Thinking about elephants
As an American in India I count myself blessed. So many things I have not seen in the US I see here. They challenge me, give me the opportunity to think again. How does life work? We have seen an elephant in a plantation, hauling logs; I can imagine that is work. What of the elephant walking through town? So India and the elephant can be a dose of humility, that I don't know what's going on, I don't know how life works, and have the opportunity to learn.
The dose of humility continues in other categories. Can you decipher which pepper corns are ripe, ready to be picked? whether the liquid rubber has dried long enough that it is ready to be pressed? which leaves or spices should be picked to cure this kind of headache or that kind of cut?
How should I interpret time? If you come 45 minutes late for an appointment with me---quite a possibility here in India and many countries around the globe---obviously you are careless, lazy, rude and not a reliable employee. Except of course that telephones and transportation may be irregular, and your 45 minutes late meant you were helping a distant friend with an urgent issue.
How shall I interpret gestures? Two men walk hand in hand or lean on each other. That means?---that they are good friends, quite willing to express their friendship physically, and quite unwilling to touch any woman physically lest they convey sexual impressions that would be wrong.
What does it mean that I turned sixty this week? It means a party, to be sure. My wife and I planned to serve tea, with cake and local onion donuts (vadai), to our community. We thought that would be the end of the story, but India knew better. The Principal of our college and his wife visited at 7:00 am, to bring gifts of special clothes for the day. The greetings in the community throughout the day were clear and direct, not just in passing. The tea in the afternoon, our gift to them, should begin with their speeches of their thanks to us, their gift to us, their prayers, and a ritual cutting of the cake. To become sixty (to have seen a thousand moons) is to reach wisdom. What I knew---I'd turned sixty---now had a new interpretation, the gift and responsibility to be wise, to practice wisdom.
It strikes me that there is something similar in religious life, this challenge of interpreting, perhaps especially for Americans. Oh, yes, we know all about religion. People go through various motions and try to be good. But then there is this new data to be interpreted in the Christian tradition: God on a cross, that God went not just through the motions, but through life and death, in order to be good for us. Something to think about.
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