There was a boy with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish - not that that would help, with so many mouths to feed.
I am exhausted. I'm sure you are too, with everything that has been going on in the world - the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Hurricane Ida, floods in Tennessee ... the map at Inciweb (Caldor Fire Information - InciWeb the Incident Information System (nwcg.gov)) looks like the entire states of Oregon and Washington, and almost all of Northern California, are on fire. Then there is the new law in Texas that encourages neighbors to spy on each other and turn in anyone involved in abortion for money. Several states are considering laws that they say will secure our voting systems, but in actuality restrict access to voting by many who are not white male voters. It is exhausting - and I am not trying to keep my family alive in any one of the global disasters that people are confronted with. Oh, did I mention COVID? That one, too - and now some places in the US are warning that oxygen reserves are critically low, because people are still refusing to wear masks and get vaccinated.
I'm exhausted, and I'm also disgusted. It didn't have to be this way.
It seems to me that if we would just use our sacred, critical imaginations, we could come up with solutions to many of our problems - after all humankind put a man on the moon, airplanes in the sky, figured out how to put radio broadcasts around the world, and eradicated small pox. If we put our heads together I am sure, with God's help, that we can beat this virus, reduce climate change, eliminate the use of fossil fuels while still cooling and heating our homes and driving our cars, and we could figure out how to support each other, instead of criminalizing those different from ourselves. But first, we have to imagine the lives led by those other than ourselves.
If I think that all people are just like me and all families are just like mine, except maybe they eat fish every Friday and prefer red in their dining rooms or have 4 kids instead of 3 or ever have beets on their dinner tables, then sure - there isn't any domestic violence, women should be homemakers (I actually like homemaking - but not cleaning!), children are adored and valued, and we have enough to eat, cars to drive and money to repair those cars and the home we live in - oh and health insurance. But then I'm not using my imagination, because there are people out there - most people, in fact - who don't live like me. Let's imagine a couple of scenarios:
A single mom who is raising 3 boys by herself because her husband, a soldier, died in Iraq when the youngest was 9 months old. She has to work to feed, house, and clothe her three boys, which means she also has to pay for child care.
A single mom who is raising a toddler by herself because the father never married her - he promised he would but he was, in fact, already married.
A single mom who was raped by her boyfriend and is now raising an infant by herself because he insists that the baby isn't his
A single dad whose wife died in childbirth because the medical community didn't take her complaints of headaches and swollen feet seriously because she was black.
A single dad whose wife died in childbirth because they had no health insurance and lived in a rural part of a large state where there is no prenatal care
A woman who is raising 4 kids by herself because their dad is in jail. He was arrested for having a small amount of marijuana - for his personal use - and couldn't make bail.
Two parents with two kids who, between them, work 5 jobs. Once their rent is paid there is little left over, and since they work for minimum wage they can't take time off for parent-teacher conferences, to stay home with a sick child, or to stay home if one of them is sick. They didn't go to college because their parents had the same situation and they couldn't afford it, and now they don't have time.
A family of color who can't get a loan to buy a house, so they pay exorbitant rent.
A family of three who is one paycheck away from disaster when their car breaks down.
A single woman in a small town (like mine) who has never been outside the state, never thought college was possible due to money, and who now works at a minimum wage job. She'd like to move up and out but doesn't know how. She'd like to get married some day, but the men she meets don't stick around, or are just as stuck as she is. Plus her parents are getting older and need more help than she can provide already.
So if I imagine that there are people not far outside my walls whose lives are very different from mine, I can perhaps be more compassionate. I hear the phrase, "I worked hard for everything I have! Don't talk to me about privilege!" more and more frequently, especially as parents get angry about schools teaching CRT - Critical Race Theory - which is a legal theory that is taught in law school, not high school. Well, of course you worked hard for everything you have (a lot of it, anyway), but others have to work much harder just to get to where some of us started.
But we can't stop imagining here, because we need to turn it around the other way:
The single mom who doesn't come to parent-teacher conferences because she can't take time away from work and loves her kids too much to let them go to bed hungry - it isn't that she doesn't value education.
The dad who speaks with a heavy accent but helps his kids with their homework every night. He doesn't speak great English, and his culture reveres educators so he would never interfere. He does value education.
The African-American dad who braids his daughter's hair every day. He loves her.
The mom whose kids come to school with old, patched clothes because that is all she can afford at her minimum wage job. She is doing the best she can, and she loves her kids.
We need to imagine that other people - people who live different lives from us, still love their kids, their parents, their partners just as much as we do. People who live "differently" still feel pain, fear, despair, joy, and hope.
(As I am proofreading this I am a little uncomfortable with saying "we." That seems to "otherize" those different from "us." But I don't think I have defined who "we" are, and there is certainly plenty of dehumanizing going on in multiple communities and on both sides of the political aisle. I apologize to anyone who feels like she or he is on the margins of any of my posts. My intent is to be inclusive, but I confess to my privilege and may miss the mark more often than I realize.)
We have spent so much time dehumanizing anyone different from ourselves: white/nonwhite, American/immigrant/non-American, male/female/nonbinary, heterosexual/homosexual, rich/poor, Republican/Democrat ... any others you can think of? I could go on and on and on.
