Being Overwhelmed With Circumstances

Normal is what we’re used to.  When things are going worse than normal, we complain.  At least, I complain.  But when faced with those less fortunate, it readjusts our thinking of what normal really is and makes us give pause before complaining.

I took the following two pictures on the same day, March 18th.  One in the morning, one in the afternoon.  Both define "normal," but for different people.  One is downtown Port-au Prince.  The other downtown Miami.

street_in_port-au_prince_haiti

downtown_miami_skyscrapers_tall_buildings

Some of the emotions I felt in Haiti are hard to describe.  Seeing a picture doesn’t capture the feeling.  Like the difference between getting shot at in real life and watching Band of Brothers while downing pop and chips.

When I tell people about Haiti, I give them highlights from my trip, because there isn’t time to recount everything.  But telling the highlights, the quick story, seems to cheapen the feelings somehow. 

Yesterday (Sunday), I spent several hours with a friend who shared with me in depth about a major experience he is currently going through.  This situation was a positive one for him, and he is excited about it, but it has also been an emotional roller coaster.  He told me he’s been overcome with feelings and wept freely in a way he never has before.  His wife, who’s known him for years, has never seen him affected like this.  In fact, we both got choked up as he told me about what all’s going on. 

My friends’ story was inspiring, touching, and I felt privileged to be one of the first people he told.  I won’t say more, because I don’t want to steal his thunder.  But my point is this, I know in the future a lot of people will ask him for his story, and I wonder if it’s going to be hard for him?  Hard to share something so personal over and over in a nonchalant, conversational way?  There are things that take time and a personal context to share.  And maybe some things we don’t even want to share, too personal to share.  Things we would prefer "treasuring in our hearts."

While some are rejoicing (like my friend), others are mourning. 

Yesterday, Emily Milroy wrote a post describing some deep, core-shaking experiences she’s just come through this past month in her visit to Asia.  She was brought face to face with desperate circumstances in an orphanage for mentally handicapped children, and is still reeling.  Honestly, what could be worse than children in abject circumstances, not loved, physically ill, and mentally ill besides?  It’s too much to take in:

I thought it would be Africa where I would hold a child moaning out because they were starving to death, but it was in C****…children living in a place where there is an 86% mortality rate, where [children] get 2 meals a day, and each meal 4 bowls of food to split among 14 children.

Where when you feed them you have to guard the food because the kids that can walk will come up and grab handfuls out of the bowl…where children eat other children’s throw up, poop off the ground, and sleep on a piece of wood with no mattress tangled up with two other children because there is not enough space…

Where their little arms and legs are so skinny and they are so incredibly malnourished you can barely make sense of what is in front of you. Where there are not real diapers but a stretchy string around their waist with a diaper material or just any plastic tucked into it as a diaper.

For the first time in my life struggling to pray for healing over a child… instead please Jesus just take them to be with you because the moaning coming from them because they are hurting is too much….

My teammates had a baby pass away they named Jude and struggled with his death but also knowing now this little one wont suffer starvation. The death of a baby who received no proper funeral service and no mother or father brother or sister to care…  the emotions of watching that happen are just impossible to type out.

…my world was completely changed… my heart completely broken.

I broke down crying sometimes looking at the food I was eating for dinner and the rights I felt that I had to eat whatever I wanted (in not liking the spicy food is what I am talking about) because I thought of those little children. Sure I may not have liked it but it was food and I should be more grateful. So the rest of the month I may not have liked the food in C**** but I never complained again and I was so grateful that God provided it.

The feeling of wanting to help so badly, seeing the forgotten children and people in this place, seeing pain like I have never seen before…not knowing what to think of it all and feeling like I wasn’t doing enough… learning that through it all God is still God. So much of my human thinking needed to be abandoned to not get overwhelmed and run away from things I didn’t understand, things that in a month I could not change. In many ways I had to abandon my past ways of thinking… (source)

Sometimes the breakers of life hit us, and we’re overwhelmed.  The friend I mentioned earlier was overwhelmed, in a good way.  Emily was overwhelmed, in a frightening way.  Both of them cried.  Life was too much to process.  Their emotions couldn’t cope with the circumstances. 

But I think it’s in these times we gain new perspectives, new appreciation for life, new awareness of God, and new resolve to fight for the future.

Lord of the Flies

flies_cover

There are 17 books in my reading stack. I just counted. Granted, some of them are library books. And some have been in the stack a long time. Lord of the Flies was one of the latter. Nevertheless, I finally finished it, as I do most in my stack. I like to complete things I start.

In Lord of the Flies, I think William Golding put together an entertaining and thought provoking story, it is a compelling piece of fiction. Having said that, it did take me nearly two years to finish, and I might have skimmed a little in the second half.

