Dust to Dust

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” ~ Genesis 3:19

It’s the time of Lent in the Christian tradition. According to information on UMC.org, the United Methodist Church website:

“Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others.”

Increasingly, Lent has also become about adding to. In addition to things we all need to give up, there are often things we need to add to our lives. That can mean giving of our time working for the good of others. It can also mean, however, slowing down enough to really participate in Lent on a spiritual level beyond rote ceremony. Ceremony wholly by itself is rather meaningless. What makes it meaningful year after year is discovering what the ceremony means to each of us in our own spiritual path. As with Christmas, we can treat it as a day and then back to business as usual or we can celebrate Advent re-remembering the meaning it has for each of us.

Lent has gotten me thinking about ashes and dust – as in ashes to ashes, dust to dust. If we could all remember that we came from dust and will one day return to dust, perhaps we would all treat our dusty home considerably better. I’ve never been a big fan of the idea of reincarnation; much of the journey through this life has been rough enough so perhaps I don’t feel a particular need to try it again. Having said that, though, it occurs to me that this is very much a part of the meaning of the idea of dust to dust and so also Lent.

At some point, each of us will breathe our last breath and our dusty shell will gradually return to the earth. I’m a fan of recycling and it occurs to me that each of us is likely made up of a part of many, many ancestors from eons past. That means, naturally, this would include those pesky mosquitoes each of us has swatted down through the ages or the meat we have eaten.

I find it quite satisfying knowing that I will help a future generation of life by providing a small portion of the dust needed to put together that future generation. In that way, each of us will be reincarnated countless times until the end of time. The fact that a bit of my dust may end up as part of the body of a dung beetle makes no difference whatever.

My point is this: we are all connected to everything else on earth and in the universe. We are supposed to be here as stewards of the earth, not to have control over the earth. If we could do away with the idea that some of us deserve more than another – we don’t – we would find that peace would naturally follow and we’d stop the wanton destruction of our home.

Perhaps for Lent this year, we should make mud pies – if only to be able to watch them return to dust.

Unnatural Causes

Copyright 1983 by Benjamin Eakin

I awoke to bright sunlight as it streamed in through the translucent shieldwindow of my detention cube. It was nine a.m. Things were generally rather lax here. No audio tones to signal wake up time, meal time, recreation time, etc. All in all, if you overlooked the fact that I was locked in, Detention Center XIV wasn’t such a bad place.

Growing up in the Outland, I had read about the centers, called prisons then, of the mid-twentieth century. Compared to them, this center seemed like a picnic in the park. That was an expression from the mid-twentieth that I had learned also from my studies. It was one that would mean nothing to the Metropolitan people as they would never dream of actually eating out of doors in the forbidden green spaces. It even seemed odd to me, as the green spaces in the Outland were too dangerous to linger in.

Freedom is a relative term. In these detention centers, one could partake of any of several forms of recreation, mostly physical. Exercising the body seemed of utmost importance here; the Faculty (their euphemism for guards) had no need for sick residents. Mental exercise was discouraged at all times. Of course, physical exercise requires the coordination capabilities of the brain, but that was as far as the Faculty allowed it to go.

Physical contact among the residents was absolutely forbidden. This was accomplished easily by the use of wrist shockers. Upon entering Detention Center XIV, each resident was fitted with the metal bracelet complete with ID number and the capacity to deliver a numbing electrical shock to the wearer foolish enough to attempt to touch another. The wrist shockers were activated during all times that the residents were allowed free access to each other. At night, when each resident was sealed into their private cubes, the shockers were deactivated to permit such things as showering without the possibility of frying oneself. The devices were not without their problems.

For reasons unknown to me, my shocker was deactivated for only a brief time each day to allow me to clean myself. Even in the privacy of my cube, the device was kept active. No one would give me an explanation why this was so.

As to the reason for my confinement in this place, I hadn’t a clue. Several days had passed since my arrival and despite insistence on an explanation for my presence, none had been offered. Having been given a demonstration of what happened to any object attempting to pass through the shieldwindows of this complex, I had decided to bide my time. The sound of searing flesh and the stench of singeing fur had convinced me that the Faculty meant me to stay put. I pitied the poor creature they had used for the convincing. All it had wanted was the bit of food on the other side of the window.

As I lounged on the bed in my new home, I watched fascinated at the myriad of colors that the shieldwindow produced on the walls. It reminded me of the way the mist produced an array of color after a rain in the Outland. The weather was still unpredictable there as the Metropolitan government made no attempt to control it outside the cities. My people were left to their own devices in most respects. It was strange to me that something so destructive could diffuse light in such a pleasing manner.

An audio tone signaled me that someone was entering my cube. There was a delay mechanism built into the doors to give the occupant ample time to make himself presentable for a member of the Faculty. This meant making sure that you were clothed in a manner considered acceptable to them, their sensibilities were offended quite easily by the kind of resident at this facility.

In the doorway stood Landis, a lesser member of the Faculty. It was the duty of the lesser members to attend to the everyday needs of the residents and to usher them to and from consultations with the higher Faculty. He was clothed in the tight-fitting uniform of the lesser Faculty, a flesh colored fabric that clung to his body yet gave no hint of gender. Along with the slick hairless scalp that was common of all Metropolitans of both sexes, the effect of sexual neutrality was complete.

It was said that the bodies of all Metropolitans were totally smooth, without the slightest hint of hair. However, the modest style of clothing in the cities would make that impossible for the casual onlooker to determine. Some form of clothing covered every available inch of skin but for the head.

“The Committee wishes to see you, John 45289,” he said.

In this place you lost only a part of your identity. You were allowed to keep your given name, but the surname was replaced with the number assigned to the file kept on you in the Control Room. It was my understanding that lesser members were highly paid for their jobs as it was considered hazardous duty. The lesser members were the only ones to come in actual contact with the residents. No physical contact, of course, but operating in the same air space. Within breathing distance, as it were.

“Will they explain the reason for my visit, then?” I asked.

“I have only been told to bring you to them. I am not told the nature of their business, nor do I wish to know it,” he replied.

Landis ran a hand across the smooth surface of his head in a nervous gesture I had encountered before. The Metropolitans seemed unanimously uneasy in the presence of an Outlander.

As we walked down the halls toward the Control Area, I noticed another of the lesser members coming in our direction accompanying a resident back to his cube. I had seen “her” when I first arrived, but only for a moment.

