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05 January 2014

The Fall -- Three Stories

This fascinates for several reasons...

Of course, the real comedy is when the would-be rescuer,
at the very end, closes the hatch on the victim.

My first thought was of my own similar experience.

I was walking around a World War II era building at a municipal airport on a hot Summer's day in Texas.  It had recently been annexed to house an Air Force Auxiliary (a. k. a., "CAP") Air Search and Rescue squadron to which I was attached as a Chaplain, and I had just returned from admiring a plane once owned by John Wayne-- the owner-pilot proud and wanting to show it off.

In my case, there was no open hole, but the ground simply gave way.  The grass had just been mowed, which made it all the more amazing that the weight of the riding lawn mower had not resulted in that machine and its driver breaking through, but all 170 pounds of me was enough to do it.  The grass below my left foot simply did not have anything under it, and (just as the man in the gif image above is seen to do) I fell forward as I dropped down.

Instinctively, I threw my arms out and forward, and managed to dig my fingers into the grass, leaving a hole even larger than the one in that image behind me.  There was nothing under me.  My legs and feet swung free.  There was no one in sight, but I knew there were several person in the squadron HQ.  When I pulled myself forward, the ground at my chest fell away, so I clung to grass and called out, "Help!  I need some help!"

About half a dozen persons appeared in a moment and grabbed me by my arms and by the collar of my suit, lifting me up and onto a not so firm ground.   It was creepy.  Peering down, we saw only blackness.

Since most of our squadron was cross-trained and qualified for ground search operations, someone was able to produce yellow, "Do Not Cross" tape from their field kit, and cordoned-off the area.  Airport personnel later reported that the concrete roof of a long abandoned and forgotten cistern or septic tank had collapsed, but left the few inches of earth and turf above it... until I passed over.

My second thought was a vision I had as I started my senior year in college.

I have had visions (a. k. a., spiritual experiences or religious experiences) as a somewhat regular part of my life, and some of my earliest memories are of them.  So it was not a surprise that I was having a vision, but the content always surprised me.

Since about the age of ten years, I had known, or at least strongly suspected, I was called to be a Priest. That was fine except for the fact that I did not want to be a Priest.  That calling or vocation probably, but not necessarily, had to do with why I was so often given visions; although at the time of this vision, none had anything to do with my being ordained a priest.

Working my way through college as a grave-yard-shift Computer Operator for IBM, I was about a year away from graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, and had it in my mind that I would probably become a technical sales person in some high-tech industry (which I ended up doing for a few years, by the way).

I had fallen in love with a beautiful woman two years before, and had just ended up on the receiving end of her own repressed trauma-- a horrifying tale she had not shared with me, and the relationship disintegrated... out from under my feet... as she lashed out at the world in rage.  I was just her nearest (albeit, undeserving) target.

Meanwhile, a series of short, very un-dramatic spiritual experiences which do not really qualify as "visions" were peppering me on a regular basis with the central thought of them being (and I paraphrase the content with intended humor), "Get thee to seminary!"  They upset me.  As I said, I did not want to be a priest.

On the advice of my father and with his assistance, I quit working, got an apartment next to campus, and threw myself into my studies as a means to escape the grieving of my lost love.  She had been my third love.  My first (and One. True. Love.) had also broken my heart.  My second ended when we went to different colleges after graduation from high school, also hurt.  So, this third represented an intolerable pattern.

To complicate things, I was aware that, while an Episcopal Priest can be married, it was normally only allowed if the person was already married when ordained.  Otherwise, an unmarried priest was expected to take a vow of celibacy.  A twenty-two year old, red blooded American male taking that vow?
Vow of Celibacy?
 Well, my normal routine was to get up early, fix coffee and breakfast, shower, go to early classes, finish at Noon, have a coffee while studying in the One O'Clock Lounge (home of the One O'Clock Lab Jazz Band) until the band played, chill while listening, and then do any library research, go home, eat lunch, complete all assignments, eat dinner, and start drinking to ward off feeling... anything.

So there I was at the start of the very last step of my daily routine when it hit me.  I sat down on the floor of the short hallway in my tiny apartment, closed my eyes and...

the carpeted floor of the hallway simply ceased to exist.  I fell.  I fell down a earthen shaft of unimaginable depth.  I was face down, and only saw the rough sides of the earth and rocks passing by at the very start of my fall, because in a moment, there was not any more light.  I fell and fell.  I merely sensed a bottom coming up to meet me.  Perhaps it was an acoustic reference that triggered that sense, but just before hitting the bottom, I heard a voice.  The voice said, "O God!" and, at that instant, my falling stopped.  I hung there for just a brief moment, aware that I might be able to touch the floor of the shaft if I reached out my arms.

I wondered about the voice and could still hear it-- in the way that you can be startled awake, find yourself in silence, but know the sound, or voice, which had caused you to start.  The voice had been my own-- except my mouth had been closed-- and still was.  And with that... 

