Helplessness – Strike 3

I haven’t written a thought lately, and the time has come. (Note the time of this post – I’ve been up since 3:30 this morning.) For all my avid readers (both of you), I apologize for the lapse.

Strike 1: ?I’m a federal bureaucrat. I confess. Forgive me. (You realize that since early 2009, there are more people in the USA with government jobs local-state-federal than private-sector? You don’t? Check it out. But I digress.) ?In early November I was faced with a problem. I needed money for a project – money that was actually there, sorta. Without the money – immediately – I was going to have a lapse in user support for one of the systems I run. I could not get my hands on the money. We had a new system for creating and managing purchase requests, from whence money arises. I hadn’t completed the training and so couldn’t use it. In September I had a colleague prepare a PR in the new system, but it got all fouled up – put on the wrong project and ultimately left sitting. Couldn’t use that PR. On September 30 our budget system was shut down for three weeks to cut over to a new budget system to complement the new PR system. NO action on any money in October – while the fuse on this project burned. ?So here I am mid-November with a real, hard, fast deadline approaching, a deadline that affected others’ livelihoods – no PR, no work. No work, no beans in the pot.

I ?felt utterly helpless. As I drove in to work I literally felt like a bug caught in a spider web. I have NEVER felt like that before. EVER. Really, ever. I thought about that. Never, ever felt like that before.

Our “funds-certifying official,” the wonderful clerk who manages all of our money and PRs, saved the day. I work with some really, really good people. Hard-working, dedicated, smart. I also work around a few people who “have good gov-mint jobs” and wouldn’t know what work looked like if it smacked them in the face. Harriett is the former. She takes delight in her work, and she’s good at it. After exhausting about six different approaches to shaking the money loose from the old PR, (at which point many would have thrown up their hands and said, “There’s nothing I can do.”) she worked with my managers and borrowed some available funds from another source. Above and beyond. In my helplessness, I was forced to rely on others. It wasn’t such a bad feeling.

Strike 2: Have you ever read Les Miserables? Not watched the movie, but read the book? Not a comic book, but THE book. OK, neither have I, at least not as written in French by Victor Hugo, but I am reading an English translation. I started it several years ago, but it’s heavy, and it wore me out lifting it. I laid it down when Fantine sold her front teeth to pay the Thenadiers their ransom for Cossette’s care. Ugh. Gives me the willies, just thinking about the despair that would drive one to do that. I might add that the first chapter, the first 50 pages, are devoted to a description of the Bishop who redeems Jean Valjean with the candlesticks. If you want to be encouraged and challenged, read that!

Les Miserables is a very interesting novel. To describe the character of Mr. Thenadier, the lout with whom Fantine leaves Cossette as she pursues work, Hugo writes one of the best histories of the Battle of Waterloo I’ve ever read. Now, I’m not a historian, so I confess probably the most I’ve ever read was a paragraph here and there in those Western Civ tomes in high school and college. However, the incredible sequence of events that caused Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo is just almost beyond belief. The minor things that determine history. In the same vein, Hugo, while describing the convent where Jean Valjean and Cossette wind up for a season, spends some time considering the nature of convents and their place in history.

Did you know that some monks allowed themselves to be buried alive? Neither did I. ?(Google monastery buried alive – for some evidence) ?Hugo cites the small cell at the remains of a Belgian monastery, a crypt “too short to lie down in, too low to stand in,” and placed near a river where there was always the threat of inundation.

Reflecting on this, I found myself again with an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Twice in a matter of a couple of weeks, I experienced a feeling, a milieu even, that I had never had before. Can you imagine being placed in a box like that – indefinitely? The thought makes my heart race, the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and my body simply becoming generally weak. Me! The “rugged individual” American man. Nope.

Strike 3: (Also see my other post on giving thanks.) We still live sorta out in the country and get our water from a well. From time to time it fails, something goes wrong. Said failure usually means I have to pull the pump up out of the 300′ deep well to repair or replace it. We’ve lived here 24 years; had to do it 6 or 8 times now (not always a pump replacement – they last a bit longer than that, thank goodness). What makes this one different is that I’m approaching 62 and not quite as strong as I was 24 years ago, or 5 for that matter. Dealing with the well pump is also really a two- or three-person job, and Kathleen’s vision problems and arthritis disqualify her as an “able assistant.” Calling “the well guy” means $300-$1000 in costs, depending on the problem. Money I’d just as soon not spend. But where do I get help? Neighbors? Perhaps. Kinda hate to ask them. Someone from the church? I confess – I’m not really sure whom I might call and inconvenience. I hate to depend on others. But I think I’m going to have to.

“And y’er out!” Why am I writing? What am I trying to say? Simply this – the very idea that we can get along alone is a lie. The “three strikes” is because I should have written this immediately after the PR$$ problem that so impacted me, but I put it off. Then Les Miserables. And now the water situation. I don’t think God cursed my well pump to get my attention, but I do believe he wanted me to write about my reflections. I’ll say it again – the very notion that we can get along just fine alone is a lie. God gives us our very breath. Everything we have is his provision. He also designed the family and the church as community. What are Jesus’ two simple commands? “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is action. Our culture is destroying all meaning of community (unless it’s community organizers fomenting discontent). Community: family, neighbors, church family, work friends. Instead of relying on one another in close inter-dependence, we strive either to be self-reliant or to demand that the government take care of it. Both those paths lead to dead ends.

I remember vividly getting out of my truck and heading into the building to pursue the PR money back in November. I was a bug caught in a spider web. You know what? I gave thanks to God that in my utter helplessness he is my provider, the lover of my soul, the Creator of the Universe who gives me life and peace and joy. I did then. I do now. I don’t do it enough.

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