saying instead that I hope I can view all my worthy goals through the kaleidoscope of the good of those around me.
Inspired by a few tales of kindness I heard about this week, I headed to Kroger to buy sacks of food for the local food bank. It was a small, forty-dollar kind of thing--not a key to any Kingdom of Heaven, nor even a key to a place where nothing really happens. I hope the hungry like fruit cocktail and spaghetti-o's and turkey chili. There was a "rightness" in these things I can't explain.
I'll grant every moment that just giving the charity forty dollars would have been more efficient.Then the right foods would be purchased to meet the right need. I'll freely admit that part of why I did it was to get that thrill, however small, of having actually done something. This is a sad commentary, in a way, on how little I do.
But going to the store is keeping the faith. Letting the toddler pet the dogs keeps the faith. A belated birthday gift for a niece belatedly keeps the faith.
There are so many of us, like me, who will never amount to anything. But I fancy that we can all do something. and we do, I think. I think we do.