The Appreciation of Haystacks
It was a dry time in my life. I had recently left or was laid off from my workplace of over a decade. All I ever wanted to do in life was to lift up the disenfranchised in our world. This was being taken away from me if I was going to stay in Savannah. There were few agencies that worked with the poor in a way that I could tolerate and I was growing long in the tooth in Savannah. Everyone thought they knew me and saw me as a wide-eyed impractical social worker and advocate. In other words I had pushed a few too many buttons.
So my dream of working with the poor was disappearing. I could not believe fate was begrudging me this one thing I wanted to do. I had led by anyone’s measure successful programs that could measure up to anyone else’s. I did not need a lot of money to make it happen either. Yet there I was left standing with hat in hand and no one interested in my unique calling.
Or course there were reasons for this. Social work was becoming more and more a profession and therefore social work degrees became more and more necessary. I also had chosen not to be ordained because churches were and many still are not ordaining women and gays. So my Master of Divinity was confusing to many without the minister’s club stamp of approval. I was too far outside the box. Even though my box was not too outside. I probably was not the best applicant because up to this point I had always been recruited for my jobs. And the jobs I was recruited for were always exactly what I wanted at that time. Four times I had been recruited. Another issue was I had never wanted to be top dog. I never wanted to be too removed from the poor. It was the only way to keep myself honest and actually in touch with their needs. So I enjoyed the middle management jobs. I was fine managing staff or boards but not at the expense of serving the poor directly. So on one level I became too qualified for the jobs I wanted and the other hand I had done the lateral move too much.
I also was recently divorced and had watched the church I had been president, chairs of committees, and spoke on Sundays crash and burn over control and power. I was not burned out but nothing was on fire for me at the time. So I did what everyone does in their existential crises I went to Boston. Yes that Boston. I spent ten days alone walking the streets, going to museums, and pondering the ways of the world.
One of the reasons I chose Boston was it was the home of the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalists Church. The denomination I had been in since I left the Southern Baptists. I had recently found them to have too much Baptist in them. They were in no way theologically alike. But they both lacked love when dealing with each other sometimes. But they did ordain women and gays. Maybe I should join the club and some new doors would be open to me. But one day of emailing and talking made me realize I was not a minister’s club person. I had the qualifications educationally and experientially, but I balked at language that sounded too much like the good old boys club I had resisted my whole life. This was not the way for me.
So who was I, where was I, how was I, and when would I come back. These questions all came rushing forward to me. I had never lacked self-confidence, but I wondered what was the purpose of self-confidence or did it matter I had self confidence in who I was? No one else seemed to care. My values were at once too old fashioned and too radical. I was a conundrum to the world. Maybe I should be to myself.
I went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I love arts which for some reason confuses people when I tell them that. But my life has been filled with spending time to myself lost in an art museum looking for answers or new insight. There was an exhibit on Claude Monet’s Haystacks. Now this particular exhibit did not seem to offer much. But I took my zen mode into it and was determined to find the mind of Monet and suddenly I found my own. Monet painted haystacks why? Why not? He could communicate even with haystacks. He did not let the world determine what he painted or ever painted to please the world alone. His haystacks were painted at different times of the day and different seasons of the year. He was showing in plain sight that in each moment there are small often overlooked changes. But even though the haystacks changed they never lost the essence of a haystack. People might not see the differences or even appreciate the nature of haystacks but they still were there for anyone to notice if they were only willing to stop and appreciate them. Haystacks are beautiful and no haystack is exactly like another or the same the next day. Monet was saying there is such beauty we miss because we look in the familiar places which may be all the wrong places. Change your perspectives and you discover something new. Haystacks come and go and yet some stay on walls not only changing from painting to painting but offering change to the person who stands before them.
Even though I had three more days in Boston the spiritual quest I searched for was over. I breathed deeply. I was ready for re-entry to the world even if it did not care. It took awhile to find my footing and I am still never far from the abyss but I am what I am. Even when I am not eating spinach currently.
The world had literally changed. The coastlines of ten years ago were gone as the tide rose. The houses built on the coast had been submerged. Yes even the coastal homes of the rich were no longer there. Thirty percent of Habitable Property had disappeared in ten years as the waters rose. Property values went in reverse. Property on the beach were of no value as they would disappear in a few years and the interior properties that had been more traditionally for the poor were now the most expensive. The poor were now granted the property on the beach. As a matter of fact they were to remain there during the evenings. The rich, afraid of theft and violence, wanted the poor vagabonds to be fenced off from them. A huge debate had ensued when the fence was first proposed. In the end the rich had what they wanted. During the day if you had a worker’s permit you could leave the coastal lands to go into the interior land but must be out before sunset.
The climate change deniers continued. In the end it was the rich who were the climate dangers. The poor had seen their lives dramatically changed and grew to understand that the cause of the change was climate change. The rich because the proposals to stem the tide meant sacrifice and a lower standard of living for them insisted climate change was exaggerated.