I say “her” because it appeared in the most subtle way that this member was in fact a woman. Despite the stern look that all these people seemed to carry like a weapon, “she” seemed softer than—Landis, for instance. It seemed to me that the neutral uniform didn’t completely do its work of wiping out the sexuality of this member. There appeared to be two small breasts hidden beneath the fabric and the petite, lithe body portrayed femininity. Though “she” sported the same baby smooth head as Landis, I was of the opinion that this lesser member was indeed female.

Our eyes met for a moment and I thought hers lingered briefly before she glanced away.

Finally, we reached the end of the corridor. This door was the only way in or out of the inner complex. Once you had entered through it, there was no escape.

Landis spoke to the security scanner in front of us.

“I have John 43289 as the Committee requested.”

The door slid open instantly. We passed through.

Landis pointed to a door on our left.

“Go through that, be seated, and wait,” he said.

I walked to the door as ordered. It slid open for me and I entered a small room. The door slid shut behind me. I sat down in the chair that was the single furnishing.

As I sat wondering what would happen next, the Committee appeared in front of me on the wall. The wall was actually not. It was some sort of barrier that had been opaqued in a manner to pretend as a wall until the forces on the other side deemed it appropriate to make themselves known. I realized that our meeting was to take place through this barrier for the protection, I assumed, of the Committee members. The chance of some infection was surely thought unnecessary.

The Committee seated behind a desk consisted of three members. Three sexless Metropolitans dressed in the crimson red of the higher members.

“Good morning, John 45289. I trust your stay with us hasn’t been too unpleasant so far,” said the one in the middle.

“Aside from not knowing why I am here and the fact that I am not at liberty to leave, I have been quite comfortable, thank you,” I replied dryly.

“Do you mean to tell us that you honestly have no idea why you were brought here?” said the one on the left with some surprise.

“Not a clue. Honestly.”

The middle one spoke again, “We have looked carefully at the data in your dossier, John 43289, and, frankly, we were of the opinion that you were more intelligent than that.”

“I suppose that I have always thought of myself as less than stupid, yes.”

“It says here,” the middle one continued, as though I had said nothing, “that you were born in the Outlands in 2116. Unlike most of your kind, it says that you were educated in a formal sense by biological parents much in the same way that the people of long ago were taught. Why do you think that is so?”

“Life in the Outlands is difficult and dangerous as I am sure you must be aware. My parents were proud people who wanted me to carry on a tradition that their ancestors had thought important for many generations.”

“They were, no doubt, aware that formal education of the mind among your people is expressly forbidden by the Metropolitan government,” said the one on the right.

“My education helped me survive life in the Outlands. I cannot understand why the Metropolitan government could feel that to be dangerous. My education has gotten me…”

The one in the middle interrupted, “Your education, John 43289, has gotten you here.”

I didn’t finish my sentence.

“It is not wise to question the government. The laws concerning the Outlands are for the safety of all, Metropolitans and Outlanders alike,” the middle one continued. “It is of greatest importance to mankind as a whole that our two peoples stay apart. Your biological parents surely knew well the laws governing the separation of our peoples. Had they not already died of natural causes in the Outlands, they would have been sought out by the Disease Control Police and destroyed for their crimes.”

“Why am I here?” I asked solemnly.

“We will ask the questions, if you please,” the one on the left said sharply. “You could have infected the entire city by now if we had not intercepted you.”

“Why am I here?” I asked again.

“Very well,” said the middle one. “The charge against you is covered by Section 567298, Article 15 of the Outlander Penal code. You are charged with unlawful entry into the Metropolitan cities. The penalty for this can be deportation to the Outlands, continued imprisonment or vaporization. The extent of your crime is under review at this time and there are other indictments under consideration. Good day.”

The barrier became a wall again.

Dumbfounded, I stood at the sound of the door sliding open. Landis stood waiting for me.

“Surely, Landis, they cannot do this. They mean to hold me here and possibly even kill me for something that should not even be their business. In the Outlands…”

“This is not the Outland,” Landis said with some disgust.

I was escorted back to my cube in silence. When we got there, he said, “You are free to go to the recreation areas now if you wish.”

He turned and walked away.

I slumped to my bed in dismay. I had known it would be dangerous to attempt to enter the cities, but I had no idea that it would land me in detention so quickly. The police, it seemed, were very effective here. I stayed staring at the walls for a long time trying to understand how this could be happening.

Later, after the evening meal, I tried to talk to some of the other residents. Just as the members of the Faculty had seemed reluctant to get too close to me, the residents made it known rather quickly that even they wanted little to do with me. Finally, I managed to find one elderly resident who would talk with me. I guess he figured he had nothing to lose as I discovered he was to be vaporized for his crime.

“But why are you to be exterminated?” I asked. “It’s ironic, isn’t it?” he said. “At my age, you would think it wouldn’t matter any more.”

“What wouldn’t matter?”

He motioned me close. As I leaned in to hear what he had to say, I felt the biting pain of an electrical shock traveling through my body. I had gotten too close.

The old man hadn’t fared any better. The shock had sent him reeling to the floor. I started to help him up, then realized that it would only mean another, more severe shock.

“Are you all right?” I inquired.

He looked stunned for a moment, then slowly rose to his feet.

“I’ll be okay, let’s go to your room. We can talk in more safety there.”

I headed for my cube with the old man following uncertainly behind. As I entered the room, I turned to see if he was still with me. I saw that he was looking both directions.

“One can’t be too careful, you know.”

He entered the room then and closed the door behind him. Residents were capable of opening and closing their own doors at all times during the day, unless the Faculty decided to seal you inside for one reason or another. The shockers guaranteed that no improper behavior transpired between the residents.

“We can talk more freely here. The Faculty rarely monitors the rooms unless there has been some sort of trouble in the complex,” he said.

I sat on my bed, motioning him to the chair opposite it. “All my life,” he said, “I have been different from the others in the cities. I learned early in life that it was wrong to be different in this way. As a small child, I was taught to know how one was to be in this society. Still, the process of life organism management was in an infancy of its own.”

“I don’t think I understand,” I interrupted. “Did your parents teach you these things? My parents taught me that it was important to develop a sense of oneself to survive in the world.”

The old man fidgeted nervously.

“No, you don’t understand. I have no parents in the sense that you mean. No one in the cities does. Reproduction here is strictly asexual.”

My mouth dropped open at this point.

“Asexual! You mean to tell me that the entire population of the cities originates in the laboratory?”

“For as long as any alive can remember.”

“But what form of birth control is used that there are no live births?”

“None is needed,” he replied.

