CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith from a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter… ©
This post starts with my journal entry from F, 6-30-00, almost 15 years ago…
I am sitting at a picnic table in the city park right in the middle of downtown Mason City, Iowa. It’s a block square. From where I sit I can see the round, glass-sided city bus depot, 23 oak trees, a water fountain, two flower beds, three statues, the only hotel Frank Lloyd Wright ever designed, the home-town bank that financed our house mortgage and then, without bothering to mention it to us, sold the mortgage to strangers in Memphis. I would tell you the name of the bank, but it will change, twice, from when I write this to when you read it, since the main business of banks is to acquire other banks and change their names. I suspect the selling of mortgages to folks in Memphis is why “I shot a man in Memphis” occurs so often in music and literature.
I am drinking from a china cup, even in the park. It is the best coffee in town. In fact, it is the best coffee in Seattle, according to the sign, “Seattle’s Best,” in Deja Brew, where they know me and so don’t worry when I meander out the door with one of their cups.
I like to write in downtown parks. Cars and trucks and buses and children and dogs wander by, giving motion to what would otherwise be a still life.
A man with a large belly and a small shirt ambles by. My table is a long way from where he is walking, but he calls over to inquire about my well-being. I assure him that I am fine and return the question.
“Well, I’m okay,” he says, “but have you heard about the alligators in Florida?”
I do not like to confess to ignorance, but I admit that I have not heard about the alligator in Florida.
“They’re dying,” he says, and then he walks on.
Fifteen years, and I am still wondering about this exchange.
We had six months of winter in Mason City. No self-respecting alligator would brave our frigid and frozen waters. It was two thousand miles from the alligators in Florida. Why did he tell me about them? Did he expect me to do something about those alligators?
Probably so. My whole life, it seems, whenever someone has mentioned a problem to me, it was with the expectation that I should do something about it. Is there something about me that causes even strangers in parks to assume that I am the problem-solving man, even though I am old and slow and the problem is two thousand miles away?
Most older folk were raised on a steady diet of responsibility, and even those of us who were not raised that way have had to shoulder plenty of it in our lives. It goes with the territory. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve had plenty of problems to deal with.
Now we have two problems with responsibility: 1, we’re tired of it. 2, we feel uncomfortable without it.
We retire to get out from under that pressure of problem-solving responsibility. At least most of us do. Some know they’ll be so uncomfortable without it that they resist retirement.
As time goes by, even those of us who wanted to get away from responsibility are relieved of the responsibilities we don’t mind. Children grab our car keys and tell us if we want to go somewhere they’ll take us. The neighbors fear we’ll leave a burner on and flame the neighborhood down so they sign us up for Meals On Wheels. The librarian sees us coming and grabs an arm and leads us to the Large Print section.
Our lives, though, have been identified by our responsibilities, so we miss them, and we try to fill the gaps of their absence with…
…well, criticism. Old folk are known for being critical of younger folk, and it’s true. I mean, who else do we have to criticize? And why aren’t they doing something about those alligators?
John Robert McFarland
The “place of winter” mentioned in the title line is Iron Mountain, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula [The UP], where life is defined by winter even in the summer! [This phrase is explained in the post for March 20, 2014.]
I tweet as yooper1721.