I have ranted (as one friend calls my blog posts) about this before, but I will do it again. We had some friends out for dinner on Friday evening. It was the first time they had been to our place so we took them down the back to show them the extent of our property etc. We have a vegetable garden amongst a whole lot of over grown paths, a "paddock" out the back with a couple of goats grazing and sheds and hen house that could do with some care. In the front there are "flower" gardens with overgrown weeds. As we were walking back to the house he commented that he was amazed I could get anything done at home with all the other stuff I did. (Actually Jean does a heap of the home stuff) I explained that in pre Habitat for Humanity days it used to look a lot tidier. I then got a lecture that went like this; "Its all right helping people but you have to live too.... You just can't live for other people, you have to remember that you have a right to a life as well." etc. etc. etc. I appreciate the call to balance and I appreciate his concern but.... excuse me... I am "living" by being there for and with other people! I give three examples...
How much incredible learning and joy would I have missed out on if I had never got involved in Habitat for Humanity. I might have had a weedless garden, my buildings may have been painted up nice, and my lawn manicured but think of all the experiences I would have traded for the relatively superficial joy of a neat house and garden. I would have missed out on;
- The deep joy of seeing families start a new life and knowing I helped make it possible.
- The incredible experiences of being part of a team and seeing the various parts of the project completed. There are days when upon the completion of the day there has been such a spirit and sense of purpose that you feel something really sacred, something immeasurable and special happened between people.
- Seeing scared, cautious volunteers learn skills, grow and become confident.
- The whole process of learning how a house is built and appreciating the work and expertise of various trades and the skill involved.
- The experience of gaining confidence as a builder and as a person and realising that "Hey I can do this!" The learning and practice in problem solving skills.
- Meeting the various people you encounter, the families, your fellow volunteers and the committee members. I extend my friendships, my experience of life and my perspectives on life by meeting this great variety of people.
You put these things alongside fiddling with weeds in a garden, and I'll take the Habitat experiences any day! I am NOT denying life by not looking after my house and garden.
Even if I put Friday night Drop-in centre life under the microscope and compare the trade off I believe I come out the winner. Before Drop-in I used to spend lazy Friday nights relaxing. Here is a weird part of my life I'll share with you. I recall often on Friday nights I would have a bath. I would take a wine or a cool beer, soak in the bath reading a book and listening to a country music radio station. I would have the hot tap dribbling just to keep the water warm, controlling the flow with my toes. After that we may have watched a video and made love. Sooo relaxing. ..... now I spend Friday nights with an average of forty people, playing pool, table tennis, hearing problems, joys, joking and sometimes stressing out about conflicts. But again there are moments of joy. There are lives that are changed. There are moments that are so funny that years afterward I can't help smiling when they come to mind. I get to see the world from different peoples' perspective and their journey in life becomes a part of my journey. Again I am tested to the limits of my abilities and again I grow in confidence. I AM living on Friday night! I am NOT denying myself life. On the contrary I am extending, enriching and fulfilling my life. I can hear someone saying, "But what about the 'making love' trade off!" Yep my "average" per week may be less, but I am with my wife at the drop-in, its a shared project and passion and that is in itself a bonding, shared history enhancing, marriage enriching experience.
Finally take last night as an example. I offered to help a friend struggling with injuries to feed his horses. He objected. "Sunday night is your relaxation night. No, you need to relax, don't come out to help me!" But I did, and I had the best Sunday night I have had in ages. Not only did I gain confidence in and around horses, but I got to know him and have significant deep conversation as we worked around his stables. I would not trade that for a night of artificial entertainment in front of the box. (Though I did miss "Doc Martin")
I often look at the way people try to get enjoyment and "happiness" out of life. There seems to me to be a lot of artificial "plastic" happiness. Very often I see lots of stupid meaningless conversation and joking. Frequently there seems to be an out of proportion fascination with things that are not that important. We get too wrapped up in sporting teams for example. I have heard people rabbit on as if the world depended on them about such things as model cars, fashion and the details of real cars. The list of things I have encountered can be miles long... flowers, dolls, firebrigade badges, pen collections, photos of Dunedin buses, etc. etc. etc. We can delve into the pros and cons of films and the artificial life they draw us into. We often drink too much to make it all bearable and believable. As I watch people I often think they are trying to make sure they are having fun. By their actions and antics it seems like they are desperately asking the question, "Am I having fun yet?" Often as I hear people's priorities, stories and the things they get excited about, I say (rather judgementally I'll admit) under my breath, "Why don't you get a life.... get a REAL life!"
I know I need time to do things like making love, relaxing in the garden and restoring my soul. There is a certain balance that I may have out of kilter from time to time. But I AM living, really living by helping others. I wouldn't trade this life for the artificial, superficial and unfulfilling options I see that others call "living". On the contrary, I think they are often using distractions to opt out of real living out of fear of the challenges and growth real involvement might demand of them. It is, in my opinion, they who are living a life-denying life.