“But how? In the Outlands, the population grows continuously. The men and women there copulate like rabbits. The only reason that we are not totally overrun by people is the harsh condition of our lives. The infant mortality rate must run close to 80%. Even if you manage to grow to adulthood, the chances of growing old there are slim.”

“I think I understand what you mean by copulation, John, but in the cities there is no such thing. The laws of the land prohibit it.”

“Laws? How could laws prevent it? Sexual contact is a natural function. Even without the need to propagate, the urges of pleasure ensure that it will continue.”

The old man went on a little wearily, as though talking to a child who refused to comprehend, “Even without the laws of the government, the laws of our nature prevent us from the act. We are taught in the nurseries that physical contact of any kind is discouraged. Sexual contact is taught to be not only unnecessary, but illegal.”

“And this teaching is so effective that the urges for sexual contact are completely defeated here? I find that very hard to believe.”

At this point, a voice came over the communication box on the wall.

“The complex will shut down for the evening in five minutes. Residents are advised to return to their cubes at once.”

The old man stood up to go.

“I will speak with you further tomorrow. I must return to my cube or risk trouble for myself,” he said and turned to leave.

After he was gone, I heard the distinct sound that the door made when it had been sealed by the Control Room. For the evening, I was locked in.

I lay thinking about what the old man had said for a long time, unable to sleep. None of it seemed possible. I was, of course, aware of the difference in the appearance of Metropolitans to the Outlanders. Still, I had never been told much about them except for the fact that they were masters of our fates and were to be feared.

I had also heard the rumors of the local people around my village. The stories had been too incredible for me to believe. Certainly, the stories about the hairless bodies had been true, but I could now vouch for the fact that these people did have genitalia. Had I not spent the night with one of the Metropolitan women on the very first night in the cities? She had surely had everything necessary for the act. It was true that her breasts were a bit smaller than I was used to, but that was a genetic thing and was not uncommon in the Outland. Had she also been taught the laws that the old man spoke of?

Sleep finally came to my troubled mind and I dreamt of hairless, sexless bodies hovering over me through the night.

The audio tone at the door woke me from my nightmares. Before I had a chance to dress myself, the door slid open and I saw that it was the lesser member of the Faculty that I had assumed to be female. Without thinking, I stood up.

With a look of total horror, she pressed the button on her belt that controlled the door and it slid shut again. It was only then that I realized that I was completely naked.

The voice from the communication box addressed me, “John 45289, you are ordered to dress yourself to be escorted before the Committee.”

It was apparent that I had unnerved this member somewhat and was to be punished for it.

When I was dressed, I pressed the button to open the door. Nothing happened.

After a moment, it opened. I saw that my escort had released the lock after checking with the Control Room to make sure that I was presentable.

“You will accompany me,” she said.

We proceeded down the corridors toward the Control Area. As we walked, I observed her closely from the rear. Her boyish figure intrigued me. It suddenly occurred to me that she might just have a boyish figure because she was in fact a boy. Now, I was unnerved. The cities were very confusing.

Once again, I was directed to wait in the small room. I waited. The wait was longer this time.

Presently, the wall dissolved as it had before and the Committee was seated in front of me once again.

“John 43289, in the future, you will see to it that you are properly dressed at all times,” said the middle one.

“Even when I sleep?” I inquired.

“Even when you sleep,” the middle one reprimanded. We cannot have you offending the members of this complex for your own personal comfort.”

I nodded my assent.

The middle one continued, “The sanitation sensors in your cube have informed us that you are not keeping yourself as antiseptic as you should. In the future, you will bathe twice a day in the sterilizing spray and remove the hair from your face at those times.”

“Shave twice a day?” “That is correct. It would be better for all concerned if it were more often, but we have determined that it would be too discomforting to you. We are not without feelings, you know.”

I did not know.

“I feel we should go on with the business at hand,” said the one on the left. Try as I might, I could not tell whether the three members were in the same places as before or if they had switched places.

The one in the middle nodded and motioned to the one on the right to begin.

He said, “The investigation into your escapade has been completed. We now are in possession of all the information we need. Aside from the original charges, you are to be indicted on several other counts.”

“It is unbelievable to us,” said the left one, “that you would dare to enter the cities in the first place. The law against it is made well known to the people of the Outland. No one has even attempted it in many years, much less succeeded. As though that were not enough, you have had the gall to…”

The left one hesitated, as though he could not speak of such things.

The middle one went on, “Along with the original charge and a small host of others that are trivial by comparison, you are now charged with Section 567298, Article One of the Outlander Penal Code. That charge is physical, sexual contact with a person of the cities. whereas the original charge carried the possibility of deportation, this charge carries only one punishment. You are to be vaporized.”

The Committee was gone.

Once again, I was escorted back to my cube.

“You are instructed to proceed with your sterilization bath. You will find that the devices needed for removal of your facial hair have been placed in your cube.”

The boyish member turned and walked away.

I could only wonder at the point of keeping me clean if I was to be executed. The door to my cube slid shut and I heard the seal lock into place. At the same time, I noticed that the activation light on my shocker had gone dark.

I undressed and dutifully stepped into the bathing chamber. As I did, the sterilizing spray spewed forth from the nozzle. I had learned that it was best to keep the eyes closed as the spray had a stinging effect. A voice from the communication box informed me that the can on the ledge was a depilatory cream for use on my face. I realized that the scanners were monitoring me to insure compliance.

After finishing the cleansing bath, I dried myself, dressed and went to the door. I pressed the button. A voice asked me to wait. I felt the scanner give me the once over to see that I was properly attired. As the door opened, the activation light on my shocker came back on.

I began a search of the complex, looking for the old man. I was frantic to have him explain things to me. It seemed that no one else thought it necessary to do so. when I found him, he slouched away from me as from fear.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“You have become dangerous now,” he said.

“Dangerous? How do you know that?”

“News travels fast here, despite the efforts of the Faculty. You have been labeled an urgent case.”

He turned to go.

“Wait, you have to help me. They’re going to kill me and I don’t even know why.”

Without turning around, he said, “Go back to your room. I will come there shortly when I see that it is safe.”

With that, he walked away.

I waited in my cube for what seemed an eternity trying to analyze the events that were unfolding. How could they think I was so dangerous? Why was it so urgent that I he vaporized to protect society?

When the old man appeared at my door, I got up to greet him.

“Close the door quickly,” he said.

I did.

