Tuesday, February 23, 2010

In the blink of an eye

When that horrible earthquake shook Haiti on Jan. 12, I was busy. I had some writing to do, some people to meet with and a meeting to prepare for. Important stuff, you know. I was busy and, although I saw the headlines, I didn’t have time to read them. It would be another day before I really caught up. All this ambivalence despite our family having a heart-connection to Haiti through friends and my wife’s journey there that is the source of some beautiful paintings hanging in our home.

My first response to such tragedy is to want to ditch what I do for something that “really matters.” Maybe I should quit my job and do something that actually makes a difference. But the best we could do as a family in January was watch the images of pancaked homes, and share our money and our prayers.

I suddenly felt the tediousness and irrelevance of what I do. Does it really matter if our Sunday morning runs smoothly when children lay buried beneath the Port-au-Prince rubble? Will anybody besides my editor notice if I don’t meet my writing deadline? Does it matter that the Maple Leafs play hockey like my grandma when aftershocks continue to rumble? My life is starting to sound like a rerun of Ecclesiastes: maybe I should just eat, drink and be merry?

Perhaps I’m the only tortured soul who wrestles such demons. But when life for so many changes in the blink of an eye, what do I do with my blinking eyes? Where should they turn? Should they just stay closed? So much is suddenly made trite and so much is suddenly made clear when major catastrophes happen, even if a world away.

I’ve never experienced an earthquake. I’ve never seen existence so instanta-neously altered, but that doesn’t mean my eyes can’t see. If I pull myself away from the Internet long enough, I may begin to see the proverbial earthquakes people are living through around me. They may even be happening in my home. What do my blinking eyes see?

In his great novel, The Chosen, Chaim Potok tells the story of a boy named Reuben and his search for identity. Reuben’s father passes on a profound perspective: “I learned a long time ago, Reuben, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. [God] can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant.”

To be a people on a mission with the God who sees (Genesis 16:13) is to take this fatherly advice. There will always be things that change in the blink of an eye that we are mostly powerless to change. The real wonder is that my eye blinks. My eye is attached to me. It is, as Jesus said, “the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). What I am given to behold, in the particular locale where God has placed me, is what I am primarily called to add a “kingdom” quality to, despite what little difference it might seem to make. So, give to Haiti and beyond, but perhaps even more so, live and strive to see the kingdom come on the street corner, the neighbourhood and around the table where your eye does the blinking.