Because the chaotic, spilling, hodgepodge of sweeteners had been bothering me since I started this job.
I pulled out the top tray and dumped it out over the table, sending aspartame packets skidding across white plastic. I gathered them up again, methodically aligning each one, letting my hands do easy, careful work.
Last Thursday I got an email from an acquaintance of mine. The email contained a reflection written by a woman living in a “war-torn region”. And she told about what it means to be a refugee, to be a woman carrying your children across the desert, running from death and starvation.
She described the woman she met, the one who realized half-way between war and an over-crowded camp that she couldn’t save all her children. So this woman had to leave one of her babies beneath a tree, on the side of the road, so that they wouldn’t all starve.
And the email said:
She walked away and somehow, my world did not so much as shudder. I didn’t know to stop chopping or sleeping or washing, to fall on my face on the floor and weep for her. For all of us.
And as I sat in my car, at a red light, in the pouring rain, I couldn’t hold back my own tears. I just kept thinking of the babies I’ve held, the weight of them, their helplessness. And I don’t understand this world. I want do something. I want to do more than weep over a choice I can hardly fathom.
But I parse out the blue packets, placing them one, two at a time into their tray. Then I start on the white. And little by little crinkling paper and sifting granules come to rest in a neat line.
And across the world, the dam is breaking, anger and resentment rush out, rolling over cities and countries, leaving nothing but destruction. And I try to open my heart enough to take in these, too. But it all feels so senseless – the violence and the rioting. I’m left with this desire to grasp the world by the shoulders and scream sense into her, “Killing an innocent man isn’t helping!”
But the world doesn’t need any more screaming voices.
And my heart breaks for the distance, because there’s so much more than geography between us.
So I replace that tray and grab another, fingers separating, gathering, replacing. A cathartic, repetitive movement, drawing order out of chaos.
And on television our politicians are railing, condemning apologies and humility. ‘Because we are better than them and we shouldn’t have to apologize’. It’s the lie we’ve been told our whole lives: we are the greatest, the wisest, the most just.
And in our fear we listen to them. Believing that if we can just elect the “right” official, blame the appropriate person, draft the perfect safety manual, we can stop the hemorrhaging, staunch the blood pouring from a wound as old as humanity and as deep as our souls.
But it is vanity, a chasing after the wind.
My organizing has left an extra tray, just enough room for the pizza topping packets. So I line them up, front to back, right way up, filling the empty space.
And on Sunday we listened to a sermon that David paraphrased as “an ‘inspirational’ presentation on the benefits of friendship”. I sit there, and I feel like the only one spectator at the parade who can see that the emperor is naked.
The world is breaking and what good are we if the best we can offer is affirmation of ourselves and our football loving friends? Is that not the definition of salt that should be thrown in the garbage?
And I step back to admire my handiwork, try to find a purpose.
Because I haven’t quite figured out how to be part of this world, how to be honest but not cynical, how to be convicted but not proud. I haven’t really figured out what to do with the mess.
But I know we are asked to enter into it, to let our hearts break when a mother is forced to leave her baby alone to die. We are told to offer grace to those who might hurt us, to see the humanity in a desperation that leads to fire and murder. We are told to love.
We are commanded to surrender power at every turn, not to legislate the world into submission. We are supposed to be the very flavor of humanity, not just nice people with nice friends.
We are commanded to be light and peace.
And sometimes that doesn’t seem like very much. But maybe it’s enough. Maybe slow and patient, tiny acts can draw the new order of the kingdom out of the aching turmoil.