I almost had to peel myself out of bed this morning, reeling from fatigue and another inconvenient gout flare-up. This time it’s in my ankle and my right elbow. It’s excruciating. Apparently, the 1000.00 per month medication prescribed to prevent gout is a real winner. I choked down 25mg of Prednisone in hopes that I would be able to support weight on my left foot by noon. I headed out at 9:15 to the local food pantry at the local church, where I volunteer almost every Saturday.
I really enjoy volunteering. There is a real need in my community, there is a large segment of poverty on the fringe of all of the “old money” in town. This need requires volunteers, which are few. In the winter the population is 25% of what it is when the sun is out. Of the remaining 25%, many go to Florida. By being there every week in the winter I help make sure that they have enough coverage.
A morning at the food pantry consists of a rotating cast and crew of really nice people. Most of them know my family so it wasn’t hard to blend in. Each week, anywhere between 10-15 families come in and we set them up with a lot of healthy goodies. It’s about 3 hours of steady moving, packing and small talk. Today, as I was checking my email during a break. dear sweet Bonnie said to me, “Bill, how come we never see you at church on Sunday?” Oh boy, here we go. As I began to formulate my answer I realized that all eyes were on me, as if to all say “yea, how come?” Not wanting to get into it, I explained to them that I’m just not a “church guy”. The hymns, responsive readings, symbolism, and idolatry don’t do it for me. I explained that I have a complex relationship with Spirituality that is still in progress. I left them with the Kayak quote:
“Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking. Spirituality is sitting in a kayak thinking about God”
That seemed to satisfy them. We moved on. I limped out of there on time and went home, hoping the prednisone would kick in enough to force a quick 1/2 hour on the hamster wheel before I run out of spoons for the day.
As I was making a quick sandwich, Mom said “Going to Church tomorrow?” I facepalmed dramatically. “What?” she said. I explained to her that I just went through this. Mom has always thought that I don’t like church because of an incident I had in high school with a sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch minister who slapped my cousin. I have spent the last 30 plus years trying to convince her otherwise. In the moment, I decided to have this conversation for hopefully the last time. I looked at her and said,
“Church or no Church, aren’t I living a life of virtue”? I went on to explain that I try always to be nice, courteous, respectful, charitable, etc, isn’t that as good as going to Church for an hour a week and stare at the plaster ceilings, waiting for the cracks to appear? She doesn’t get it, she never will. Even the Kayak quote wasn’t pushing this one over the curb.
When I used the word virtue, it just kinda popped out. It is a lofty word with multiple synonyms that range from purity to righteousness, to morality. I will only go so far as to say that I try to live my life with integrity. I grappled for years with virtue, wondering how I could lead a good life without religion. It wasn’t until I reconciled that good vs evil is the same thing as good vs bad that I made any significant strides. I asked myself, do I need 10 commandments to know not to steal, kill or shag my neighbor’s wife? Any decent person knows this. I always try to do the right thing, that’s all.
I always tried to pay attention to little things like pausing in supermarket aisles to offer to reach items on the top shelf for little old ladies, carrying heavy items for people, opening doors, buying a coffee for the guy ringing the bell outside the WalMart at Christmas. Small, human gestures.
Post-transplant, full of “pay it forward“, I stepped it up and joined a fraternal organization dedicated to self-improvement and community. Blood drives, community breakfasts, an anonymous foundation for charitable giving to school kids with needs that don’t fit traditional programs, working the registration tent at a Down’s Syndrome “Buddy Walk” became my Saturday mornings. They were all small gestures that helped people and gave me a real sense of purpose in life.
Unfortunately, I got sick again just as I was really starting to get going. It wasn’t long before I found myself as I am now. Weak in body, Spiritually available to what the Universe has in store for me. With this spirit in mind, I have scaled back my goals to just trying to be a good person. It’s all I have. Energy availability aside, I know that I have enough in me to be kind to strangers. I can certainly say please and thank you. I will continue to treat those that serve me with kindness and dignity. I am able to hold a door and grab something off of the top shelf for someone. I can muster the strength to listen to a friend who needs someone to talk to. I can find the energy to not lie, cheat or steal and to be good to my word, shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye.
I found my purpose. Not to be a good Christian or a benevolent Pagan. My purpose is to be nice. It takes almost zero energy to just be nice. So few are willing to take the job and my resume is a mess anyway, so I’ll take the job. If Jesus is real, I’ll let him decide my worth. I don’t know if that is what a “religious” person considers to be a life of Virtue but I would certainly think it will get me a pass to sleep in on Sunday morning. At least until Kayak season.
Perhaps I will show my mother this post, and put this to bed forever.