Set in the 1940’s, a group of young English boys six to twelve years old find themselves deserted on a tropical island after the plane they are flying crashes. There are no adult survivors. The book describes the boys’ formation of a miniature society, and the eventual breakdown and collapse of that society.

By Golding’s own admission, Lord of the Flies has a well defined plot line, calculated to provoke thought. Hence, it has been categorized as a fable, implying a moral to the story. Fable aside, I found the narrative interesting on its own accord (though containing disturbing elements).

On the last page of the book, the main protagonist weeps for “the end of innocence [and the] darkness of man’s heart…” I would suggest an alternate title to this book might be, The Loss of Innocence.

An obvious point from the book is the innate evil inside us humans. Golding suggests that, left to our own devices (sans the curbs of societal boundaries) we would tend downward, following out natural urges to the lowest denominator. To wit: savagery, even head hunting.

I found Simon the most interesting character, though he’s not the main character. Literary critic James R. Baker made this observation:

“Simon, call him prophet, seer or saint, is blessed and cursed by those intuitions which threaten the ritual of the tribe. In whatever culture the saint appears, he is doomed by his unique insights.”

Golding summarizes Simon’s role in this quote from an interview:

“So Simon is the little boy who goes off into the bushes to pray. He is the only one to take any notice of the little ‘uns-who actually hands them food, gets food from places where they can’t reach it and hands it down to them. He is the one who is tempted of the devil: he has this interview with the pig’s head on the stick with Beelzebub, or Satan, the devil, whatever you’d like to call it, and the devil says, “Clear off, you’re not wanted. Just go back to the others. We’ll forget the whole thing.”

Well, this is, of course, the perennial temptation to the saint, as I conceive it, to just go and be like ordinary men and let the whole thing slide. Instead of that, Simon goes up the hill and takes away from the island, removes, discovers what this dead hand of history is that’s over them, undoes the threads so that the wind can blow this dead thing away from the island, and then when he tries to take the good news back to ordinary human society, he’s crucified for it…”

The unique epiphany Simon had was this: the irrational superstitious fears of the boys would never be alleviated by hunting down and destroying a physical “thing,” because the object of their fear was within themselves.

Says William R. Mueller, in his analysis of the book:

“The ‘ancient, inescapable recognition’ is that the Lord of the Flies is a part of Simon, of all the boys on the island, of every man. And he is the reason ‘things are what they are.’ He is the demonic essence whose inordinate hunger, never assuaged, seeks to devour all men, to bend them to his will. He is, in Goldings novel, accurately identified only by Simon. And history has made clear, as the Lord of the Flies affirms, that the Simons are not wanted, that they do spoil what is quaintly called the ‘fun’ of the world, and that antagonists will ‘do’ them…

He [Simon] carries with him a deeper revelation; namely, that the Beast (the Lord of the Flies) is no overwhelming extrinsic force, but a potentially fatal inner itching, recognition of which is a first step toward its annihilation.

The ultimate purpose of the novel is not to leave its readers in a state of paralytic horror. The intention is certainly to impress upon them man’s, any man’s, miraculous ingenuity in perpetrating evil; but it is also to impress upon them the gift of a saving recognition which, to Golding, is apparently the only saving recognition. An orthodox phrase for this recognition is the ‘conviction of sin,’ an expression which grates on many contemporary ears, and yet one which the author seemingly does not hold in derision.”

Indeed, lecturing at John Hopkins University in the spring of 1962, Golding bluntly stated that Lord of the Flies was, in short, a study of sin. He expounds,

“The theme [of Lord of the Flies] is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system, however apparently logical or respectable.”

For a book that is required reading in schools across our land, I was surprised at the orthodox overtones. For instance, the obvious message that man is basically evil, rather than basically good. Or that the first step towards redemption is recognizing that evil within us. I believe this realization is the first step towards reconciliation with God as well. Both Jesus and John the Baptist preached, “Repent!” Repentance implies we have something we need to repent over.

Though Lord of the Flies was entertaining, I really started digging it when I began reading critics discussions regarding its literary value. There were layers of meaning woven through the story I had missed in the straight reading.

I became fascinated with how Golding put so much thought into every element of the story. Nothing was written without effect. Even the way individual sentences were worded often was not accidental. The speech of the boys subtly changed over time and conversations frequently held double entendres and innuendo.

In a related vein, I’ve began studying the Gospel of Mark recently and similarly, what has become fascinating to me about Mark is its’ literary quality. There is a flow and a point to everything written, like in Golding’s classic.

When you look under the hood of Lord of the Flies, you begin realizing the author is no dummy. Similarly, when you look under the hood of Mark, you begin realizing that author is no dummy either. There are depths of meaning in Mark that are not obvious from the casual reading.

Ok, enough on this. I wonder how many people have voluntarily written a review on Lord of the Flies?  yikes, nerd alert.