Date of publication: June 2, 1999
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"No one talks about the ups and downs of technology like Michael Finley. See his columns online at www.mfinley.com/. -- James S. Derk, Evansville (IN) Courier
"Editors want everything to fall into a neat little box, and your stuff
doesn't do that. You don't write merely about technology, you write about what technology means to us and how it has changed us. I like it." -- John Boxmeyer, St. Paul
"Editors want everything to fall into a neat little box, and your stuff doesn't do that. You don't write merely about technology, you write about what technology means to us and how it has changed us. I like it." -- John Boxmeyer, St. Paul
What's remarkable is that this collection of manifestos about the new age a'dawning contains proclamations by Tony Blair, Al Gore, Charles Handy, Nicholas Negroponte, Arthur C. Clarke, Alvin Toffler ... and me.
I was dissatisfied with my column today, and with the note I appended to it, to you. The column was the sort I thought I had quit writing -- all it did was fill space. But it was the best I seemed able to do this week. What was wrong with me?
I'm the sort of person who changes a lot from day to day. Some days I'm very keen about my own intentions -- other days it's just thick smog, what I want to do, and how I'll go about doing it. Today was a smog day.
I wasn't kidding about my two cars dying. Our van lost its transmission, and my sedan also has something wrong in the drive train. Ugh -- money. I can feel the power going out of me, as Jesus said, when the cripple touched him and pulled healing from his hem.
In my note I said, "God is at it again," which was a theological cheap-shot -- I thought a purposefully cheap one. Still, someone called me on it and wrote me a "God never hands you anything you can't handle" note.
And you know, I pretty much believe that, though a part of me thinks he just sends some people screaming over the cliff -- they certainly aren't "handling it" all that well with the mental and physical illnesses that challenge them.
So I was at a lunch on the weekend with some dear old friends, especially an old roommate I'll call Sue. Sue and I go back 30 years, to communes, hash pipes, all that. When I talk to her today, I see she still has a crazy gleam in her eye. Not that she's crazy -- she's super competent. But there's an edgy-daring-thrill- seeking part of her that I can relate to. Always on the lookout for -- action! Sue is my sister.
And she was telling me about her brother Jim, who has had severe MS the past 20 years. Does God give us more than we can handle? I was thinking yes, but Sue stood up for the quality of Jim's life. Never mind that he eats through a tube in his stomach, is prone to severe respiratory infections and bed sores, can't speak except in sighs and moans (which only Sue can decipher), and is so -- I think this is the right word -- demented, that his own kids never visit him any more.
Jim figured out, from the depths of suffering, how to have a life. He lived for five years with a nursing home roommate who also couldn't talk. yet when the roommate died, Jim was disconsolate -- he loved him so.
He's really into Jesus, and describes himself as utterly happy. He loves getting phone messages, which he plays and replays until he's sucked the marrow from every morpheme.
He reads a book a day, can still beat anyone at cribbage, and is extremely keen mentally in a number of competitive ways.
Sue's description of Jim was a gift to me, and my first instinct was to tell her to give Jim my best. But damn, that sounded remote. So I asked her for his phone number instead -- I would call him myself.
Calling my bluff, Sue dashed off the number. So today, summoning up the nerve -- I admit, I was scared of the weirdness of calling him up after so long. (Truth is, we were never very friendly -- Jim was kind of sanctimonious, and i was a brat.)
But I only planned to leave a voice message. Read an inspiring-sounding thought into the tape, then cut and run. It didn't work out that way.
So I dialed, expecting his machine would pick up. Instead, after perhaps a minute of fumbling and voices in the background ("Here, let me help you") I know I have a line to Jim.
I had to do all the talking, so I reminded him who I was, and how I had had dinner with Sue, and we talked about him, so here I was. I caught him up a bit with my life, my kids, and work.
And I told him I knew that Jesus was important to him, and that I remembered that he, like me, was once a seminarian, in the long ago Roman Catholic Church. I apologized for reading him a poem whose words piled up together so much, but I knew I wanted to read him Gerard Manley Hopkins' (also a seminarian) "God's Grandeur."
And as I read to Jim on the phone, my crappy attitude, the same attitude i have been writing about here, started to melt away.
It's a difficult poem, which simply means you have to re-read the lines that seem difficult. Which I did, for Don, translating some of the phrases and underscoring the really meaningful ones.
And all through the chat I could hear Jim's gasping and sighing. He wanted me to know when a phrase or moment worked for him, and I got the drift.
I repeat it here for you, to challenge you this day. When you hit a bump in the poem, slow down, repeat the line, and hold on to the hammering, plodding rhythm that Hopkins uses to reveal, like shaken foil, how blind and lost and weary we are in our day to day lives despite the grandeur that peeks in on us from everywhere. Because -- God is at it again.God's Grandeur
THE world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Stimulate the economy, give a poet a dollar.
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