“You must realize that even though I am an old man, I value my life. I keep hoping that the decision about my death penalty will be reversed. After all, I worked hard for the government all those years in the research department of the Genetics Complex. Being with you can only serve to endanger my position further.

The old man spoke quickly with fear in his voice.

“I can’t stay long. You will probably be scanned periodically from now on.”

“Then, please,” I pleaded, “tell me what I have done that is so terrible that I should be killed for it. What could you have possibly done that they would kill you?”

“It is clear to me now that the education you received from your parents was based on what can only be considered ancient history now,” he said. “It is obvious that you know nothing of the more recent history of this planet.”

“Outside of the fact that we in the Outlands are forbidden to enter the cities, I suppose I don’t.”

“As I told you yesterday, I have known all my life that I was different. Up until very recently, I have been able to keep that a secret. Since physical contact is thought unimportant and people are very private about their own bodily functions, it was not all that difficult to keep my secret.”

“What secret? What are you talking about?”

The old man quickly released the fasteners that held his clothing on. As the garment dropped away from his body, I saw that, aside from the fact that there was not a hair on his body, he looked completely normal in every way. I was at a loss as to the reason for his sudden disrobing in my presence.

Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he said, “This is by way of explanation.”

I looked more puzzled.

“Take a close look,” he demanded.

I had already seen more than I had wanted to see.

Disgusted, he refastened the clothing and went on, “In the late twentieth century, a plague engulfed the entire world. What we have here in the cities and the Outlands are all that is left. The diseases that are associated with physical and especially sexual contact had become uncontrollable. The science of the day had, up to that point, coped with the most common of the diseases, but new strains began appearing faster and faster. The overuse of antibiotics had diminished their effectiveness to a point that they became useless. New antibodies were being developed all the time, but, finally, time ran out. The loss of life was horrendous. Fear was so widespread that normal propagation had almost ceased. The fear of physical contact was destroying the worlds populations.

“The possibilities to recreate life in the laboratory had been known for some time even then. In order to survive, the job of producing children to replace the dying population fell to the scientists.”

“And how did the laws come into effect?” I wanted to know.

“Preservation of the species. It did no good for the scientific community to create new life if that life simply went out and infected itself.”

“But, the Outlanders. We have always reproduced ourselves by physical contact.”

“During the years that the laws were being instigated, most of the people flocked to the cities in hopes of being saved by the doctors there. Most did not survive. As the genetic engineering began to produce infants with noticeably different characteristics, the government decided that those who remained alive with the old characteristics should not be allowed to live. The possibility for reinfection was thought too great. A campaign of systematic slaughter began. The few who escaped headed back into the country. The ones of those who survived the elements and the ravages of the diseases are the ancestors of all Outlanders.”

“But you said that you are different from the rest. I don’t understand. It is obvious that you have the same hairless body of the Metropolitan, but aside from that, I couldn’t see any difference between you and me.”

“That is the problem. The genetic engineering didn’t stop with merely producing children in the laboratory. The fear that the infections would start all over made the government determined to see to it that it could not happen again. Complete sterilization of the human species was considered unwise. What was needed was a way to make copulation not only difficult, but impossible.”

“But how can that be. If you will pardon me, from what I saw, you are equipped better than I for the job.”

“John, you are even denser than I thought. That is exactly the point. The scientists worked with the genes over a long period until they finally produced genetically perfect males with the one exception. While the genitalia is still present for purposes of elimination, it is minute and incapable of achieving an erection. Even in the unlikely event that the erection is accomplished, its size prevents any penetration.”

“But, you are normal,” I protested.

“In the Outlands, I would be almost normal except for the absence of hair. In the Metropolitan areas, I am a dangerous criminal. Haven’t you ever wondered why the Metropolitan appears sexually neutral even in the tight fitting clothing here?”

I was horrified at the thought of the genetic trick that had been perpetrated on the males of this society. Could fear be so strong a motive?

“I understand in part, but if you aren’t capable…”

“But, I am capable. That is what finally gave me away. The Disease Control Police are everywhere these days. Some minor infections have been surfacing recently and the patrols have been stepped up. It is not something I can control. It was my misfortune to be noticed one day during what are now routine inspections.”

“And so you will die.”

“More than likely. If I don’t leave here, I will most surely die. You are marked now, John, and contact of any kind with you will be viewed with suspicion from now on.”

“But, how could the Police have found out about me and the Metropolitan girl?”

“Fear is a strong control measure. Occasionally, there are reports of woman in our society who still have some sexual desires. More than likely, she sought you out rather than your finding her. In the end, though, the Police have a strong network of information. After picking you up, they most certainly began an investigation into your whereabouts from the time you set foot in the cities. Fear of retaliation from the Police leads most in this society to reveal what they know. Someone simply saw you with the girl and reported it. Upon questioning the girl, if she did not tell them what they needed to know, they would simply put her through a penetration scanner. People have been known to be put to death on the suspicion of masturbation. The scanner can sort out the difference between sexual penetration and self-penetration. Either way, it portends a fact that the government does not want to exist. The redevelopment of the human being in the cities as a sexual being is to be stopped at all costs.”

“And the girl?”

“Most probably she has already been vaporized. In a way, she is considered more of a threat to the cities than you.”

It was all too much to take in. I studied my feet for a moment trying to digest the information he had been giving me. When I looked up, he was moving for the door.

“I must leave, John. I have jeopardized myself enough. The only reason I came was that I felt that you should at least know why you were to die.”

As he left, he turned and said, “I am sorry, John … for all of us.”

I didn’t see the old man again. After his visit, I began to understand all the things that had puzzled me. The Metropolitan government had obviously decided at some point that the people of the Outland would pose no threat to the cities as long as they stayed in the country, far away. The laws were designed completely for the protection of the Metropolitans. The Outlanders were to be left to themselves to live or die at will. As long as they stayed ignorant, they were controllable.

I did not leave the cube after that. At my request, my meals were served to me there. What little exercise I got came from the incessant pacing I did back and forth in the small room. .It was all an insane joke. It had to be.

The only contact I had now was with either Landis or the member with the boyish figure who I learned was named Alex. The sense of femininity was still present when Alex was around and I found that I was becoming quite attracted to whatever Alex was. The only joy I had left came when she (?) arrived at my cube with a meal or some other necessity.

Alex had even begun to talk to me on occasion in a civil manner. I got the impression that a bond was forming. It was a weak bond, I was certain, but I knew it was there.

Sleep had become more of a problem as the days passed. There was no clue from the Committee as to when I was to die. I was left dangling, waiting for the inevitable to happen.

