from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What is the value of a particular action ... 

(this was originally composed as a comment in response to a diary at mylerftwing entitled [What is the value of a life? http://www.soapblox.net/myleftwing/showDiary.do?diaryId=284] which I highly recommend. Because of its length, I decided to post it as a separate diary, both there, at www.dailykos.com, and here).

What is the value of a particular action, even within that life? This is a relevant question for me right now. You may remember HRH Elizabeth II talking about her "annus horribilis" a few years ago. I have just had a week that falls into that category

- a lightening strike that fried our tv set

- the dishwasher failing

- a physical where blood pressure and cholesterol were way up

- as followup stress test that turned out positive

- today a major auto accident, technically my fault although the other driver was wrong as well -- my car badly damaged, my insurance will skyrocket because I got ticketed, and me feeling like an absolute idiot because I was making a u-turn to save a couple of minutes in doing an errand that was not that time sensitive.

Fortunately no one was injured. Between the accident scene, the body shop, and getting the rental replacement provided by my insurance, I lost about 2.5 hours.

In Brothers Karamozov there is an exchange between Alyosha and someone who has come to him for guidance. In the process he tells a story about a fairly mean woman who had done one good thing in her life -- she had once given an onion to a beggar. So her guardian angel is using the onion to pull her up from hell. As she ascends, others grab on to her legs in the hopes of also being pulled out. She tries to beat them off, complaining that it is her onion, not theirs, the onion breaks, and she falls back.

Yesterday I did my "onion" - there was a frail woman coming out of the supermarket with her cart, well dressed, almost elegant, but really having difficulty. I asked if she needed some help. She just lit up - she said she had been praying that God would send her a man to help her get her things to her car. She asked if I were a godly man. I responded that I really didn't know, but that I'd help her anyway.

Why do I tell this tale? The amount of time I took to help her, including putting all her bags on the back seat of her car where it would be easier for her to get them out as she wouldn't have to bend over, that few minutes was MORE than the time it would have taken me to drive around the several blocks to get to my destination instead of trying to save a few moments by what turns out is an illegal u-turn (in Virginia U-turns are only legal at intersections, and then only if not otherwise posted, as I was informed by the officer who responded to the scene).

I have always been impatient. When, as yesterday, I let go of that and become more open to others, good things happen. That was my onion. When I act from impatience, as I did today, I cannot say the results are particularly positive. Perhaps the onion from yesterday served one purpose - no one was hurt, not the driver or his two passengers (it was a taxi), we all walked away. So maybe that onion got used for a positive purpose.

Life consists of many seemingly small moments. In chaos theory we learn that the flapping of a butterfly's wings ioff S America or in China can lead to the landfall of a major cyclonic storm in the U.S. Each small action has consequences. We could in another context talk about the law of Dharma to help understand this.

I have little control over the meaning of my life in a large scale, even though I feel comfrotable with the decision to dedicate myself to teaching. I do have control over each action I do. And when I act in impatience, with such thoughtlessness for anything except my own needs and desires, I cannot be surprised if the results actually turn out to be quite costly.

I was lucky. Cars can be repaired, and paying several years of extra insurance payments is a far lesser consequence that I could have incurred, or could ahve been suffered by those in the vehicle that hit me. Whether the other driver was fulfilling his responsibility properly does not matter, because I was not fulfilling mine.

We should consider the larger picture of what a life means. But we should also not forget that individual actions within the larger life can have major consequences as well -- for ourselves and for those whom our actions impact. These actions include the words we say, the way we react to the words and actions of others.

I hope that I have learned something from today. I offer in the hope that perhaps it may be of value for others.
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