View from the Edge
By S M Chen, posted Dec 3, 2015
I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., writer (1922-2007)
I was at work. I don’t work that often but, when I do, it’s usually busy. During a brief lull, I checked e-mail, and was disconcerted to learn that my tenant was having a problem with the upstairs bathroom shower; it wouldn’t turn off completely.
What to do? I was slated to work a full day, and I’d promised my daughter I’d tend my grandson the entire following day, near my home. Time was short and, I felt, of the essence (no, I’m not a realtor).
Where I live is close to 75 miles from the rented townhouse, in another county. I preferred not to make a special trip to tend to the plumbing issue; while I’m somewhat handy, I knew there was a good possibility proper repair would require greater expertise than I possessed.
The handyman whom I’d used at times when I lived in the townhouse complex had died a few years ago, and I’d not engaged services of other handymen thereafter.
I could have checked around, with the possibility that I’d find a reliable plumber, but, being at work, I felt under some time constraint myself. Supervising the job would require my presence, which would mean an extra trip and the tenants’ likely having to endure several days of inconvenience. I could hire someone without supervision, but that carried its own inherent risks.
Then I remembered something: my landlord, who owns the house I rent, is capable, meticulous, and trustworthy (I’d seen him at work on said house, and was confident he would take no less care of mine). Plus he lives about 15 miles away from the townhouse. Although over a decade my junior, he’s semi-retired. A bit tentatively, I decided to take a chance and call him.
Fortunately, he was in town. He agreed to examine the plumbing leak. He was even kind enough to drive to my place of employment to procure a townhouse access key.
As it turned out, the plumbing repair required his removing part of the drywall near the rear of the shower and replacing the shower assembly. Although the job is yet incomplete, the tenants have a functioning, non-leaking shower.
I am grateful for the turn of events, and feel as if I’ve been the recipient of (in a somewhat different sense than its usual understanding and usage) grace, of finding a proverbial ram in the thicket, a coin in the mouth of a fish.
In 1980 a sister and I visited China, land of my parents’ birth. During our time there we met with my aunt, sister of my deceased father, and her family.
She and her husband had lived for a time in the USA, but elected to return to China prior to the country becoming Communist. Our parents, on the other hand, had elected to stay in the USA. As a consequence of that fateful decision, my siblings and I were born and raised in the USA and spoke only English. Our first cousins knew only China as their home and spoke only Chinese.
My aunt’s English was quite good, from the time she’d lived in the USA, and she acted as translator (my Mandarin and her children’s English were both halting and more a source of bemusement than utility).
What struck me, both at the time and later, is how easily it could have been the other way around. Had my aunt and her husband decided to remain in the USA, and my parents to return to China, it might have been our cousins who visited us in China from the USA, and the conditions under which we both grew up would have been reversed and vastly different.
It was almost too much to contemplate. I don’t pretend that any further pondering would have been fruitful.
My daughter is a part-time dentist. Recently, when she drove to the dental office where she works, she was unable to park in the area where she usually does, to the side of the office; spaces were occupied. When she emerged to go home at the end of the workday, it came to her just how fortunate she had been. A couple fire engines were parked nearby amidst a flurry of activity and not a little agitation.
Late in the afternoon, an elderly man had exited a nearby grocery store, gotten in his large van, and subsequently lost control, plowing with considerable force into the vehicles at the side of the dental office. When he attempted to brake, he instead hit the accelerator.
Had her vehicle been in its usual spot, it probably would have been struck and possibly disabled, perhaps beyond drivability.
That this happened a couple days before Thanksgiving may have been beyond mere coincidence.
But what, one may ask, of my first cousins who were born and raised in China, who didn’t have the advantages my siblings and I had in the USA?
What of those who had the misfortune to park where they did near the dental office, only to discover that their vehicles had sustained damage not of their making?
And what of those (almost 3000) who perished in 9/11?
Were any of the above less worthy of the beneficence of the Almighty?
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrestled with this in his popular 1978 book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”
The subject of evil, or relative evil (absence of good) could easily require an essay, or essays, and it is beyond the purview of this one to properly deal with the topic.
Good, or relative good (absence of evil) seems comparatively rare; we probably deserve worse than what generally happens to us.
This is, to my understanding, why Paul suggests that, in all things, we give thanks.
Why Job said, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.’
For His ways indeed are much above ours. Our comprehension is as limited as (if not more so than) an ant that lives in two dimensions (x and y) and cannot fathom the z-axis of verticality.
On a lighter note, columnist Heywood Broun once wrote:
‘The rain falls on the just
And also the unjust fella;
But mainly on the just
Because the unjust steals the just’s umbrella.’
To my understanding, no discernible correlation exists between goodness/righteousness and freedom from the myriad of bad things that occur.
A nonreligious friend of mine once commented, “The question shouldn’t be, ‘Why me?’ but “Why not me?”’
Those of us seeking a closer walk should not necessarily expect a life freer of difficulty. Holy Writ attests to this: ‘Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.’
Christ did not promise His followers a life of ease, one devoid of tribulation. Au contraire. Almost all His disciples experienced violent death. As have many martyrs since that time.
I try to be grateful for whatever happens and remember the lives of the faithful who went before.
Taking a longer view, our lives here are, in the big scheme of things, so miniscule. As Alice Childress wrote, ‘It is but a short walk from the cradle to the grave and it behooves us to be kind to one another along the way.’
It is entirely appropriate, when we express gratitude for having been spared what others have not, that we remember them also and ask that they be comforted in their affliction.
For the promise that says we will not be tempted beyond our ability to bear (if one believes suffering is not prelude to temptation, reread the book of Job) has universal application, does it not? And, with perhaps surprising ease, if it has not already happened, we may someday find ourselves in the shoes of suffering others.
One day we may learn just how fortunate our lives have been, how many good things – some unmerited – have actually happened to us; how things that seem to have gone badly might have been worse, perhaps considerably so. Someone has indeed been watching over and out for us.
Meanwhile, what I find appropriate is to endeavor to lead a life suffused with humility and gratitude.
I encourage you to view things from the edge.
As far as going over, that’s another matter.