Monday, July 11, 2011

Always Tomorrow and Never Today

In the old story-song, "The Arkansas Traveler," a man on horseback riding through an Arkansas rainstorm comes upon an old man sitting on his cabin porch and playing the fiddle. Behind him, the rain is leaking through hundred of holes in the cabin roof. The traveler reins in his horse.

"See here, old man," he shouts importantly, "why don't you fix your roof?"

"Can't fix it now, stranger," hollers the old man, still sawing away on the fiddle. "Hit's a-raining too hard."

"Well then," says the traveler reasonably, "why don't you wait till it stops and then fix it?"

The fiddler ponders this a moment. "Don't leak then," he replies at last.[1]


It's surprising how many of us deal with our day-to-day (or once-in-a-while) issues in that exact way. It seems comical when one reads the account of such an approach, but I think that on some level we all can relate. Something frustrating or disastrous happens, and in the middle of the crisis we have a hard time being objective enough to find a good solution. After the situation passes, we find that we'd rather not think about the issue any more than we have to, and since it isn't pressing itself on our consciousness through present experience anymore, we let it fade from our minds until the same issue presents itself again in the future. [At which point, at least one of parties involved probably exclaims something to the effect of "You always" or "You never..."]

"I vaguely remember being in this situation before."

I have found that this is especially true in relationships. Once in a while (or more often, perhaps), a couple will have some sort of conflict, or argument, or fight. In the midst of conflict, everyone is focused on allaying their own fears, 'winning' sometimes, and damage control: making sure that it doesn't get worse and everyone gets back to a calm peaceable point in the relationship again.

After the situation is settled, and everyone feels all peaceful and happy and compassionate, what might best make sense would be to figure out why that situation sparks such tension in the first place, and how to avoid future reruns of situations that follow the same episodic formula or trigger the same fears. This would be 'fixing the roof.' The other option, of course, is to just blithely put the whole situation away from one's mind, and reflect "Thank God that's over!" Naturally, that 'solution' only lasts until it rains again.

Aside from just the instinctive aversive to thinking about painful topics, though, why would people not go back to find a solution to the underlying issue? One reason would be that people, on some level, feel that these things are just "bound to happen," there is no real lasting means of prevention, and so any effect dedicated to bettering the relationship in that aspect would be wasted energy. The gnostic twin of this form of reasoning is the underlying fear that one is not smart enough/skilled enough/relationally-adept enough to find or implement any of the existing solutions. Again, then, there is no motivation to go about looking for a way to avoid ongoing negative interactions.

On the other hand, we know that love "hopes all things," and if one has hope -- if one sees the payoff -- then one will be motivated to spend time, energy, and thought to go back and patch up the weaknesses inherent in a particular way of seeing things or doing things. When in a loving and hopeful mindset, it's easier to graciously work out better ways to interact in disagreeable situations. The wonderful thing, though, is this: From this point of view, things that go wrong are beautiful opportunities because they are key in helping us to see clearly exactly where the figurative holes in our roofs lie, so that we can become more and more awesome (Christ-like) in our thoughts, practices, and relationships with those around us.

The traveler replied, "That's all quite true,

But this, I think, is the thing to do;

Get busy on a day that is fair and bright,

Then patch the old roof till it's good and tight."

But the old man kept on a-playing at his reel,

And tapped the ground with his leathery heel.

"Get along," said he, "for you give me a pain;

My cabin never leaks when it doesn't rain."

[1] From the book, Nor Any Drop To Drink

1 comment:

Peter Pike said...

I'll respond to this tomorrow....

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