“So”, said Asarlai
I hate it when he does this, starts of with “so” and then pauses!
I want to break into the Sound of Music, “Sew, a needle pulling thread!” but I refrain, he has already fixed his beady eye on me.
“So” he repeats and I wait.
“How’s it going, doing “the little good in your little life?”
Mixed emotions surge through me, part of me is proud that he has read my previous blog and the other half a sense that I am about to be skewered like a kebab!
“Well, I try, you know, not to cause harm to anyone”
Undeterred by platitudes, he persists, “but do you know what good to do?
“Being compassionate towards others, seeking their good, being kind” I trail off. Asarlai looks like he just ate a very bad root, and stares at me. I hate these times with him. As much as he is my friend, he is ruthless when it comes to sniffing out some platitudinous sentiment that I have allowed myself to bask in.
“Like the ice cream incident?” he queries.
Now years ago when I was working with homeless men we had a client who came down from the Goldfields to give the pubs some respite from his drinking. Many in the Goldfields are hard drinkers so it was a testament to this man that even by Goldfield standards the pubs had to have a break. After being in Perth for a few months and drinking himself into a stupor on numerous occasions due to his grief of missing his favourite pubs it was decided he really needed to get back to the Goldfields. I worked with the hospital to get him sober enough, the Social Work Dept. in the hospital had arranged the train trip home and all we had to do was keep him sober for one more evening and he would be on the train back to the Goldfields and somebody else’s concern. Off course, by 4:30pm that evening he had disappeared and he remained disappeared until well after the train had disappeared up the tracks to the Goldfields. In righteous anger I phoned the Social Work Dept. to politely and icily inquire what had happened. I was advised by some young Social Worker that he had indeed appeared at the Dept. the previous evening and advised that he would need some money for the train trip so he could buy an ice cream! “And you believed him!” I spat through gritted teeth. I mean really! A man with a chronic long term, hard habitual alcohol problem gets some money and thinks
“Now, what will it be? A Peter’s ice cream or a middy?”
Hence the ice cream incident as we referred to it.
The Social Worker felt she was doing good, but was she? Perhaps, perhaps the man really did go and buy an ice cream, perhaps he really enjoyed it and it bought back memories he had forgotten as a young boy getting enough money from somewhere to slink off, buy an ice cream and enjoy it by himself. Perhaps for those few moments those memories helped him remember a better time. I will never know for I didn't see him again. I was angry that my version of goodness, the right version hadn't triumphed over the Social Worker’s.
What about you, asks Asarlai
What about me?
“Well once you were a minister of religion telling people they needed to believe in God. From what I understand, you preached and told them how they needed to believe and trust and pray and read the Bible and be kind and be good and be gracious and….”
“Okay, no need to labour the point” I sighed.
“Well”, he said “now you don’t believe in a personal God, you don’t read the Bible; you don’t tell people what to believe. So when were you doing good? When you were a minister or now that you aren't?”
We sat in silence for awhile and then Asarlai shuffled off, stalk of week sticking out of his mouth and as he went he chuckled and said,
“Perhaps rather than being concerned about doing good we should just be grateful for the ‘is-ness’ of life”
I sat and thought awhile longer. My friend is right in many ways. We get caught up in doing good for others, yet so often we do not have enough perspective to know whether what we are doing is really good or not. Like me in the church, it seemed good at the time but more years, more life experience later I wonder? The judgements I made, the platitudes given to people in situations that were complex, difficult and where if I am honest no platitude fitted, was that good?
Perhaps if there is a God, then he/she or whoever God may be has enough perspective to know what is good. In the meantime all I can do is gratefully accept the “is-ness of life” as Asarlai calls it.
This is the life I have in all its messiness and chaos. Its laughter and sadness, its challenging times and restful days; its aloneness and friendship. This life gives me the opportunity to learn to be grateful. As for doing good?
Well I might leave that perspective to God or the gods to decide.