Sunday, September 13, 2015

Being Prepared

Today was Water Communion and Homecoming Day, the first Sunday after Labor Day, when we begin the new church year.  We had forty-five folks in the service, with several new visitors, some of whom are already ready to join!  I had doubts about this homily, but it seemed to go over all right.  And they loved singing:  
          “Be prepared, that’s the Boy Scouts’ marching song,

            Be prepared, as through life you march along,

            Be prepared to hold your liquor pretty well,

            Don’t write naughty words on walls if you can’t spell”…

            The next few lines might be considered NSFC, not safe for church, so I won’t go farther; you can go and look them up later!

            Many of you may recognize those words as the first lines of a rather bawdy song by Tom Lehrer, the musical social critic of the 50’s, who wrote such other “interesting” songs as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “The Vatican Rag” and “We Will All Go Together When We Go”—the latter a tribute to the Cold War’s nuclear nightmares.

            A few weeks ago, a New Yorker article by Katherine Schultz, entitled “The Really Big One”, sent the rest of the US into a frenzy and we denizens of the Pacific Northwest yawned and said “we already know all that stuff”, whether we did or not.   The topic, of course, was our Cascadia subduction zone, which will someday let fly and cause an earthquake and tsunami on the West Coast.

Some of what riled locals up was her suggestion that people come to the coast but spend the night outside the tsunami zone.  As if that would protect them from an earthquake.   But it does give new meaning to Tom Lehrer’s nightmare title:  We will all go together when we go---as if we will have a choice. 
            But being prepared is important, whether it’s for surviving a cataclysmic natural disaster or some other crisis.  There are a lot of things we can barely prepare for---a sudden accident or illness, the death of a loved one; in life, unusual circumstances can pop up at any time.  How do we prepare for those kinds of things?  Or can we?

            I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially as I packed my go bags and survival-proofed my car.  And it made me remember something my dad said when I got my first job as a teenage pea bum, driving truck in the  Athena pea harvest, in the late 50’s.  I got some good advice from my dad at that time and it made me think about this particular bit, which seems to apply in other situations as well. 

How many of us, in our wild and crazy youth, had the need or the opportunity to ride in the back of a moving pickup truck.  Did you ever do that?  Do you remember how we did it?  Did we stand with legs akimbo, not holding on to anything?  Did we hang over the side and try to grab things off the ground going 50 miles an hour?  Did we jump up and down as the truck roared down the road?

            No, well, maybe some of us did!  But those of us who were more cautious found a place to stand where we could hang onto something and face forward.  And we kept our knees bent, to absorb any shock waves from the bumpy road.
           That’s how you ride in the back of a pickup truck out on the road or in the field.  It isn’t really safe and it’s probably against the law now, but in those days, it was just fun and a handy way of getting from one place to another on the farm or the ranch or in the small town.  And that was the advice I got from my dad, and maybe you did too----hang on tight, face forward, and keep your knees bent.  This is useful advice for life, if you think about it.
In our Summer Sunday forums this year, we had three, count them, three discussions about end-of-life issues.  Each discussion seemed to cover new ground, as though we had endless stories to tell about our own needs, the needs of our loved ones who had died, and the need for dignity and as much self-determination as possible in those last months of life.

For me, the issue of “being prepared”, or rather not being prepared, came sharply to a head this summer when a friend died suddenly and unexpectedly and with absolutely no apparent forethought about preparing for the future inevitability.  

We survivors, her friends, were angry.  How could someone so smart, so organized, so apparently on top of her life, do this to herself or her small circle of friends?  We  had no answers for that, and so “being prepared” took on great meaning for us and is probably one reason why I spent so much time thinking about this topic this summer. 

My friend needed to prepare for a moment in time when a sudden mishap might make it impossible for her to help herself, when others would need to come to her aid.

            What, in your experience, do we humans need to prepare for?  (cong resp, repeat aloud)

            Your thoughts and mine have some similarities:  when I made a list in my journal recently, I listed:

 the earthquake/tsunami event that might come in our lifetime;

the challenges of aging and changing health that affect all ages;

deaths (expected and unexpected);  

changes in the old ways, the old social patterns that cause societal unrest when disrupted;

changes in friends’ and families’ lives;

disappointments in jobs or in relationships;

and always, our children’s lives.

            How do you prepare for these changes?  (cong resp, repeat aloud)

            Again, we’re on the same wavelength: 

we have our go-bags poised by the back door;

we have the best insurance we can afford;

we have written out our wills or our POLST documents or talked to our families about our wishes, if we’re getting old or ill

---and have talked to our parents if we’re young;

we’ve stayed informed about changes in the social climate and have thought through our responses;

we’ve taken the temperature of our own relationships and made amends when we need to;

and we resign ourselves to the inevitable consequences of raising our children to think for themselves and not panicking when they do.

            In all of life’s challenges, I have come to the conclusion that our greatest survival mechanism, the best way we can survive crises of all kinds is to be resilient.

            Resilience is not a magic wand or a miracle-working drug.  It’s not the universe changing a law of nature to give us a break.  And whereas it might be considered an answer to prayer, chances are the answer actually comes from inside our own hearts and minds.

            Resilience is the quality of being able to recover from whatever difficulty life throws at us and move ahead.  It’s not being halted permanently in one’s tracks by a sudden turn of events.  It’s not denial; it’s acceptance and a determination to take the present, make the best of it, and move on.

We’ve seen countless examples of this human ability as we’ve lived through our years on this planet.

            Jimmy Carter, our former President, whose health has taken a turn for the worst, spoke about what sustains him in this time before his death.  And he said that for him, the invisible qualities of justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, and love are the guiding lights of his life.  He has relied on them all his 90 years and we have learned that they form the backbone of his resilient character.

            A Facebook quote from an author named L.R. Knost struck me the other day as also appropriate:

            She writes:

Life is amazing.  And then it’s awful.

And then it’s amazing again.

And in between the amazing and the awful

 it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.

Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful,

and relax and exhale during the ordinary. 

That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing,

amazing, awful, ordinary life.

And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.


            I like that.  And I love Jimmy Carter and will be sad when death claims him.  But I’m inclined to think that my dad also had it right when he told me to hang on tight, face forward, and bend my knees.

            Hang on tight to those around you and to your values and find a firm place to stand, face forward so that you can see what’s coming down the road, at least as far as you are able, and bend your knees to absorb the shocks as they come along.

            Life isn’t safe and the law won’t always protect us.  Sometimes we can’t control what happens and we have to deal with whatever we get.

            So when those times come, hold on tight, face forward, and bend your knees.

            And, I think my dad might add, if you can, help others do the same.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

HYMN# 1064, “Blue Boat Home”


BENEDICTION:  Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, thinking about how we might increase our ability to be resilient in an ever-changing world, committing ourselves to helping others make it through, and preparing our children to thrive as they enter the future.  Amen, shalom, salaam, and blessed be.


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