Most of the poor did not bother to try to build permanent structures. Instead they would build makeshift homes of driftwood or trash they found on the beach. The more fortunate had sturdy tents. Every night the crowds of poor would jockey for position along the fence. The closer to the fence the less likely when the tide came in they would, in their nomenclature, be ‘sleeping wet’. But always at high tide the water would come rushing on the inhabitants of the beach. So according to how close to the fence you were determined your sleeping position. The farther from the fence the more erect you would remain—standing sometimes in water all night unable to lie down and sleep. The next day a few bodies would be found of those who gave in to the cold water or no longer could stand and drowned. The fortunate were those who slept against the fence in a sitting position. Everyone on the beach prayed for low tide.
Ariel’s life went on this way for five years. Her family had drowned when the hurricanes wiped out two-thirds of the population. After this the outcry had been so great they evacuated the poor to emergency prisons designed to hold the poor. The prisons and their bare minimal offerings helped the rich sleep better at night. But however minimal the prisons they were better than life on the sea. In a social reform moment in the country a lottery program was started to decide which of the beachcombers would be allowed to move to the prisons.
Ariel’s family had won the lottery the day after the hurricane had taken everyone’s life but her. There was a great legal battle whether a five year old could ‘win’ the lottery. Who would take care of her? And was this the best use of a prison home? After all the elite wanted to do the right thing. The wise decision was made and she would be ‘adopted’ by people chosen from another lottery draw.
Now she was never treated as bad as Cinderella but there was neither the warm fuzzies either. And definitely no Prince for her. But when she became of childbearing age she was taken and groomed for these purposes. The population control was important as the land had become so scarce around the world. So, in the more sophisticated countries breeding had become severely monitored and planned. The rich thought this was a benevolent activity as it kept the poor on the coast from overloading the beaches.
Ariel the child who had been removed from the oceanside had her life changed. She had moved to a prison and been chosen to have a child. She was now a mother but one whose child had been adopted from her. The day after birth the newborn was delivered to the infertile couple who lived on the right side of the fence.
She had never been allowed to marry herself because of the fears that if the underclass coupled they would eventually desire to give birth. And this would make for an unnecessary expense and effort for the government to monitor their lives. So, she lived with three other women in a special prison. When she grew past childbearing age she was allowed twenty more years to enjoy life. These twenty years were called the gift years. She was allowed more time and freedom to travel. This was the more than fair award the government gave for use of their wombs all those years.
Usually in their sixties sometimes seventies they were carted away with much secrecy. You see no one knew what happened to the elderly poor. But God was good, and they all eventually learned. They were taken to barren lands where the soil was not good and their bodies were used to fertilize and enrich the soil. They were given the honor to even after death to provide the elite with nourishment as they had in their younger days. It was the full cycle of life.
It is said that because of climate change by the year 2100 Venice could be under water. This is the timeframe in which we have to prevent ‘sleeping wet’.
I have always been amused by people who do not have a sense of direction. My mother was notorious; she once got lost on a trail that was a loop. We found her at last in the middle of the trail. Apparently, she would start one way and would find it unfamiliar and turn back only to turn back again when she found the ground unfamiliar. She had traveled back and forth over the same quarter of the mile path for over an hour. You would have thought by that time something in that quarter mile would have seemed familiar. And it did as several people in our rather large group passed her.
My wife is another one with a terrible sense of direction. I was tired, and she was driving. I told her to wake me up before we enter Macon and I would guide her through the highway connections to get us to Atlanta. From Savannah to Macon is only one highway: I 16. So it was with confidence that I went to sleep. And I did sleep for about forty-five minutes. When I awoke nothing seemed right. I asked her if she had gotten off I 16. And she said with a question in her voice ‘I do not think so’. Finally, a highway sign appeared and indeed she had managed to exit I 16 going west and was on I 95 going north. We were not headed to Macon but instead Walterboro.
Of course I have my own story of losing my sense of direction and showing I have no sense at all. My brother and sister-in-law had been married ten years, this I knew. But what I did not know was that my nephew was coming up on his eleventh birthday. So I in total confidence told my sister-in-law she must be mistaken and they had been either married twelve years or my nephew was only ten. I saw no other way forward. My sister-in-law looked at me totally bemused and said no what she said was right. As I continued to argue my case she gave me looks of befuddlement, bewilderment, puzzlement and bafflement as I continue to declare her wrong. My older brother, her husband who was in the room the whole time but watching a football game, turned and looked at me with total disgust in his eyes and his words dripping with disdain said, “Shut up Mike and think real hard how that could be.”
I stopped and thought very carefully about the birth of my nephew and the wedding of my brother. I remembered my father said it was not a shotgun wedding but might as well have been. And then gradually the light of truth fell upon me. I looked at the two of them. My face was red. I bowed my head down and looked at the floor. I was a freaking seminary student in my twenties and could not figure this puzzle out. My older brother shook his head and puffed out a sigh of dismay. My sister-in-law was looking over at my nephew to see if he had been listening. He had not.
I started to explain myself and realized this was not the time. I apologized meekly and left the room. Some people have no sense of direction and others of us have no sense at all. I leave it to you to decide which category I fell in that day.