Monday, December 31, 2012


So, I'm an extraordinary breaker of resolutions, as anyone who is familiar with the "addictive mindset" or has "had a conversation with me" might have guessed. I would like to be the kind of person who provides attentive maternal care to a brood of children, possibly adopted and with a variety of special needs, in between shifts as a surgical resident in the hospital where I am preparing for my career with Doctors Without Borders. I believe I should be that person, and yet my biggest accomplishment to date has been developing the ability to care for my single, perfect child, not flunk out of nursing school, and get through the day without bingeing and vomiting in frustration over the chasm between the person I am and the person I wish I were. While it may have made Christianity the pariah in the middle-school lunchroom of contemporary culture, to me, the doctrine of my own essential and absolute inadequacy is  self-evident to the point that I view hypotheses which don't take it for granted the way a fervent atheist might view the apologetics of C.S. Lewis.

Given that, resolutions are a weakness of mine. I indulge in the idea that I can make myself closer to the person I wish I were by reading to my son more regularly, say, or by setting goals and sticking to them.

In my case, though, the goals I set metastasize. I start out with small, measurable goals and end up with goals like: effect meaningful change with respect to global poverty, or, help end obstetric fistula. As a result, my current "working list" of resolutions is actually more of an outline, endowed with a number of tumor-like qualities including a lack of differentiation (am I a wife and mother first, or a Christian, or a saver of impoverished Cambodian children? Are teaching third graders science and promoting breastfeeding in Brooklyn worthwhile goals, or should I jettison them because people are dying of malaria as I type? Is blogging a valuable creative outlet, or a distraction from the many pressing, concrete needs of those around me?)

Having said that, my Big Goal for 2013 has been streamlined into two parts, as I've decided that anything more complex starts to take on the shape of that scary multi-headed Harry Potter dog whose name I would recall if I had allowed myself to truly enjoy the Harry Potter books, rather than racing through them amid a pile of more "legitimate" reading material:

1. Find, do, and document concrete activities to address global poverty, while
2. Not allowing these activities to overshadow my day-to-day life.

To wit (and this is part of the body of resolutions that I have subjugated to the Big Goal and demoted to "outline" status): I'm going to stop myself from looking up aid agencies while my son is playing in front of me and thinking about what I read on GiveWell when my husband is telling me about his workday. I'm going to remember that, while it may be my privilege to play a role in the renewal of all things, that role is not "director".  And that I'm not a visionary, but I can be useful -- to the degree that I resist the often-overwhelming temptation to make my life about me and my vision.

Small things, great love. If there's nothing new under the sun, at least that gives those of us who catch on more slowly the opportunity to catch up.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


So, blogging is hard right now. There are so many things on my mind: the shootings in Connecticut; the fact that, as a friend pointed out, the shootings are different from any number of injustices and atrocities mostly because they happened in the United States; the myriad other horrible injustices and painful realities that are called to mind by that fact; my near-total failure to respond to that list in any meaningful way in 2012.

I did a few things: a donation to The Fistula Project and to ADRA here, a Mad Scientists program and SPROUT program there. But it feels like it's all just drops in this overwhelming ocean of need, and it also feels, sometimes, like I choose these drops at random, based on what I enjoy, what makes me feel good, and not on where I'm needed. 

That same friend once postulated that ultimately, taking mentally handicapped people on field trips or cooking for homeless people is as self-serving as, say, throwing a party or becoming a CEO, because all actions are intrinsically self-motivated. I do these things because I have an idea of the person I want to be and the world I want to live in, and these actions bring me and my world closer to those ideas.

But here's the conclusion at which I arrived, this advent: there are just exceedingly dark things in this world, and I don't actually understand them, or really want to. I just know that they are there, and they are horrible, and if we can get rid of them, we should. If I can get rid of them, I should. If someone is lonely and I can comfort them; if someone is hungry and I can feed them; if someone is asking for money, however suspect their intentions, and I have money. If someone is angry and mean and I can dispense some feeble, human kind of grace.

And when I am doing those things, I am closer to God and His will than when I am not. And His will is the best source of light I'm familiar with. And it doesn't actually matter if I'm enacting it in my own family or the circles of privileged friends in which I operate or the larger world, because all of those places are in need of grace, and He, not I, knows where I can best dispense it at any given moment.

I am not the kind of person who could be counted on not to waste my life on trivial things if I had everything, if I lived in a perfect world. I suspect that I'm not alone in this, and that the extreme pain we experience in this world is, ultimately, part of an act of creation larger and more complex than I can understand. And I can only say that because I believe entirely that the terrible things other people suffer will, eventually, be set right.

But in the meantime, there's not really much of a purpose in life beyond trying to be part of that work. Honestly, all the movies and parties and delicious meals in the world don't mean anything; love is what matters. And it is a horrible truth that often we are most aware of that when the people we love are threatened or taken away -- but it is still a truth. And I suspect that the purpose of this life, ugly and painful as it often is, is to make sure that when we actually encounter light, when everything dark is actually chased away and forgotten, we'll be able to recognize what it is we are looking at, and why it is valuable.