As I understand my new job better, and as I keep going to church, an internal battle gets fueled. Chatting a few thoughts on it may help clarify the warriors.... I'm calling the armies Sanctuary versus Compassion.
Point: Sanctuary. The devastation in Haiti was difficult to read about, but for me, in many ways, it was no more difficult than reading about life in Haiti before the quake. Women there have made, and after the quake probably still make, cookies. Out of dirt. DIRT. So that empty stomachs can at least feel full, and it broke my heart before tectonic plates broke it further.
I point this out because I didn't think of rushing to Haiti because while I might have imagined wiping fevered brows, delivering food, helping people... I would do it only if I could sleep on a cot or in a bed at night, only if I had a working toilet to use, only if I had a hot shower every couple days, only if I were living in some manner at least close to that which I am accustomed. I couldn't share 12 toilets with 6,000 other people, as some of the camps are. I feel guilty about this, and yet, my late friend Cody would remind me not to compare my problems or perspective to someone else's problem or experience.
The Sanctuary point is that I need silence, stillness. I need quiet sleep. I need to be alone in my comforting, comfortable home. I need to leave the world behind me and recharge my batteries. I might feel guilty about having these needs - but not guilty enough to ignore them!
And sometimes, in this Sanctuary, I complain. About everything. Big and small, personal and global, sometimes I need to vent and rant and cry and most of all... I need to write it off. "It"? The subjugation of women, the overuse of antibiotics, the slaughter of dolphins, frozen political landscapes, shrimp farms ruining the coastlines of Thailand. I need to sit back and complain, know I can't effect any kind of change, and take some comfort in this: it's not my responsibility, alone, to fix the world. I need to give up, drop out, and disengage. Not letting it in helps me protect my heart from further hurt.
Counterpoint: Compassion. When did closing myself off ever truly protect me from further pain? And I go to this job now everyday where tens, dozens, hundreds of people with causes, missions, CRUSADES! want time with The Someone who yields legislative power. They want to stop animal testing, they want funding for diabetes, they are planting a garden at a high school and need help. They're raising money for Iraq war veterans, they're putting on a 6th grade play about climate change, they have a new college scholarship for children of single parents.
They have a passion for their community - be it Bernese Mountain Dog lovers or parents of autistic children or ESL educators. These micro-communities, within the community of Portland, overwhelm me. When I extrapolate it out to the micro-Portland-communities within the Northwest, the country, the hemisphere and beyond...
I literally have been laying awake a bit before bedtime these past two weeks, allowing this desire for change, work toward a better world, love and good works flood me. Yes, it is overwhelming. It is truly overwhelming to contemplate all that needs to be done - and how many everyday folks are contributing. It is hard, too. It's harder for me to learn about a debt relief plan for poor countries; it's easier to write the planners off as powerless volunteers who won't get the ear of the Senate Finance Committee. It's easier to sit back and tune out; it's always easier for me to say no.
I started by asking if Compassion or my need for Sanctuary is winning the mental battle. It's Perfect Compassion of course, isn't it? I always, always choose the harder path because I believe it will be the right decision for me. But what I also see now is that the real battle is how to fold Sanctuary into Compassion; how to recharge so that I can continue the work of opening my heart. Learning, listening, acting, engaging. "Community" can be such a wimpy word, but oh my, it isn't. Right now, it's all there is.