An inconvenient life.

November 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

Convenience is the shortest distance between need-to-do-it, and got-it-done.

Push a button.


Nuke dinner.

Drive instead of walk. Jump to conclusions. Don’t get involved.

Because convenience allows us to do things quickly we feel effective and efficient.  But convenience can also rob us blind.

Convenience is not watching your child sleep, not writing down that song in your head, or turning chicken bones into soup instead of garbage.  Convenience is not going to the mom and pop sandwich place instead of the chain, not lying on your back watching the sky. Convenience makes no memories.

The biggest inconveniences of all are the things that mean the most to us: family and friends, our passions, our commitments.  They demand our time, our help, our hearts. They bind us to life and make us necessary.

In my father’s boyhood home town of Congers, New York, a town built to house immigrant Swedes, neighbors clung to each other (as much as Swedes can cling).  Coping with a new country, they staunchly stuck together as a collective “us” in a world of mostly “them.”  This community cared for and accommodated those who could not fend for themselves.  One man (not the brightest candle on the Swedish Christmas Tree)  helped kids, who probably needed no help, to cross the railroad tracks.  Small allowances were made by everyone to support this man.  All shared his inconvenience.

Communities like Congers are rare these days.  We don’t know each other as well.  We are not as connected or provincial.  We’re too busy.  So we rely on technology and the convenience of online friends to meet our needs—and we keep moving forward in a very straight line until something happens.  A dying parent needs care.  A child falls seriously ill.  A job is lost.

Needing help, we become an inconvenience.  But to whom? Do we know anyone that well?  Do we even know how to ask for help?  Needing help is a sign of weakness and failure, isn’t it?  Only a society of convenience would teach that lesson.

Needing help is a necessary part of embracing life’s inconvenience.  It requires grace and a willingness to seek out an “us” in a world of mostly “them.”

A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points.  So is the interstate, but life resides in the small towns along the back roads and the people met along the way.

No one has ever reached the end of their life and said, “What a great life, it was so convenient!”

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§ 2 Responses to An inconvenient life.

  • Tgumster says:

    Riding the MetroStar, transportation of and with others. Everyone is going somewhere or nowhere but for the time it takes to ride a route, everyone is the same, and that’s convenient.

    The seats in the back of the bus offer the most comfort–high enough to see out both sides of the bus–but the stairs to these prize seats are steep and narrow, not for the arthritic, disabled or weary. Best for them to stay up front in the low visibility seats.

    We’re better for riding with each other, one inconvenience at a time.


  • Jen says:

    Grace is not found in convenience; life’s gifts come in to us in the detours and disappointments that birth patience, humility, creativity, the need that births sympathy.

    Man has to seek God in error and
    forgetfulness and foolishness. —Meister Eckhart

    This error is the sign of love,
    the crack in the ice where the otters breathe,
    the tear that saves a man from power,
    the puff of smoke blown down the chimney one morning, and the widower sighs and gives up his loneliness,
    the lines transposed in the will so the widow must scatter coins from the cliff instead of ashes and she marries again, for love,
    the speechlessness of lovers that forces them to leave it alone while it sends up its first pale shoot like an onion sprouting in the pantry,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The leak in the nest, the hole in the coffin,
    the crack in the picture plate a young girl fills with her secret life to survive the grade school,
    the retarded twins who wander house to house, eating,
    ’til the neighbors have become neighbors.
    The teacher’s failings in which the students ripen,
    Luther’s fit in the choir, Darwin’s dyspepsia, boy children stuttering in the gunshop,
    boredom, shyness, bodily discomforts like long rows of white stones at the edge of the highway,
    blown head gaskets, darkened choir lofts, stolen kisses,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The nickel in the butter churn, the farthing in the cake, the first reggae rhythms like seasonal cracks in a government building,
    the rain-damaged instrument that taught us the melodies of black emotion and red and yellow emotion,
    the bubble of erotic energy escaped from a marriage and a week later the wife dreams of a tiger,
    the bee that flies into the guitar and hangs transfixed in the sound of sound ’til all his wetness leaves him
    and he rides that high wind to the Galapagos,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The fault in the sea floor where the fish linger and mate, the birthmark that sets the girl apart and years later she alone of the sisters finds her calling,
    Whitman’s idiot brother whom he fed like the rest of us,
    those few seconds Bréton fell asleep and dreamed of a pit of sand
    with the water starting to flow,
    the earth’s wobbling axis uncoiling seasons—seeds that need six months of drought, flowers shaped for the tongues of moths, summertime
    and death’s polarized light caught beneath the surface
    of Florentine oils,
    this error is the sign of love.

    The beggar buried in the cathedral,
    the wisdom-hole in the façade of the library,
    the corners of the garden that are not harvested,
    the hail storm in a South Dakota town that started the
    Farmers’ Cooperative in 1933,
    the Sargasso Sea that gives false hope to sailors and they sail
    on and find a new world,
    the picnic basket that slips overboard and leads to the invention of the lobster trap,
    the one slack line in a poem where the listener relaxes
    and suddenly the poem is in your heart like a fruit
    wasp in an apple,
    this error is the sign of love!

    lines from “This Error is the Sign of Love,” by Lewis Hyde, from This Error is the Sign of Love (Milkweed Editions).


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