Living on the Roulette Wheel

I went to visit an old friend in his new home a few days ago. I found “Fred” sitting in a semi-circle of 12 other people gazing at a TV. The others drooped, drooled, gaped or groaned in various depths of indignity.

But Fred, true to his nature, sat tall and regal, ignoring the TV and silently pumping hand weights; at 77 he still resists the inevitable trajectory of aging. He continues to fly above the lowlands.

Some would say that Fred lives “in community.” But he really doesn’t; he lives in a warehouse with other unique characters who all happen to fit into a box called “Alzheimer’s.” I understand; the system does not have time to get to know everyone. Of necessity, it looks past the person and focuses on the category.

Over recent decades the pace of American life seems to have become a centrifuge, spinning all of us away from a quiet, local and personal life. Like a roulette wheel, the centrifugal force throws us into the outer rim pockets of group identities – liberal, conservative, Muslim, paraplegic, gay, Gen-X, African-American, etc.

That force squeezes individuality, creativity, privacy and freedom as our larger institutions – government, business, media, religion, health care, etc. – press us into conformity with “higher” objectives. One result of that dynamic is that we are losing sight of the people right in front of our eyes. We all tend to see group labels.

When and why did that happen?

It seems to me that once upon a time, and when the pace and cadences of life were slower, our shared community values assumed that the universe was created. We didn’t “believe;” we knew that people and animals and plants and seasons and orbits did not just happen. It was self-evident; it required no proof or reasoning.

We also knew that every human bears the signature of God. And we granted respect to people because of the God Who created them. However subtle and silent, that respect recognized that the person beside you was created, and is loved, by God. The wise heart sought to find the true value and beauty of God’s design and love in that very distinctive person.

I think the loss of that assumption is a large part of why we no longer take the time to get to know people as individuals. We’ve all moved from the organic to the organizational, from relationship to productivity. Things move so fast that we have to make snap judgments; you know, for the common good. So we just identify them according to their group pocket on the roulette wheel.

Systems seem to say to us, “Yes, we know that your mother is a very distinguished lady and has a beautiful story. But we just can’t take the time to get to know everyone like we wish we could. Please understand; it’s just more efficient this way.”

David wrote an opus of our origins in a few simple lines.

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place… (Psalm 139:13-15 NIV)

Everyone should soak in that Psalm. Those words will help us to take time to really consider the beauty of God’s intimate and elegant creation of people. I think it also helps to turn it outward. “God knit you in your mother’s womb…you are fearfully and wonderfully made…your frame was not hidden when God made you in the secret place.

Think about those verses the next time you look at your spouse, children, parents or siblings.

Meditate its meaning as you spend time with your neighbors, friends, associates, or the police officer writing you a speeding ticket. Remember it when you see the President or Sarah Palin on TV.

Get off the roulette wheel; take time to get to know people as individuals. Ignore his or her politics, race, religion, age, illness or other labels. Interview her; find her story.

From that place you just might find the road back to the high ground of human respect.

7 thoughts on “Living on the Roulette Wheel”

  1. What a wonderful reminder to start my day. Everyone has a story and we all need to listen for it. I like it that “Fred” does not seem to let someone else define him. Thanks Ed for the thoughts!

  2. At 85 years old quite often I stop and give thanks that the big “A” disease has not been a big factor in my life. I’m also thankful my spouse and I still have a bustling life in our modest home. I also often think that there could not be all that many more years out there. But then I go back to doing my Jumble, checking on the mail, visiting the grocery store, checking on what I am expected to do at church Sunday, doctor’s appointments, and is the Wheel of Fortune on yet, and what sports are on TV tonight, etc. I’m slower but still trying to keep up. Computers are a big help.

  3. So true! I was reminded of that just yesterday. I get my hair done at a senior housing complex. There happened to be a lady Alzheimer’s coming in and interrupting her work. The beautician was kind and unruffled by her. When I left the beautician was sitting out on the porch with the lady. Made me rethink my busy “retired status.”

  4. As always, so beautifully written, Ed. So thought provoking, very timely for me as I near my 80th. I am fortunate to live in a community that offers varied and constant stimulation. We have trophy winners in all areas of the National Senior Games. A 73 year old woman threw the winning javelin distance. We are all living longer in these times, so it is imperative to keep both mind and body active. I am surrounded by seniors that inspire and challenge me to participate intellectually and physically. The longer I live, the more fascinated I become with the stories of the people I meet. Like Fred I hope to fly above the lowlands for years to come.

  5. Well said (as always), Ed.

    I have a friend (haven’t seen him in years, but we recently reconnected on FB) who is strongly opinionated toward a particular political leaning. One of the Big 2. The closest I come to a devout political stand is that I strongly favor elements of all sides. Not just the pachyderms and equines.

    One of the most enjoyable hours I have ever spent was with this same friend at a truck stop in Kingman, Arizona. The store carried those impossibly-endowed reflective female silhouettes, in a package which claimed they could be put to “100’s of decorative uses.” After laughing at that idea for a while, we took it upon ourselves to begin suggesting possible decorative uses. We laughed so hard, my stomach aches at the memory.

    He is also responsible for one of the funniest single lines I’ve ever heard. One day, several of us were shooting the breeze about nothing in particular. Upon hearing that some people keep scorpions for pets, he shook his head slowly and said, “My mama and I sit up late at night talking about the strange things white folks do.”

    If I viewed him as only – or even mainly – a , I’d probably never have gotten to laugh at the hundreds of uses to which one might put a stick-on, reflective, female silhouette. And that would have made for a really boring night in Kingman …

  6. Darrell A. Harris

    As always, insightfully observed and elegantly said.

    My bride and I visited a friend in hospital yesterday just before she was being moved to hospice care. Her beloved had passed away only a week ago. She recognized us and spoke Janet’s name but could barely speak at all. We spoke few words – just held her hands and were “with” her.

    I just learned this morning that she, too, has passed. I am so thankful we managed to see her yesterday. And I’m even more grateful we got to know her and her husband in the context of worshiping together, praying together and serving others together.

    He told me years ago he had Harrises in his family tree. From then on he always called me Cuz. Connection. Human connection. I don’t think I even knew what their politics were. Whatever they were did not matter. They sure don’t matter now.

    Rest in peace Gwyn and Mary Lee. I love you both. See you on the other side~

  7. Ed this is certainly food for thought. I have certainly seen a drastic shift in our way of life since I was born in 1919. It is mu opinion that this is a result of a desire to have security rather than take a chance for fear of failure. In so doing we are losing our freedom. A bird in a cage in our living room has security but no freedom. The bird in the wild has freedom bur no security. Which way do you want to fly.

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