Saturday, July 4, 2009

'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free...

Happy 4th of July, friends.  I've been blazing through The Book of Mev, written by my friend Dr. Mark Chmiel about his late wife, Mev Puleo, in which Mark mentions that she used rosary beads every night to pray "gratitudes," coming up with one thing per bead that she was grateful for from that day.  Not a bad practice, that, especially on a day such as today, when we all celebrate what we have to be grateful for.  Out here in Klagetoh, there is no shortage of blessings that readily come to mind, but I think today I am most grateful for the ability to work with my hands - both that I have the physical health and energy to do so, but that in a place like this I can get out of the very cerebral world I too easily occupy.  Some friends in Albuquerque showed me an article about a guy who, after finishing his Ph.D., decided to open a motorcycle shop and now couldn't be happier.  How much does our educational system bore the pants off of young people who are naturally inclined to be physically active, engaged, mobile, by keeping them in a desk all day, every day?  Also, how much have we exalted clerical [cubicle?] work over important skills and knowledge bases that are less narrowly cerebral, like knowing how to work on a car, make something grow, repair faulty plumbing, etc?  We have been trained to hire someone else to do that.  I lament how few real-world skills I have apart from being able to read a lot of books, but that has been far and away the bulk of my educational career.  Here, however, there are always things to putter with, projects to work on, ways to get one's hands dirty, and for that I am grateful.  Today I replaced the faucet on a sink - not difficult, but dirty (just ask the half-decayed mouse corpse that was sharing the space under the sink with me!), and started putting in a screen door on the house.  As with everything else out here, the door frame is not the standard size or construction, so we have to fiddle with it to make it work, but even that is part of the fun.

(*top: new sink, installed; bottom: old sink, in pieces.*)

One of those real-world skills which I totally lack is cooking, but Br. John has that ability in spades, so while I am out here I get to learn from the master - never from a recipe, always, as he puts it, "Once in a lifetime, never to be repeated."  Whatever is in the house is fair game - last night it was spaghetti sauce made from artichoke hearts, habanero salsa, and a few other things from the back of the fridge, and Brussels sprouts sauteed with sweet peppers, almonds, and beer.  John's cooking is usually unusual, but somehow it is always amazing, like the old Bob Ross "Joy of Painting" shows: no mistakes, only happy accidents.

In the spirit of the day, a bit more on freedom: I just finished Erich Fromm's classic work Escape from Freedom, the basic premise of which is that while we have spent so much energy on the removal of external constraints in the name of freedom, we have yet to deal with the problem of psychic constraints that prevent real freedom - pressure to conform, fear of ambiguity and uncertainty, the sense of the individual as powerless, as a blip in the face of the overwhelming juggernaut of the world of our times.  With apologies for the pre-inclusive language of the quote, think about this little nugget: "modern man lives under the illusion that he knows what he wants, while he actually wants what he is supposed to want." (251)  So many of my students and even some of my adult colleagues and friends, despite living in a nation that prides itself on freedom, feel "stuck" - go to high school to go to a good college to get a well-paid job to make a lot of money to retire comfortably.  Not bad, per se, but, as I call it, "the sausage grinder," shoving people through a pre-packaged version of what they are supposed to want out of life.  This, coupled with the ease with which people sign on to movements which promise certitudes, absolutes, final answers, because the plurality of voices in our world can be not only scary but overwhelming.  So, as the bumper stickers say, "Freedom isn't free": not in the usual sense of justifying body counts in the name of preserving our freedoms from external constraints, but in the sense that dealing with internal constraints costs us everything we thought we held dear.  Hence the theological commonplace that Jesus on the cross is, paradoxically, the picture of a free man.  Not "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," but freedom as the capacity to not have one's life and choices dictated by convention or by one's own fears or need for control.  So, gratitudes abound here, and may they also for you...


Anonymous said...

An eloquent posting, and a great looking sink. I would have been challenged to replace it without cursing. Hope you had a great 4th. Thanks for calling yesterday.... :)

Concord Carpenter said...

Great post! I can't cook worth a lick wither.

I can relate to the freedom working with your hands brings.

A fellow blogger worte a guest post on my blog about working with your hands.

Please take a peek at it.