This particular evening, when Alex brought my evening meal, she (I still wasn’t totally certain, but it made it easier on me) seemed edgy. This seemed odd, for she had come to appear at ease in my presence. She did not stay with me as I ate as had become her custom. Instead, she left the room nervously almost as soon as she had delivered my meal.

As she left, she turned and said, “Sleep lightly tonight.”

When she was gone, I worried that she knew something about this night that I had not been told. This was very likely since I was rarely told anything. Still, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps people were vaporized in the middle of the night in order to minimize the impact it would have on the other residents.

Her parting words had assured that I would not only sleep lightly, but fitfully. In a half sleep, I dreamed of the molecules that made up my body being turned into something less than dust. The next dream was stranger still.

In this dream, Alex had entered the room, crossed over to me and placed a hand on my shoulder. She was telling me to get up and get dressed in something warm. She was saying that the cities were in what passed for winter. The government felt that artificial changes of season, though mild, were beneficial.

I sat straight up in the bed as I became aware that I was not dreaming. Alex was really in the room, kneeling beside me. Her hand was on my shoulder. I glanced down at my wrist. The activation light had been turned off.

“Did you hear me?” she said quietly. “We must hurry.”

In a daze, I got up and grabbed another of the resident uniforms that hung in the room. I slipped it on over the clothing I was wearing.

“Where are we going?”

“There is no time for questions now,” she said. “I’m going to get you out of the complex.”

“But why?” I insisted.

“Listen, you fool,” she screamed softly, “I don’t have time to talk about this now. You are scheduled to be vaporized in the morning and I would be killed instantly if I was found here with you. Now move!”

She pointed toward the window.

“Are you crazy?” I said. “We’d be fried in an instant.”

Alex pressed a button on the control pack at her belt and pushed me forward. The shieldwindow had dissolved.

“If someone notices that this shield has gone down, an alarm will sound and backup shields will be activated. Now, get through that window.”

When I hesitated, she climbed through the window in front of me. I practically dove out behind her. Just as I cleared the window, she pressed another button on the control pack and the shieldwindow reactivated.

She began to run away from the complex and I followed. After dodging our way through the shadows, we reached an alley between two tall buildings.

Alex turned to me and said, “Take off your clothes.”

Having learned not to question, I stripped off the uniforms. The artificially chill night air hit my skin and I flinched with discomfort.

Alex disappeared for a moment behind a waste disposal container, then reappeared holding more clothing.

“You will be less conspicuous in these,” she said. “We will be in danger now until we can get to the border. We may have to strap that down somehow,” she said, pointing at my crotch, “but I think we can fool them long enough to get away.”

“Away to where?” I asked, slipping into my new attire.

“The Outlands, of course.”

“The Outlands! But why?”

Without a word, Alex reached behind the container and retrieved more clothing. Quickly, she unfastened the uniform. As the clothing fell away, I saw that I had been right. Alex was female for certain. Two small, firm breasts stared at me as she kicked off the uniform. There was an obvious lack of outward genitalia between her smooth legs.

Still, I didn’t understand why she would take this risk for me or why she would want to go to the Outlands.

And then I understood.

As she raised her arms to slip on the new clothing, I first spied the sweat glistening on her skin from the run. Next, the pieces fell into place. There, under her arms, were dark tufts of hair.

I walked across to her and raised my hand to run it along the top of her head. It was just as I thought it would be. The smooth scalp was no longer smooth at this late hour. A soft stubble covered the tight skin.

Alex looked up at me with a sly smile.

And I understood.

Fear Itself

Each year, Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas puts together a collection of meditations for Advent. Contributions come from current and past members and there’s a different meditation for each day of Advent. I’m proud to say this is my seventh year to contribute. This year’s theme is “And None Shall Be Afraid.” My contribution this year was to be for December 15.

The Advent theme takes its life from the angels’ announcement to the shepherds: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. . . .’ ”

~ Benjamin Eakin, 12/13/15

In 1933, Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Some 2,000 years earlier, however, we’re told by the Gospel writer Luke that God’s angels appeared to shepherds guarding their sheep by night. Such an unexpected sight threw the shepherds into some major terror – rightly so, one might presume. According to the King James version, the angels said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” In childhood, we read the Christmas stories each year as a family and were not, as I recall, afraid.

Life has a way of throwing a few curveballs your way over a lifetime and there were many times I found myself afraid. I was afraid of lots of things – some of them real, some likely only imagined. But fear is fear whether real or imagined. Once you’ve overcome your fear of the dark, you’re tempted to think you’re home free. Sadly, there are many forms of dark.

I had surgery a few years ago to stop the effects of vertigo. My doctor cautioned me this would be brain surgery but by then I was so continually sick, any danger seemed an acceptable risk. The night before going into the hospital, I stayed in Austin so Tom could return to Waco to bring my mother back for the surgery. Early the next morning, I walked across the street for check-in. As I crossed the street, I was struck by the fact I wasn’t afraid. I knew somehow everything would be okay. If I survived the surgery, all would be okay. If I died on the operating table, all would be okay. I found myself in tears, unable to remember ever having felt this at peace.

What had happened? Approximately fourteen months earlier I’d shown up at Lake Shore after decades away from church. My return was accompanied by a good deal of terror – rightly so, I thought. Still, I’d decided to walk through that fear and the people of Lake Shore proceeded to remind me that God hadn’t actually been taken away from me all those years earlier, rather had been there with me all along. I knew they were right and realized I had somehow always known.

Surgery was a success and I’ve since been able to celebrate the mystery of Advent and angels appearing year after year to proclaim, “Fear not: … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

I find I’m surrounded by God’s reminders that fear is, after all, the only thing I have to fear.

A Mustache for a Methodist

I guess you could say, I’m just a typical Methodist kid at heart. ~ Hugh Hefner

An atheist is a man who watches a Notre Dame – Southern Methodist University game and doesn’t care who wins. ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

God grant that I may never live to be useless! ~ John Wesley

I suppose it was 2008 when I found myself being reintroduced to a 17-year-old I thought I’d finished off many, many years earlier. In the process of that introduction and the subsequent multiple reunions over a period of months brought about by a rather insistent (annoying?) therapist, I found myself being reconciled with that poor, beat-up kid. As it turns out, he’d traveled along on my rocky path through it all and, I realize now, helped keep me alive long enough to remember — and acknowledge — he had actually existed.

What, you’re likely asking yourself, does this have to do with mustaches and Methodists? Excellent question. Allow me to elaborate — eventually.

