Peace of Mind

15 02 2010

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)

Politics makes excellent fodder for a heated discussion.  Living in a representative government gives us the feeling of empowerment, that our leaders are our servants.  We take personal responsibility for the fate of our nation.  When our elected officials make a mess of things we get angry, because we feel responsible for having given them that authority.  Much of what we see in the news is about politics.  Friendships are forged and broken over political affiliation.  Yet, we give ourselves too much credit.  A person gets one vote.  That one vote among many gets two choices.  Will it be Republican or Democrat?  Anything else, and the vote is wasted.  People judge us by whom we would vote for, but we really have so little choice in the matter of our governance.  Both parties are corrupt.  One wants to take over our lives quickly, and the other wants to take over our lives slowly.  Both are faithless, immoral aristocracies, bent on gaining power.  They gain power by getting elected, and then they gain more power by ascribing more authority to themselves.

One can easily become frustrated over politics.  I can clean my house.  I can order my own little world.  I only think I can order my country.  In truth, I have almost as much say in the workings of my representative government as I would under a monarchy.  It’s like playing the lottery: an expired lottery ticket is only less likely to win by one in ninety-four million.  The difference between an old ticket and a new one is almost inconsequential.  My one vote among millions is not significantly better than the opinion of a man living under an unelected king.  Granted, the mass effect of an entire nation of votes is significant, and I should continue to vote, but I would not benefit from taking myself too seriously.  I, personally, have little say in the matter.

People pull their hair out over politics.  Yet, they are almost entirely helpless to do anything about it.  A key to happiness is to avoid dwelling too heavily on that which a person cannot change.  You were handed a life with certain conditions that you had no hand in making.  You can make yourself miserable by worrying over the evils that were handed to you, or you can find those things which are in your power to affect, and then affect them for the better.  You get one vote.  You only get that one vote.  Don’t treat it as something more than it is.  The governance of your country is likely not in your hands.

You can put your faith in God.  No one can take that from you.  You can put your mind at ease by ordering the little piece of the universe that God has placed in your hand.  Take charge of what is really yours.  Let go of what is not.  If you can’t kill the rats of angst that gnaw at your mind, then remove yourself to a peaceful place.  While it lasts, there are still places of beauty in this world.  There are still decent people among us.  There is still a way to live at peace.  Thank God for what you do have.

In the end, life is not what you make it, in an absolute sense.  It is what you do with what you’re given.  Some people are given more and some less, and different people are sure to have different outcomes and accomplishments.  Sure, under better circumstances you could have made more of yourself, but that isn’t really the point, is it?  Anyone could do better under better circumstances.  The issue is what you did with whatever circumstances life threw your way.  If unfairness comes your way, then the matter is not whether things should be fair, but what matters is what you did with what you had.

In a sense, life is unfair.  People start out with all kinds of advantages and disadvantages.  Down the road, more are added to the mix.  In a sense, life is perfectly fair, because initially everyone had an equal chance of being born in anyone else’s shoes.  Whether chance or divine providence chose your origins, the only question you have left to ask is, “Where do I go from here?”

Somewhere out there is a beautiful place, and you can find it.  Somewhere out there are nice people, and you can be one.  Somehow, there can always be meaning in your life.  You can always live to serve the God who made you.


Of Mice and Momes

13 02 2010


Warren Wormwood lived in the quaint little town known as Lasciate Ogne Speranza Voi Ch’intrate, more familiarly known as Lasciate Ogne, or L.O. for short.  He was a single white man trapped in a neighborhood of people very much unlike himself.  It’s the age-old phenomenon: a man finds a nice little community of individuals of similar character, moves in, and finds his neighborhood slowly slipping out from under him.  One by one, familiar faces move out of the area in their quest for upward mobility, and one by one, immigrants who don’t speak a word of the native tongue move in around him.  Pretty soon, he’s trapped in a setting that he did not bargain for.

“Momes,” he calls them, the archaic word for moron.  He finds that it relieves some of the angst to insult people openly with words they would never understand.  Open profanities are far too obvious.  A person doesn’t even need to understand what was said to know that he was slighted, if the accusation comes laced with an obscenity.  Almost no one knows what a mome is, and so Warren finds himself free to express his ill will.

