A Drought of Perspective

Fall rainbow
Rainbow from my office window

I can’t say that I have ever cherished the sound of the rain as much as I have the last couple of days. Yesterday was nasty by all standards–a fine, cold drizzle just hard enough to get you thoroughly wet and certainly colder than the 45 degrees that my official vehicle indicator said it was.

But I loved it. I felt a little like C.S. Lewis who used to go out on days like that just to celebrate the foul weather for its own sake.

Normally I would have complained, of course, since complaining is one of those things for which I love to arrange words in particularly telling fashion. We bought our Christmas tree in the miserable drizzle and I hauled it out to the pickup and lugged it onto the bed, soaking my clothes and fairly freezing my unacclimated hands. And I had forgotten to wear a hat.

But I loved it. And I love the sound of it now in the dark night outside the window.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not normally so positive about these things. But perspective has a way of shifting under special circumstances. And the circumstance that changed my perspective this time was the drought.

I’ve lived in the Northwest, where there were only five days of sunshine out of 80 days in the winter. That threatened to bring on a madness all its own. But thankfully we moved away, moved to the blessed South where the maxim of Ecclesiastes reigns supreme–to everything there is a season. It rains when it should. It’s hot when it should be hot. It’s cold, for a little while anyway, when the world turns on its axis and points furthest from the sun. And the leaves change and fall in the Autumn. The variety is a wonderful thing.

Normally. But we spent an almost rainless summer. The yard somehow managed bravely to retain some green, though in a somewhat embarrassed threadbare fashion. And the few little thunderstorms that tore through and vanished did very little to relieve the monotony.

But when it finally did really and truly rain, rain that hung around for more than an hour or two, rain that stripped the leaves and soaked the ground, it was wonderful.

This led me to wonder how much we operate from a Perspective of Plenty. That is, to what extent do I feel I have the right to want for nothing? When I get upset by the price of gasoline, when I reach for my favorite brand of granola bars at Wal-Mart only to discover they are fresh out, when I fret because it’s impossible to buy a Wii video game system, am I not operating from this Perspective of Plenty, this notion that I have a right to have everything I need and want in stock, on time, and at low cost?

These thoughts occurred to me around Thanksgiving time, which is now come and gone, but still appropriate. A Perspective of Plenty is not a thankful outlook. It presumes that I am deserving of things for which I made no special effort to be deserving, for which I built nothing and to which I contributed nothing. But I deserve them anyway.

I guess I should say here that we are staggeringly blessed, that we are fairly a-swim in blessings, that our lives, compared to the impoverished islanders of Papua New Guinea, are rich with goods and have need of nothing. And that would be a nice ribbon to tie to these thoughts.

But am I really better off, with my “deserved” Nikes, my Nissan, my Perrier, my I-Pod, my Dockers and my Portfolio than the Papuan who lives in a hut and barely subsists on fishing and farming? Is my life more blessed than that person’s just because I sit atop the civilized world, corrupt though it be, and read Time and Cosmo? Is it possible that the comparatively untroubled Guinea fisherman, hauling his catch in a basket and selling it at the local fish market is just as blessed?

Certainly the Enlightenment French thought so. Rousseau and Voltaire and others elevated the ideal of the noble, uncomplicated and simple being who lives in a harmonious tribe and amply satisfies simple wants. The telling irony, of course, is that while these angst-ridden socialites praised the virtues of the simple savage, they chose to remain firmly in the embrace of their own complex, perfumed and hypocrisy-friendly civilization. When it came down to it, they preferred their comparative state of blessedness to that of the utopian native.

As do I. No need to wax philosophical about it. I am a product of my culture and find a hefty dose of materialism goes down sweetly after all.

But I hope that, in the end, I may be thankful for the things that I enjoy, grateful and not so mean of spirit that a momentary denial of my otherwise constantly filled desires does not produce anger, wrath and ill-advised accusations against God Himself.

May I be thankful in plenty as in poverty, and especially at all times for the rain.

Fall Office
Fall leaves looking toward my office


8 thoughts on “A Drought of Perspective

  1. Heidi

    Awesome….truly beautiful and poetic. I so enjoy the ability of a writer to put deep truths so artfully arranged as to please the ear as well as the soul.

  2. I think the same way as the Rousseaus and Thoreaus (Rousseaux et Thoreaux?) much of the time – that the simple life is just as desirable, perhaps more so, than the creature comfort-filled rat race that we have.

    While I harbor certain fantasies, though, I think I’ll end up staying here for the majority of my life. It seems to me that a lot has to do with what kind of culture you’re born into. Having grown up with our materialistic ideal, it tends to be hard to internalize a completely new outlook on life, even if your head tells you it’s just as good if not better.

    By the way, it’s not necessarily impossible to get a Wii. Difficult, yes, but technically doable. Just call the Gamestops in town (and both Wal-Marts) between 11 AM-noon (when most of them get their shipments – tends to be closer to noon) every day, and when you find one, simply send the closest thing you have to a student worker with a hot rod to retrieve it. Problem solved.

  3. meldenius

    Ha! My tale of woe regarding the Wii would look like one of your masterpieces, Josh. Can you just see it? Interrupting a tenure review meeting, with the president and a couple of VPs at the table, holding up a finger, “Sorry, I have an important phone call to make.” Then dashing out, papers fluttering, to go secure the prize.

    Not gonna happen.

    We went ahead and got a 360.

  4. Josh

    Good call. Better games and variety of same anyway. Just don’t let him go on Live with a headset (or voice chat enabled at all, for that matter), lest the unsavory habits of 8 million drunken frat boys and “between-jobs” grocery store stock boys become daily conversation topics.

  5. meldenius

    Not to mention the paunchy 30-something libidinous live-with-mom parasites and the nicotene-cough, crater-mouthed, tech-savvy lounge lizards worldwide. Not a chance.

  6. “Content in all circumstances…” šŸ™‚

    I was reading a really good book this week…”A Mother’s Rule of Life,” written by a Catholic mom. In it, she described her struggle with discontentment during times of comparative “want,” and said she made a poster for herself with pictures cut from magazines of people living in undeveloped nations, so that when she was discontent, she would sit in front of it, and contemplate their lives as she sat in her own comfortable home. She speaks of giving and tithing as a source of grace in her life that helped to detach her from inordinate desires.

    I like to take the perspective of Paul, that if I have basic needs met, I will be content with those, and any other blessings, I receive as “good and perfect gifts, coming down from the Father of lights,” to be enjoyed and shared freely. This protects from discontent, and also from false guilt over good blessings. Who doesn’t thank God for good medical care for her children? Or for a variety of foods to eat? Or for hot showers on cold days (one of my favorite luxuries)? Life is full of wonders for which to be thankful!

    1. meldenius

      I hadn’t read this in a while, but your comment made me look at it again and I thought, “Ouch! Did I write this?” I’m ashamed to say I have not lived it so well.

  7. Cait

    Hey Dr. M,
    I just wanted to comment on the scenic autumn photo placed at the end of your post; it’s beautiful!

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