During the fall of 2008, I was working on reestablishing contact with the aforementioned 17-year-old after the realization I could never really be okay until we made peace. That December, a dear friend suggested that I read Wm. Paul Young’s book The Shack. I agreed because I respect this friend but still had serious doubts about a fiction that had Christian leanings. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’re probably aware that the church and I had parted ways, well, while I still remembered that 17-year-old clearly. Still, at this point in my life, the book pried something open again — wanted or not.

There I was — sitting with a young, admittedly angry guy who remembered an even younger boy who remembered a call. I wasn’t at all certain I wanted to be reminded of that call. Years of alcohol had done little to cover it over, however. Rather, it had only helped anger and disappointment grow. Sadly, as so often happens, the anger and disappointment was turned inward. I am particularly efficient at inflicting emotional pain on myself. I’m still so good at it that I often have no idea I’m doing it. Let’s just say I’m back working on that now.

So it was that I showed up at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco in February 2009. I didn’t mean to show up, it just sort of happened. And I stuck around (one of my favorite new beginnings stories here: Women in Ministry). Seems the people there saw someone in me I didn’t think actually existed. I was intrigued, though, and decided I must be a better actor than I’d thought. Still, I kinda liked the person others saw. I’m almost convinced at this point that he does exist.

Mustache, Ben? Oh, yes. So a couple of months ago I decided I’d regrow my mustache. Up until the fall of 2008, I’d sported a mustache for most of the previous twenty-five or so years. I arrived on the doorstep of Lake Shore clean shaven — due to meetings with that 17-year-old and the younger boy and wondering what they might have looked like. You know how hard it is to see an 8-year-old looking back at you when you’re a 56-year-old man with a mustache staring in a mirror? The mustache had to go.

A necessary move to the Dallas area a few years ago required a move in churches, also. For over three years, I made that new home Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas. Last year, though, I found myself looking for a new church home closer to where I live in Richardson. You see, having returned to church back in 2009, I’ve found not having a church home is no longer an option for me.

Enter Arapaho United Methodist Church, Richardson, Texas.

Wait, I hear you saying — Methodist? Weren’t we talking about Baptists? Well, yes, we were and how good of you to be paying attention. I was doing what any red-blooded American would do these days — I used Google to search for churches in my area. What I saw on the website for Arapaho UMC intrigued me. Hey, when you’ve been gone from church for forty years, you tend to find yourself a little more open to locating the right place regardless what is says on the sign outside. It’s what I found on the inside that invited me to stay. It was about finding the right fit.

Mustache, Ben? Oh, did I get sidetracked again? Yes, I imagine so. This entire conversation began because it occurred to me that the Baptists in my post-40-year trek had never seen me with a mustache. I like to think about stuff that occurs to me, you see. It also occurred to me that I’ve very much reconciled with that 17-year-old and that he and I sort of prefer me with a mustache.

On February 15, 2015 I became Arapaho UMC’s newest member — complete with mustache. I told some of the people at Arapaho I’d taken so long to join because I hate to rush into things and, besides, some of them looked a little shady to me. Thankfully, they already know me well enough after eleven months to laugh along with me.

Mustaches and Methodists. Does one actually have anything to do with the other except that they both start with an M? I believe they do. It has a lot to do with giving myself permission to find exactly the place that feels right to me. That has a lot to do with God’s grace, I believe. I’ve met some wonderful people in the past few years and I will be eternally grateful to them for helping me see in myself again a kid who heard a call many years ago and for helping me gradually believe he still exists and is here to remind me of that call.

John Wesley (a Methodist without a mustache) said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Yeah, that’s it. That was the call. That is the call.

Mustache or not, Methodist or not, I invite you to pick up Wesley’s call to do all the good you can as long as you ever can.

February People

February is merely as long as is needed to pass the time until March.
~ Dr. J. R. Stockton

Some people are wanderers. My sister, for instance, has traveled all over the globe – eager to see as much of the world as possible. I, on the other hand, am a wonderer. I wonder stuff. There’s less travel involved and zero lost luggage.

Some of my wondering takes me into dangerous territory, of course. Some of it lures me into thinking, rightly, I should be doing more than I am for others who can’t do for themselves. Some of it leaves me wondering where it all went so wrong. Some of it leaves me wondering if there’s a way back from the edge. That’s a lot of wondering without even leaving my chair. But, it’s part of what I do — apparently part of who I am.

Ever wonder why February has only twenty-eight days? I have. How is it, do you think, that February got shortchanged in such a shameless fashion? With 365 days to share, what could February possibly have done to deserve being neglected in this way? I mean, how difficult would it have been for one of the other months to share at least one day with its poorer neighbor? August, for instance. I feel certain where I live we’d all be willing to give up one hot summer day to keep February from feeling left out. You might choose a different month where you live, but I think we could make it work out in the end. Oh, sure, once every four years February is given an extra day for Leap Year but, really, is that adequate compensation for being slighted so grievously the other three?

So, February ends up as the homely step-child of our annual dance of days. And while I realize February is singled out in that Mother Goose rhyme used to remember the number of days in each month, that hardly seems to balance the books in February’s favor. “Excepting February alone . . .” Yes, February alone is thrown the scrap of an extra day once in a while. For the most part, however, we seem simply not to notice the missing day – the almost missing month. For a moment each year, we pay attention to February to find out from a groundhog whether winter will continue for a while or end early. Even Valentine’s Day doesn’t seem to rescue February from its diminished place in the count of our days on earth.

This puts me in mind of some of the other disaffected of the world. You saw that coming, right? If you didn’t, perhaps you’re not paying enough attention to my other writing. Seems I’m nothing if not transparent.

The world’s population now tops seven billion. That number alone is staggering, but even more staggering are its implications for us all – including those of us with plenty to eat and a dry place to sleep.

Have you eaten this week? How about today? If you have enough to eat – or likely more than you need – you are part of the earth’s privileged.

Consider this: a tall latte from Starbucks will set you back $2.50 or more depending on your location. Do that every day of the year and you’ve shelled out at least $912.50 for a year’s worth of coffee. Coffee! That’s a lot of buzz. Now, consider that over three billion people live on less than that same $2.50 (U.S.) a day. Is it just me or is something horribly wrong with this picture?

At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10.00 a day. Those scraping by at $2.50 are wrapped into this number. The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for only 5% of global income. The richest 20% account for three-quarters of world income. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.” Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons could have put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn’t happen. It still hasn’t happened thirteen years later. Imagine what could have been done to actually feed the hungry. So much for beating our swords into plowshares.