Perhaps the first day was when he saw the neighbor lady take one lazy step outside to deposit a large untidy bag of diapers and rotting food on her own doorstep.  Convenience, the universal currency for which there is no equal, demanded that she do no more than absolutely necessary to rid her home of the unwanted garbage.  Out of sight was out of mind.  She didn’t care that her neighbors and everyone driving down the street were now faced with the blight of her front stoop.  She had maximized her benefit to cost ratio, and that was good enough for her.

“Lazy wench,” Warren grumbled, “Too blasted lazy to put her trash where it belongs.  There goes the neighborhood!”

He had wrongly anticipated that his fellow neighbors would share his sentiment.  To some degree, they did note the unsightliness of a large gaping poke of refuse blowing in the wind, but they were of a similar heritage as the woman, and they, too, discovered the joy in the convenience of not having to take the trash any further than the front door.

One day, Warren plucked up the courage to go next door and speak his mind.  This, of course, was not received in any better manner than it was given.  Wild words in that foreign language flew around, intermixed with something that his mind could latch onto, generally expressing the belief that Warren was a jerk for imposing upon the business of strangers next door.  Besides, the woman could easily survey her area and point out others who were living just as basely as she was.  Therefore, she was right, and he was wrong.

But he tried to explain to her that she was bringing down the neighborhood.  She replied by telling him to find a new neighborhood.

Having failed at that, Warren sulked about for the next several weeks, unable to think about anything else, until a new neighbor moved in, who was not only of a different race, but of a different species altogether.  The first mouse of bitterness showed itself, of all places, in his kitchen trash.  There it sat, staring up at him with his beady little eyes, looking like a kid caught with its hand in the cookie jar.  He quickly tied up the bag and darted about, not really sure what to do with the thing.  In the end, the bag and the mouse found their way into the trash can outside.

But, for a moment Warren felt a pang of empathy for the little critter, trapped in a bag, slowly suffocating.  So he rescued it and dumped the pest into an old terrarium that he had stashed in a closet.  For the next two days, he fed it and admired its little pink nose that wiggled at him, and the little white whiskers that stuck out from his face.  He named his pet, “Peevy,” and he kept it in the attic, where he spent most of his leisure time.

Well, one mouse under glass is fine and cute, but two mice in the room are an annoyance.  When he found the next mouse in his kitchen trash, he promptly took it outside and flung it at his neighbor’s yard.  “You’ll get plenty to eat from them, I’ll bet!” he yelled after it.

Two mice in the room are an annoyance, but three mice in the walls are an infestation.  He heard the telltale scratching and scrambling behind the gypsum board, and he knew he had a problem.  Upon closer inspection, he found that the drain pipe under his sink lead through an oversized hole into the wall, providing a highway leading straight out over his trash can.  He marched straight to the store and bought a tub of spackle and the biggest box of rat poison he could find.  He poured the poison into the wall and sealed off the hole.

Night after night, he lay awake pondering the constant gnawing on the framework above him, beside him and below him.  They seemed to be gnawing at his mind, munching away at his heart and slowly eating away at his sanity.  That wasn’t the only thing eating at him, though.  Bitterness, like the mice, was gnawing at him.  At first, he had nurtured his little pet peeve, but it had reproduced and filled his thoughts like an infestation.  It was that stupid lady next door with her ill-managed garbage that was drawing the vermin into the area.  It was all of these people, imitating the easiest possible lifestyle that brought the pestilence.

And it was Warren, who just couldn’t poison and kill them fast enough to keep them from boring holes through the walls, bringing down the house.  He likened the vermin to the people, invaders with bad hygiene.  In a sense, it was the fault of his neighbors.  In a sense, Warren could not be faulted with blaming them for his own problems.  However, it was not his neighbors that ate at his soul.  They were not the ones biting and chewing their way through his mind.  They were minding (or not minding) their own business, and they were oblivious to his suffering.  But while he fought the infestation of mice, he fed the infestation of evil thoughts.

Then, one day, he realized that it was easier to kill a few people than to kill hundreds of mice.  That’s how he ended up in a concrete studio apartment with bars on the windows.  At least it had room service, with the warden delivering his mush on a platter three times a day.

And, as he sat there contemplating a mouse that inched its way into his cell in search of his gruel, he remembered the words of his neighbor, telling him that if he didn’t like the neighborhood, then he should move out.  That would have been great advice, but it was advice for an earlier life.  This was a neighborhood that he could never move out of, and the mice were there to stay.