Limits and minivans

It’s been a hardscrabble week, in terms of plunking out pieces to a difficult essay. I’m writing about a rather weird, barren stretch in my journey. My main idea involves showing how over a few years I interacted with a homeless family. And, as usual for me, the writing brings up what I learned through failure.

Even setting it out as “my interactions with a homeless family” hints at problems in me. I journaled back then about meeting this homeless couple with their two kids. I was so proud. I planned to take on their burdens, to conquer poverty and perversion in my own little sphere. It really gets me reading the ways I described—not just with this couple but with my husband, kids, relatives, and so on—my belief that I could “hold up those God has put beside me.” My journal is replete with these statements; here’s one regarding my hubby: “I can be Tim’s foundation and safety belt system, if I’m plugged in to the right power source.”

I guess I’m mostly amused. Maybe each of us this side of forty (nearing that 50 mark and looking at becoming compost) gets a fuller picture of the idealism from their 30s and before and smiles. Not that anything’s wrong with idealism, with longing to set things right. I wouldn’t want to give the impression I’ve given up.

No. In fact, I think I’m seeing now that my blind spots then included the thought I wouldn’t or shouldn’t have to expend much energy righting the world’s wrongs, once I set up the system that would put everything on track. I phased through various possibilities in hopes each one might be THE method for me: prayer, my writing, political activism, to name a few. Surely I would hit on something wonderful to make things on earth better, then I’d receive accolades and retire to a cabin along the river in the sun.

My systems always, sadly, involved looking at others who weren’t part of my system and who might look down their noses at my methods, and seeing the flaws in their methods, the limits in their plans. I was usually to some degree right in my assessments, but I wasn’t fair, because I failed to understand we all face our limitations. We all end up with flaws on our canvasses. I sorely lacked grace.

Here’s an example. In this draft of my essay I write about a floody morning in 1996 that forced me to exercise on a different route from my normal routine: “A sign warns me off my running path. High Water. I have to jog home through neighborhoods, past businesswomen swearing softly over coffee thermoses while herding backpack-laden children into minivans.”

Do you get how I despised them? I didn’t even realize. I could see in career women the limitation, the flaw, of separating themselves from their family during the heart of every workweek.

Maybe I was right. So what? A woman driving her minivan past the school to her workplace could be longing just as much as I for rightness, for goodness. She might be wanting to save the world, too.

Even the homeless woman I got to know (yes, even she) set about in her own way to find justice on the planet, to set things right. She spent her energy closer to the vest, because life for her did carry a weight of flaws. But I never found a way to fix everything for her, or even to set my helpful methods on autopilot while I sat home relaxing. I still struggle in thinking about her, long after my limitations have separated me from being her friend. I’ll continue spending energy my life through, I imagine, seeing just how small my role is in setting right the world, in helping such limited souls as me.


fresca said…
Just clicking through folks who've listed "Serenity" as their favorite movie (because I just went to see it on the big screen for this first time last week--so fun to be around other people who can sing the theme song---though my real love is Star Trek TOS, not Firefly)---anyway, I read this latest post of yours and thought: There's "Serenity"!: Mal saying "Here's a world without sin," and it's a DEAD world.
As a woman approaching 50, I do cringe to look back at my high-mindedness, my ignor-ance of the mote in my own eyes.
Luckily, with age has come some serenity too, that racketty-packetty sense that I (we) just need to keep on flying...
God speed!
Mike S said…
One of the hardest things to accept as we grow wiser(?)is that we can't cure all the ills of everyone, we even manage to find some in dire straits that believe themselves free of problems of any sort. It's always been my experience that I admire, respect, and like the less-well-off among us in most cases. One of the beautiful things about retiring back here is that it still retains much of the small town(maybe because it's pretty small)feel and neighborliness of a bygone era.

After living all around the world, I also learned another lesson that really shapes my total life attitude: the poorest people of all, if not starving, are among the gentlest, most caring, nicest, and above all else, the HAPPIEST people of all. Some of the richest in material goods are often the most miserable.

Your feeling of dislike for the wealthier folks might simply have been a reflection of their feelings toward you.
Mike S said…
Meant to say I like the poorer folk better than I like the wealthier in most cases, they're almost all willing to give anyone who needs it their last dime. There was a reason Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and their counterparts spent most of their time with the poorer folks.
jodi said…
..when I first transferred from a decades long job into another branch, I was pretty angry--at the world, at everything. At God for letting me get so angry--even though I know no one can understand just what God's plan is. I was better off, better educated, more secure in my life choices, and in this new place--everyone was living the hardscrabble life of two/three jobs, kids and roommates, no transportation. And...I guess I was feeling the pain of leaving my friends. The people I could talk to. I didn't like the new place, or the new people. And then came Thanksgiving. I had to work. And all these people came back in, with Thanksgiving--and a plate labeled "jodi". They didn't have much. But they shared what they had.

I stopped being angry, because--yeah, they were nice people.

I let prejudice--social prejudice, blind me. I was pretty stupid.

And yes--with fifty coming up behind me like a freight train--sometimes I wonder about my younger self. There's a lot I'd do different.
sufferingsummer said…
You are inspiring. Just the kind of woman I need to shut up and listen to...thank you.
Sandy's Notes said…
I think little by little, as we grow we become awakened, experienced, and freed from our judgements. If only we could learn what frees us early on and celebrate what life was meant to be when we're young! I guess that's what seperates us from people like Gandhi.
Deanna said…
What wisdom I find here in my comments!

Fresca, thanks for some great input. I suppose Mal has influenced me quite a bit. Or maybe he (Joss Whedon he, of course) simply reflects a few things I've come to see as true. (Star Trek's always been around in my life, too!)

Mike, the surprises people bring us, eh? That's why that Epicurus quote strikes a chord - wealth not consisting in great possessions, but few wants. And someone once said it's pretty hard for the rich to find God's kingdom...

Jodi, that's a striking story. writing any memoir essays? ;o)

Summer, thanks. I enjoy listening to you, too.

Sandy, I know you have experience in these areas, and it inspires me. Did Gandhi figure this stuff out as a kid? He should be famous or something.
Cecily said…
My ears are flapping... listening in on you older people's musings and tuning into the nuggets of goodness so I can learn now. Because I am one idealistic missy!