There are over two billion children in the world and every other one of those lives in poverty. Did your mother ever tell you to eat your vegetables because there are starving children in China? Mine did. That was in the 1950s. I never quite understood how eating my vegetables was going to help those starving children but it didn’t seem to make any difference as to whether I was supposed to eat them. I now realize her point was that we should not waste what we have no matter how much we think we have.

Lest we miss the point, think of some of the television programs that litter our airwaves and scream for attention as viewing opportunities. Million-Dollar Rooms, for instance. Someone spends at least a million dollars to build one room of their house and that qualifies them to be featured on this inane show. I think we’ve supposed to be impressed and/or envious. Living in an enormous, castle-like mansion has always had a certain appeal for me – being waited on hand and foot – until I remember that it’s not all about me today, never has been, and never will be. Without occasional reminders, I tend to forget that I share this planet with those seven billion-plus people and have no more or less right to survive. That same million dollars could feed 400,000 people for a day or 1,096 people for an entire year. Have we really become so jaded that platinum plumbing fixtures and bathrooms larger than many houses are more important than human life? In 2005, the wealthiest 20% of the world accounted for 76.6% of total private consumption. Somehow, that comes as no surprise to me. The poorest fifth account for just 1.5%.

I wonder what might become of the world if our “me” societies decided to actually become “we” societies? Rural areas account for three in every four people living on less than $1 a day (U.S.) and a similar share of the world population suffering from malnutrition. However, urbanization is not synonymous with human progress. Urban slum growth is outpacing urban growth by a wide margin. As a “we” society, we might take less a “the dog ate my homework” approach to human concerns in our world and our failure to address those concerns, and more of a “I am, in fact, my brother’s/sister’s keeper” approach.

There are approximately 237,880,000 adults in the United States alone. If each of those adults gave one penny a day each, a total of $2,378,800.00 a day could be raised to help feed the hungry of the world. One penny. Over two million dollars. At that $2.50 a day, 951,520 could be fed. That works out to saving those 22,000 children and feeding another 929,520, as well. Too often, I believe, people end up doing very little or even nothing because the problem seems so enormous. And it is. It’s easier to look away than to look for realizable answers. It’s surprising, though, how easily the problem can be broken down into solvable pieces. I’m not suggesting that the U.S. should pick up the tab for feeding the world, just that compassion begins at home – community begins at home. With the cooperation of the so-called developed world, the solution is within grasp almost overnight. The frightening part of this is that we still haven’t done it and don’t appear to be planning to do it any time soon.

Obviously, it’s not as simple as money – though I believe it could be were it not for the multitude of people who callously stand in the way. Along with crooked politicians, both in this country and in every country on earth, there are the people who sincerely believe they deserve more than the next guy. The logistics of getting help into some countries is compounded or completely blocked by regimes who don’t want a well-fed populace. It’s yet another reason education is denied to so many. An informed, well-fed people are dangerous to politicians comfortable at the top and intent on staying there by any means necessary.

The problem will not go away just because we ignore it, though. In fact, officially ignoring it has already brought a great deal of misery our way. Hungry, oppressed people often become dangerous, angry, desperate people. They can also become easy marks for groups pretending to want to pull these people up out of their poverty – though only as long as it takes to grab power for their group.

Worse than that, however, are those who seem to feel that people are responsible for their own poverty. I work hard for what I have, they say. Why should I be expected to provide for those too lazy or too stupid to do for themselves? Many of America’s poor are viewed this way by politicians and the people who fight hard to get and keep them in office. It’s an us-against-them attitude that’s designed to lump every disadvantaged person into the same boat. Certainly, there are people who play the system, too lazy to work for themselves. That, however, is no excuse to see all disadvantaged people as playing the system. Why help people who could help themselves? Odd that people who play the stock market in big and dangerous ways turn around and expect to be bailed out when their greed puts them out on the street – usually more figuratively than literally. The rest of us are left holding the bag – more literally than figuratively.

One of the problems with charity is simply our perception of what the word means. The word seems to have a bad reputation – and a worse connotation. “I don’t want your charity” is heard often. Why? I believe that’s because what too many people call charity is merely a hook. People we don’t pay a living wage are supposed to be grateful that others give their cast-offs to help.

Almost as bad as those who work at blocking help for a starving world are those who feel it’s okay to attach conditions to their help. Let’s face it, grace with conditions is not grace at all – it’s a contract. Real grace, on the other hand, is a covenant.

Without putting too fine a point on it, I try to remember that I (and even the wealthiest of us) can become one of the February people in the blink of an eye. Rather than encouraging me to draw back in fear and horde even more of the little I have, I find myself increasingly wanting to give back.

What can you do? Put yourself in the position of those in need – literally, if that’s what it takes. A very little amount of imagination should succeed in allowing you to see how easily you could end up on the receiving end of next to nothing in the way of help when you suddenly find yourself out on the street.

Americans love to think of themselves as pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Rugged individualists, they’ll say. The simple fact is that, almost without exception, none of us do any of this on our own. The host of people who help us along the way is generally huge. The CEO who believes himself worthy of multi-million-dollar bonuses each year tends to forget that the success of the company relies on him almost not at all.

If we’re not even willing to feed each other as the human family that we are, how is it any of us is simplistic enough to think we can live in a safe world? It’s very unlikely we’ll be hurt by those we genuinely reach down to help up. That’s not what we usually do – at least as countries. Instead, we reach down to help ourselves. A pig wearing lipstick is still a pig. Somewhere, we have to find the courage to examine our motives. In far too many cases, even our well-intentioned motives are thinly veiled attempts at feeling better about ourselves rather than helping others.

Imagine what good you could do with that $2.50 you saved by not stopping each day at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or any of the hundreds of locations now willing to charge you a premium for what you could have easily and far more cheaply brewed for yourself?

What if you personally knew even one of the 22,000 children who will die today? Would that perhaps change your definition of family?

Food, as it were, for thought.

º º º

Want to know more? Here are some web links that may be of interest:

Poverty.com: http://www.poverty.com
Unicef USA: http://www.unicefusa.org
Action Against Hunger: http://www.actionagainsthunger.org
Hunger Notes: http://www.worldhunger.org

Please also check out my website, BaptistMan.com. I’m trying to get the site off the ground and also add my own bit of (admittedly warped) humor to this most serious of topics in an effort to keep sight of the fact that this is a solvable problem. www.BaptistMan.com

Fry Cooks or French Fry Styling Specialists?

