Friday, April 11, 2014

How does one spend the day?

This question of “how does one spend the day" is, probably, one of the most important questions that keeps coming up for me as I spend this year in a place that is so different from home.  I focused on this to some extent in my most recent newsletter.  Framing this question, which began as a collection of thoughts and observations, into words comes from two very different realms of experience.
In one realm I hear stories and see—both firsthand, and elsewhere through media--people in this world without a job and basic resources.  They spend most of their time trying to survive in their environment. Here in Gorogszallas, I see people laboring each day for things I generally take for granted: heat, water, food, shelter, clothing. Both how they spend their day, and how they think about the day is different from what I know. It becomes easy for us to fragment each day with meetings, errands, house work, projects, leisure, exercise, entertainment, study.  Let’s remember that the 40 hour workweek, perhaps with benefits and even paid time off, is a relatively recent phenomena.  
So then the other realm of experience helping me to frame this question is precisely the highly-developed, busy, connected realm that I and all of you reading this are familiar with. I recently shared a quote with a friend that helped me to frame this question about how one spends the day.  E. B. White writes, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”  The very notion that we have the opportunity to both enjoy and improve, and that it can be a choice each day, speaks to the level of privilege we come from.  Luther would add that each day we are reborn—made new—in God’s love and grace.
There is not a “right” way to spend your day. And we certainly can’t improve everything all at once. Or perhaps a less extreme way of saying this is that we can’t always do big things. This shouldn’t curb our ambition or stymy our talents, but it should let us pause and consider the time we have each day, what we’ll do with today, and remember brothers and sisters around the world who will spend their day in vastly different ways. 
Sometimes we romanticize images from developing parts of the world such as vendors selling food in a street market, or children playing soccer with a tattered ball, or families bathing in a river.  For reasons of history, religion, economics, politics, and sometimes shear fate, the way they spend their day is so different from what many of us can relate to. We like to think of not just our days, but our lives as a clear trajectory: education, then a career, raise a family, and eventually retire. This isn’t a good or normal trajectory for everyone.  I’m discovering here just how vulnerable to disruption and scarcity people’s lives can be.  
Democritus writes, “life without celebrations is like a long road without an inn.”  I like celebrations too, but now I think more about those people who can’t stop at the inn on the long road for any number of reasons. We pass people like this on the road all the time.  Why not share a story, or an idea, or a sign of kindness.
All 7 billion of us get the same 24 hour trip around the sun.  What will be your quest today?  What will you do to care for yourself and your neighbors? How will you spend the day?

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