I think one big problem is that we are told that "they" aren't like "us," and we don't stop to think about it. We don't use our critical imaginations to challenge that. And so we refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated because someone like "us" told us that "they" are out to take "all" of our rights away. We refuse to look at climate change because "we" are doing just fine. "We" don't live in hurricane-prone areas so if "they" don't want to clean up after hurricanes, "they" should move (but not to "our" areas because "we" don't want to lose "our" jobs to "them."). "They" just want to murder babies rather than use birth control, and "we" think that is wrong, because "we" know that all babies are born into loving, stable households with two parents and a pet. If "gals" don't want to get pregnant they should just put an aspirin between their knees (remember when conservative mega-donor Foster Friess said that to Andrea Mitchell? In 2012? You can read about it here).
OK, so I am using my critical imagination to imagine that in many ways peoples lives are different from mine, and people themselves are a lot like me, and I am so tired. I'm so tired of imagining what the people still in Afghanistan are going through. I was exhausted by imagining what it must have been like to be desperately trying to reach the airport in Kabul. I imagine what it must be like to be trying to clean up in New Orleans, and I feel terrible for the ways I have whined about having to take care of alpacas in 90 degree heat and humidity (not that I"ll stop - just saying), when once they are fed and watered I can go back into my air conditioned house. I think about how when I travel I get to a place where I think, "I just want to go home," and I know that home is there, just the way I left it. I don't have to imagine too much about what it is like for healthcare workers trying to save more and more lives of people too stubborn to listen to them, because I have been at the bedsides of people who are critically ill, on ventilators and infected with something (not COVID - I left nursing too long ago for that) that required me to wear isolation gowns, gloves, and masks. I've worked in short-staffed ICUs, and I well remember burning out and crying when my alarm went off in the morning because I just didn't have any more to give.
I contribute to UNICEF every month, and now Doctors Without Borders, the Children's Defense Fund, and CARE all want money, too. I made a donation to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in memory of my Dad, and they keep asking for more. I have voted in two presidential elections since we moved, but apparently my donation is all that stands between a Democratic governor and total annihilation in the state where we used to be registered to vote. The church is doing a capital campaign to build a new welcome center - we did just manage to get new siding. I contribute to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, but if I really cared about birds I would donate to these other charities, and now Baltimore's crumbling sewage treatment plants are dumping only-partially-treated sewage into the Bay (read that here). Then there are all the go-fund-me campaigns for funeral expenses, pet surgeries, rental assistance, and so on.
I can't do it any more. My charity budget - both financial and otherwise - is about tapped out. And prayers only seem to go so far.
But then I think of a very well-known Bible story. I was reading the gospel of John the other day, and I came across the story of the loaves and the fishes (John 6:1-13). You probably know it: Jesus was teaching a crowd of about 5,000 people - how DID they hear him, since there were no microphones back then? Anyway, that isn't the point. Jesus was teaching all these people and it was getting late in the day. Jesus asked Philip, his disciple, where they could get bread to feed everyone. Philip said, essentially, "Do you know how much that would cost? We don't have that kind of money!" Andrew piped up that there was a boy with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish - not that that would help, with so many mouths to feed. Jesus invited everyone to sit down, blessed the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, and fed the crowd. No one was left hungry, and there were 12 baskets of food left over.
I always read or heard this story in light of how God can take a little and make a lot. Nothing is too hard for God! But this time when I read it something was niggling at me - it took me a while to figure out what it was.
There was a little voice - unheard by those of us in the crowd, but heard by God, and by Andrew.
"Hey, mister? I have a couple of fish and some bread if you think that will help. You can have it if you want."
A little boy - one little boy - had the generosity to share the little he had, which meant that he wouldn't have much for himself. But even more important than his generosity was his faith that the disciples - the Teacher's helpers - could put it to good use. That his little bit of dinner would help feed a huge crowd of people. This little boy had the imagination to think that the little he had might be a big help.
And I thought, if that little boy could share what he had out of his almost-exhausted reserves, can't I share a prayer for people I don't know? Can't I share a dollar or two out of my coffee or dessert money? Surely there is some change down in the sofa cushions, and maybe I could have beans instead of steak for dinner tonight...hey, mister? Will that help?
Jesus said that if we just have faith we can move mountains, and that little boy demonstrated that kind of faith. I can't fix any of these problems by myself. But God can take the little I have to offer, and add it to what you have to offer and feed a crowd, or move a mountain. God can bring peace on earth, if we just believe it and help God to achieve it. We need to listen and do what God - not our egos, or our celebrities, and maybe not even our elected officials - asks of us. I am called not to quit (I just remembered that yesterday I was driving and went by a sign that just said, "Don't give up." I don't know what the sign was referencing, but I took it as a nudge from God to me).
I won't give up. I'll add my dollars, and I'll add my voice (remember Horton Hears a Who?). I'll keep writing the letters to my elected officials that seem to fall on deaf ears. I'll keep voting even though gerrymandering has made it next to impossible for anyone who isn't Republican to be elected in my area. And I will have faith that God, in God's time, in God's way, will make it enough. I will listen for the voice of God. I will study the scriptures, and read them - myself - so that I will recognize God's voice when God is speaking to me.
I will demonstrate the faith of a child: Hey, mister? Will this help?
On another note, it is just over a year since I published my first post! It has been a busy few weeks for me with birthdays and wedding planning and farm work so I missed the actual anniversary. Thank you to those who started out with me, and to those who have come aboard more recently - I am so glad you are here! I thank you all for letting me have my temper tantrums and express my prayers. I've appreciated sharing my joys and my sorrows with you, and I am so very grateful. Please stay healthy and be safe. --Kathy
Loaves and fishes. https://s3.amazonaws.com/catholicteacherresources/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/22233525/static1.squarespace.jpg. Accessed 9/4/2021.