I was back on the carpeted floor of the hallway.  Back in the dim light coming from the lamp on the end table next to the couch in the next room. My drink was sitting on the carpet next to me and I spoke before picking it up.

"God?  I really need someone to love, and to love me."

I picked up my drink and finished it before going to sleep on the couch.  I was woken the next (Saturday) morning by a knock on my door.  I answered to find the pretty girl from across the hall standing there in cut-off shorts and a top which was only hanging from one shoulder.  She said, "Hi, I live across the breezeway and decided I should introduce myself."

The third thought I had has to do with a huge problem we have in our culture, society and politics...

The problem is dispassion.  We do not hear the word often.  I can define it, but want to back into that definition.

An argument with a complete stranger and an argument with a beloved intimate are very different things. That difference is easy to see at work on the Internet.  "Trolls" will write the most offensive and dis-compassionate things about or at a perceived adversary.

Compare that to a disagreement with something one of your close friends posts on a social network, and the post contains an ideological statement with which you strongly disagree.  The arguments will be very different.

On a social network, it is not private, and you care about the other person's feelings even though you are at odds with them.

Now consider a private argument between newlyweds.  The disagreement takes on special meaning.  You face this person every day, and any disagreement may seem intolerable-- in part, because unless it is resolved, the sense of being at odds might just be forever.  So lovers argue passionately.  That is, they care.  It matters-- and the other person matters.

Passion, literally means "suffering."   We suffer for one another in the sense of desire,  We suffer against one another in the sense of disagreements.  It is not a terribly complicated concept as long as you are aware of it being at work in yourself and in your beloved intimate.
If you love someone and they love you, your arguments are going to have every bit of the passion as does your desire for one another.

With that in mind, this comes up (or ought to) in discussions about a particular form of poverty:  Homelessness.

The statistics for causes of homelessness are difficult to compile.  Somewhere around here, I have a US Federal Government form used to gather statistics about the causes and to be asked by the interviewer while conduction an annual homeless census.

The form has a short list of items to offer a homeless man or woman in an interview, and there is no provision for answers which do not match the multiple choices provided.  Basically, the question asked "To what do you attribute your homelessness?"

Off the top of my head, the allowed answers were:
- Alcohol/Substance abuse
- Bad decisions
- Criminal record
- Dropped out of school
- Excess debt
- Inability to keep a job
- Mental Illness
- Physical handicap

Having worked intimately with many of the over 5,000 homeless in the Texas county where I live, I know the most common two answers are not allowed as an answer:

- Unjust divorce settlement
- Unexpected job loss
- Employed but cannot support self due to high child-support

But the overarching reason for which we have any homeless at all is... that the people closest to he homeless person, before they became homeless, did not care.

I do not mean, "did not care enough."  I mean, "chose not to care at all."

That person had family, friends, and neighbors.  The vast majority had co-workers and/or faith organizations (e.g., church) to add to their relationships.  None of those cared.  There was no passion for the person.  Quite literally, no one in their lives thought the person important enough to them, to suffer for.

This, by the way, is one of the very first concepts a newly homeless person comes to realize.  They immediately come to the conclusion that they do not matter to anyone-- or at least not to anyone who was in a position to help.

As a result of this harsh realization, the only friends the homeless person makes are other helpless persons.

They trust no one who is able to help, because all of the person who they knew who were able to help them did not help.   It is an easy divider.  If someone has a good income, the homeless person knows, from hard won experience, that such a person will not help them (tossing a few coins their way on a busy sidewalk or at a busy traffic intersection excepted).

Now, we look at this from the other side.  We can forget the ideological bias of the survey questions.  It was a loaded question intended to assign blame and/or to justify funding of Federal programs.

Ask the persons who were in a position to help (e.g., offer a guest room or couch, offer a job) but chose not to do it.  They will tell you, "Well, I knew something was going on, but I didn't want to get involved."  You will hear a variation of that answer every time.   It is not "apathy."  It is lack of love, lack of passion, for the human person in their lives.

Now, watch that would-be rescuer in that gif image at the top of this post.

He sees the victim as he falls.  There is an initial, instinctive impulse to rush to the falling man's aid.

He opens the hatch and looks down and sees the man has fallen all he way to the bottom.  Then he does something that none of us want to accept.  He closes the hatch.  The initial, instinctive impulse drove the rescuer to act, but once the impulse was acted upon, the rescuer became a disinterested witness.

I once heard another priest describe the difference between love and being in love just that way.

We see someone who strikes us as previously unimaginably wonderful, and that initial, instinctive impulse causes us to act.  We are "in love."

But then comes the most human of work.  It is no longer an impulse, it is a mindfulness; and the action is no longer on impulse, but work.  It requires effort.  It requires passion.

Incidentally, that priest held that the initial impulse to love a person is a God-given grace-- not an instinct.  I believe he is right.

If we give a tenth of our earning to the "Save the Whales" organization because it is our passion, but close the hatch on someone we see who has fallen, we have not lived up to our humanity. We have, I fear, excused ourselves from the glory and honor of the term, "human."

But then, the root of the word, human, is "dirt."

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