We all have memories that we bury a lot deeper than most; memories that we can almost not bear to deal with and wish we could completely forget. Mine usually involve episodes of abject humiliation or hurting someone who didn't deserve to be hurt.
One such memory involved a girl in elementary school who had the great misfortune to be born unattractive. Children can be brutal to those who don't fit the standards of what they believe is normal. One day at morning recess, a boy in our class touched her sweater with a popsicle stick and started playing cootie tag with the stick the rest of the recess period. When the bell rang, I was walking into class, and I looked back to see the girl bunched up between the rain gutter and the wall with her arm across her face crying. It made me feel terrible, I wanted to go comfort her, but the teacher asked me to find my desk, and torn between obeying and helping the girl, I opted for the seat.
To make things worse, I got to know the girl in high school, and she was a very sweet person. I wanted to apologize but she was always a happy person, and I never felt right about reminding her of the painful memory. She died right after high school and it still bothers me that I never said I was sorry. As painful as it is, the memory has also served me well and kept me from doing or saying a lot of stupid, hurtful things, serving as a constant reminder to be careful of the consequences of careless or hurtful thoughts and actions.
I was driving home from Visalia recently and the memory popped into my head. I don't know what triggered it, but I know I was feeling a blue and little confused about life. My mom passed away recently, and I was the one who found her and took her pulse to make sure she was dead. I was having trouble getting the image of day out of my head where my beloved mother was curled up in her bed looking like a cantaloupe rind that had been left out in the sun.
The event that caused the memory happened over sixty years ago, but I remember it with great clarity. This time I began to think about all the memories I've had like that and how that they're all clearly remembered in great detail despite my efforts to keep them buried. Something dawned on me that should have been very obvious from the start. Those events were lessons, poignant moments full of powerfully charged emotions designed to teach lessons about how to live. No amount of dull lecturing, hypocritical sermonizing or pedantic preaching could ever have driven home that lesson with such authority as the experience of living through it.
Our lives are designed to teach us what we need to know. This is an important realization because nowadays, everyone seems to think that they have to right to badger everyone else on how to live life. Yet, we are totally unique and therefore these lessons are carefully designed to fit our individual needs, and, just like the tests we take in school, there are no guarantees that we have learned the material that we were supposed to learn, there's always the threat and consequences of failure, and there will always be the need to learn more and to retest.
I began to think of what that type of failure meant and one of Jesus's parables popped into my head. It was the Parable of the Talents wherein a master leaves and gives each of his three servants 100 talents of gold. When he returns, he summons each of the servants. One had buried the gold and simply gave the master back the initial 100 talents. This made the master angry, and sent the ungrateful servant forth. The second servant had loaned out half the gold and buried the other half. He showed the master a fifty percent return. The master grew angry again and sent this servant out. The third servant loaned out all the gold and gave back a 100 percent return. This servant received the master's thanks and blessing.
I didn't fully understand this parable until I read a book called the The Divine Code of Life by a Japanese Nobel Prize winning bio-geneticist named Dr. Kazuo Murakami. The good doctor states that it is possible to alter our DNA for the better by things like positive thinking, possessing a sense of wonder, and being driven by curiosity. This also implies that we are hardwired to be the best that we can be. If we are hard-wired to be the best, then that probably is what we are supposed to be doing with our lives. The Parable of the Talents seems to say the exact same thing.
It appears that all of the obstacles that life places before us, are moments where we are constantly being tested with by the question, "What are you doing with the Master's gold?" No one else can answer that question for us, nor can they take away the obstacles without presenting us with another set of decisions equally as urgent. We are meant to make our own decisions, and learn our own lessons from those decisions. The politicians, priests, and others who want to the remove these decisions are merely tempting us to bury the gold.
I was driving by our local park not too long ago and made an offhand comment about the tent city that the homeless have created there. My companion at the time gave me a disapproving look and said something that reminded me of the girl crying. I replied that it was was a point well taken, but for some reason, I also uttered the words, "Yeah, but you can't absolve them of their sin."
I try not to judge in that regard but believe it's a fair assumption to think you might be doing something seriously wrong to end up living in a tent in a park in Corcoran. The people in the park seem to have more or less given up on life. I do know that life has a tendency to pound on people. As I have aged, I have come to see that it can also be a constant parade of the disappointed, the dying, and the dead, and that even the most fortunate of us has to wipe his/her own ass and learn to deal the lessons from all of our buried memories and with the deep grief that comes with knowing that all of our friends and love-ones will one day pass away. Looking at it like this, anyone who manages to remain upright into their old age is a truly special, battle tested human being deserving of our respect.
I believe that J.R.R. Tolkien left a message in The Hobbit on how to think about the current homeless situation. Tolkien knew a lot about a lot of things. I mean you don't get put in charge of an entire section of the Oxford English Dictionary without being somewhat wiser than the rest of us.
There is a character named Bombur in the troupe that sets out on the heroic quest of confronting the dragon Smaug who sits upon a gigantic horde of gold. Bombur is an obese, clumsy, always complaining dwarf who causes the group a lot of problems because of his size and appetites. When the group enters into the Mirkwood Forest, a dark and foreboding place, they are warned explicitly by Gandalf the Wizard not to leave the path for any reason. In the middle of the forest however, Bombur falls into an enchanted stream causing him to fall asleep and the rest of the party are forced to take turns carrying him. They grow increasingly hungry and become ever more frustrated by their plight as the path seems to go on forever. The longer the journey continues, the more they resent the dead weight that Bombur has become. He eventually awakens but continues to whine about their plight. One night they hear elves feasting and celebrating in the darkness off the path, and it is Bombur's arguments combined with their hunger and frustration that convinces them to leave the path where they are immediately captured and imprisoned by the suspicious elves.
I was just driving along that night when for no particular reason, I suddenly thought about the numbers involved in the Parable of the Talents. Two thirds of the servants failed the test. I converted the fraction into decimals, two-thirds equals .666, the number mentioned in reference to the Anti-Christ. I don't think that this an accident or coincidental in the least. The message of parable seems to say that true sin lies in not trying to be our best. It seems to say that the majority of humans do not receive the blessings of God because we aren't fully engaging in utilizing the gifts that were bestowed upon us at birth.
There is another hidden number in the parable. The Egyptians believed that a person's chances in the after life depended on his/her spirit (KA), represented by a feather, being weighed on a scale. If the feather weighed one tiny bit on the positive (spiritual) side, their salvation was assured. The number represented by the fifty percent return of the second servant seems to say the same thing. It would be too hard for most people to achieve perfection, but doing right more times than you do wrong seems to be the important concept. Something evenly divided can not be said to be one thing or the other.
At the end of The Hobbit, it turns out the members of the quest, lucked out in getting captured by the elves. Their escape out of the dungeons of the Elf castle proved to be the only way out of the forest after all. Bombur was a big pain in ass, but he was also one of a band of brothers, a fellow traveler, and leaving him behind was not considered as an option. Had they done so, it would also have resulted in the failure of them all. It was in their willingness to deal with all of his short comings that saved their mission in the end. The purpose of the individual efforts of the hero is to transform into the best individual that they can possibly be, then to return home to raise the level of their community and to inspire others to do the same.
I don't think that turning our parks and public spaces into hovels and junkyards is the answer to the homeless problem, but neither is abandoning them to their own devices. The salvation of the human race just might depend on our willingness to discover what we need to learn about our self, to figure out how to fashion our life around those lessons, and to teach others the true value of hidden gold.