The only thing most people do better than anyone else is read their own handwriting. ~ John Adams

Recently, I asked a friend to recommend a dentist. I was having some difficulty with a tooth and was being shuttled around from specialist to specialist, all of whom were out of network with my insurance. In the process of requesting that recommendation, I lamented the fact that it seemed you could no longer find a general dentist who did dentisty type things like pulling a tooth. That, apparently, is some other specialist’s purview.

My friend suggested that I was, perhaps, a little behind the times. She said the type of country dentist I was trying to find simply no longer existed – had, in fact, gone the way of the dinosaurs and phone booths. She then suggested that she felt certain I could/would probably write a blog about this situation. My impression was that she was inferring that she felt certain I could/would write about most anything in a blog whether it needed writing or not.

I was, naturally, stunned at the inference. I decided, of course, to write about this situation in order to prove her wrong – or right, whichever the case may be. The gauntlet had been thrown down, after all.

I’ll admit I haven’t paid a lot of attention over the years to the changes in dentistry – how specialists have taken over in such a big way. Not that I hadn’t been to the dentist over the years, just that I hadn’t noticed the subtle shift from the one-stop shopping of my dentists in the past and today’s “let me send you across the street for that” way of doing business.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissin’ nobody’s specialty. However, I couldn’t help sitting in the plush salle d’attente (it couldn’t possibly have just been a waiting room) at the endodontist’s office wondering how much less it might cost for a root canal if I were to wait on a folding chair in a lobby and if they didn’t provide Keurig K-Cup individual coffee selections for me to brew while I waited. I’m in pain, of course, so my thoughts about the injustice of bright, shiny anterior settings and the relationship to expense were not gelling adequately. That would come afterward, as you can see.

Years ago, I was in need of a dentist. I didn’t want to go to the dentist but a co-worker suggested hers and tried to calm my fears about dentists and pain. My last surviving wisdom tooth had come in – crooked – and was in need of removal. I was tempted to simply leave it there but for the fact that its angle of entry as it came through the gums meant I was consistently chewing on the side of my mouth. So, I called the dentist. To my dismay, they asked if I wanted to come in that day. I’d expected at least a two-week lead time but accepted the appointment just the same. It didn’t seem right to refuse the offer of a quick resolution to the problem – and I hadn’t yet learned that “no” is a complete sentence.

Anyway, the dentist turned out to be a great guy. He deadened the area after determining that, yes, we would need to pull that sucker. He’d leave the room for a bit to do something else, then return to check on whether I’d numbed sufficiently. It seemed that happened a number of times. Finally, he was talking as he checked the tooth and I felt a sudden pressure. He’d pulled the tooth while I was distracted. It was over. I’d survived. Chalk one up for the “country dentist” from Austin back in the seventies.

Dr. Martin H. Fischer said, “The specialist is a man who fears the other subjects.” Dr. Fischer was the author, in 1940, of Death and Dentistry, published by C.C. Thomas. I don’t think that one’s still in print and perhaps not a book you’d want to read before a visit to the dentist.

Of course, the good doctor also said, “A conclusion is the place where you got tired thinking.” There seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

The problem with our increasing focus on specialties? With each new subdivision of specialties, we seem to find less human interaction and more focus on each of us as merely a set of symptoms – a riddle to be solved. Just a pile of parts with very little relationship to each other. But I’ve learned in almost every situation I’ve ever encountered, the more I zeroed in on one small part of a problem, the less I was able to step back and see a larger picture.

Please don’t imagine I have it in for specialists. After all, it was a specialist who finally figured out why I’d had vertigo for seventeen years. The difference with this specialist, however, was that he was someone willing to listen. He knew the possible reasons for my dizziness and nausea were huge and that he’d have to ask the right questions and listen to the answers to those questions in order to find a solution.

I’m willing to bet, though, that most of us have already had run-ins with a specialist or two who can’t see the forest for the trees. We seem, in fact, to be a bit of a nuisance to them. Don’t we realize, after all, that they are busy trying to find the problem? I have a urologist – perhaps I should say had – who spent every visit with me staring at his Apple laptop. I’m hoping he was studying my chart intently and not playing Grand Theft Auto IV with the sound muted. I mean, who knows? He was certainly not talking to me about how things were going.

It seems our society is a bit obsessed with titles. It’s a pesky part of that need we’d rather not admit we all have to one degree or another – the need to feel better-than. I noticed today they’re looking for a Civile Engineer here in the Dallas area. Perhaps this is an opening for a female engineer as civile is French and the feminine form of civil. Personally, I’d rather not be a Mortgage Funder, regardless what that means. Sounds like a risky proposition that would involve a good deal of my own money. Many of us, I’m sure, have worked as Sandwich Technicians at some time in our past. Sadly, the job pays no better than simply being counter help at the local Subway. Then, you may find yourself excited to be a company’s Director of First Impressions until it’s explained that you will actually be the receptionist. Thankfully, the title doesn’t necessarily say those first impressions absolutely have to be positive.

It’s taken me a long time to understand that we all tend to take ourselves a tad too seriously. We forget that what we do is not who we are. That mistake in understanding creates enormous problems for the world in general and for us individually when the time inevitably comes that we no longer do what it is we think we are. That may be at retirement but it may also simply be one morning when you discover the company where you work at being your work decides they really don’t require your services any longer.

My father was afraid of the idea of retiring. “What would I do?” he’d ask. This was an immensely talented man we’re talking about here. There was a wealth of things he could do to occupy his time. Or, he’d say, “Sure, I can write that book once I retire.” Sadly, if we don’t take a step now toward doing the things we think we’d like to do, it’s unlikely we’ll ever actually do it. The excuse that there’s simply no time is usually just that – an excuse. We tell ourselves we’ll do it someday to make us feel better about ourselves.

Why do we do that? I believe we tell ourselves little lies for the same reason that we’re tempted to take the job as Director of First Impressions. It would look good embroidered on a shirt. We think it would alleviate a little of the guilt we’ve heaped on ourselves for not doing something we believe we ought to be doing. On ourselves is the operative term here. No one has a right to make us feel guilty. Why, then, do we do it to ourselves?

Specialists. Could we do without them? I personally believe the answer is yes. What I’ve found is that the specialists I’ve known who are truly excellent at their occupations are those who are specialists in the tiniest sense of the word. They can specialize only because they have left themselves open to the broadest knowledge possible.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place with a few more people who choose to specialize in being Director of What Needs to be Done Next?