Bazaar workers shouldn’t have to work all day long for peanuts. Their fingers, toes, and noses shouldn’t freeze from the cold trapped in all the concrete and metal shipping containers that surround them. They shouldn’t try to milk you for every last cent. Yet they do.
A service called Drunk Taxi—no joke—shouldn’t be a thing. Strong, intelligent young men shouldn’t know about it yet alone use it. And people shouldn’t get drunker than skunks at weddings and birthday parties. Yet it is a thing, and people apparently do use it often, and getting drunk is the goal for some people attending celebrations.
Children should not have to walk down the middle of a busy city street on their way to school because poor planning and a lack of resources resulted in the delay of the construction of the sidewalk. But they do every morning right outside our house.
Thesis advisers shouldn’t ask their students for $1000 to write their master’s degree dissertation for them. Yet in some places, that’s par for the course, and you attempt to write it yourself at your own risk.
Stray dogs shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce all over the city like bunnies. They shouldn’t have litters of seven which they can’t feed, which in turn leaves them to slowly starve or succumb to hypothermia. Yet you see packs of stray dogs every day, and sometimes you hear of litters of puppies living across the street in a box your wife got them from the basement.
Intelligent young people shouldn’t close their eyes to the truth that’s staring them right in the face and run headlong down a path that ends in death, whistling all the way. Yet there they go.
Drunk women smoking cigarettes shouldn’t accost you in broad daylight asking for money, and you shouldn’t be so cruel as to get in your car and drive away. Yet it happens again and again.
A sum as vast as $386 million shouldn’t vanish into thin air. The facilities the money was supposed to renovate shouldn’t still look as they did during the Cuban Missile Crisis. People shouldn’t be without heating in their homes when it’s -15 degrees F (-25 degrees C). Yet money does disappear, facilities do remain desperately out-of-date, and people’s radiators do turn cold during the times they’re needed most.
Rich Westerners shouldn’t begrudge the opportunity to open their front gate and give to others as abundantly as others have given to them. And yet, they do.
Teenage mothers shouldn’t have to give birth to their first child in a barn and lay him in an animal trough after a long journey because the local inn’s full. Yet it happens.
Young men shouldn’t endure appendectomies with only local anesthesia. They shouldn’t be tied to the hospital bed during surgery. They shouldn’t have to beg a doctor to clean the vomit off their faces. Yet, these things actually happen. Still. Today.
Mothers shouldn’t train their children using shame tactics. They shouldn’t teach them that something is wrong merely because someone else will think less of you if you do it, which, of course, means that if no one thinks less of you for doing a given thing, then it’s OK to do. Yet mothers continue to teach their children this way.
Poor families shouldn’t be taken advantage of by provincial hospitals. Doctors shouldn’t plot to steal babies from unsuspecting mothers. Bribes should not tip the scales of justice. Yet you hear the stories, and the crazy thing is that they don’t seem too farfetched.
Perhaps I’m just a glass-half-empty kind of guy. Perhaps I see shadows where others see the sunlight. That probably shouldn’t be either. Yet it is.
So what do you do?
That’s the question I’m left asking myself every single day.
There are a hundred thousand things around me that shouldn’t be yet are. I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface here. (I’m sure you could make your own list and we could rant and rave and weep together.) And for some reason, for these types of things, I’ve got a really good memory, and each item on my list affects me to the core. But being touched counts for beans when, in about 98% of cases, I can do next to nothing.
So how do you live? How do you get out of bed in the morning?
Close your eyes? Block it out? Insulate yourself? Build a little fortress called your home, lock the gate, hunker down, and try to ignore it all? Perhaps with the help of alcohol, Netflix, and medication?
Do you let the anger bubble and brew within you? Do you rage against the injustice? Start petitions? Organize marches? Write nasty Facebook posts against the system and the establishment?
Or do you collapse under the horror of it all? Let the magnitude of the [insert your favorite explicative here] that’s going on around you crush you? Fall into depression at how helpless you are to effect any meaningful change?
That’s how some people respond. I’ve tried a good number of these myself. (No, I won’t tell you which ones.)
Can I be frank with you? None of these things are ultimately that helpful in the sense that not a single one will get you the satisfaction your soul craves more than your lungs crave oxygen.
So what do you?
You live in your own untamed place. I live in mine. They couldn’t be more different, right? Surely what might work for me wouldn’t work for you or vice-versa.
See, I don’t think so. We both live on planet earth. We’re both surrounded by people who, for all their physical, cultural, and linguistic differences, have all fallen off the same tree, and not a single apple has rolled far.
Oh, sure, my discontent is wrapped in different colored paper than yours and the tag is written in a different language, but in the end, this whole earth is but a single, wild, untamed place, and we’re all groping in the dark together. So I would contend that if there’s any hope for me here in my untamed place, it’s a hope that will serve you, too, in yours.
So what is it? What on earth do you do with case after case of what shouldn’t be but is?
Of course, if you’ve read any other posts here to “The Untamed Places,” you might have an inkling of where I’m going with this. But how can I not go there? If I’ve found a stream in the desert and I didn’t build my whole life around that stream, wouldn’t I be crazy? And if I didn’t organize search parties for others lost in the desert, and if I didn’t invite them to come and drink, too, wouldn’t I be heartless at best and homicidal at worst?
I’ve found a stream. The water is cool to my parched throat and life-giving to my dry and weary bones. It is a singular stream in this untamed desert we call human existence. It’s not high up in some distant mountain. It’s not hidden in some deep dark forest. In fact, it’s not a place at all.
It’s a person. He died, and then, incredibly, he rose again from the dead. And if that’s true, that changes everything.
See, one of my greatest frustrations as I gaze out upon all the shouldn’t-be-but-are’s in this life is this: There is but one end in each case, and that end is utter destruction. Doctors who plot to steal babies are destroying individuals and families. Embezzlers of millions of dollars are destroying communities and whole cities. Mothers who instill shame into their children as the basis for their moral compasses are destroying a generation.
It all ends in oblivion. There is no other natural outcome, and we’re hurtling towards it, just like the young man who sat across from me at the coffee shop, whistling all the way.
Unless, of course, there’s something to hope for the very second after death.
The stream I’ve found, this person who died and rose again, shows us that, yes, death has tainted every last thing here in these untamed places. Yes, we’re merrily skipping towards that end, oblivious to it in most cases, even though it’s waiting just around the corner and its teeth are sharp. But if one person died and lived to tell the story, perhaps the common destruction to which we’re all wildly careening doesn’t, in fact, get the last laugh.
That’s the essence of the cool and life-giving water I’ve found. It’s hope. And it’s not some pie-in-the-sky hope. It’s a hope that was established in the flesh, by a real living and breathing person, in a concrete moment in our shared history, attested to by witnesses who saw him and heard him and touched him with their hands. It’s no allegory to say that Jesus rose from the dead. He actually rose. And then he opened wide his arms and said that if you want to share in his resurrection, come and drink.
If that’s true, all these things that shouldn’t be but are become transient realities through which I’m traveling and not ultimate destruction, either for me or for them—if they’re drinking the same water I’m drinking, that is. No, such a hope does not alter the fact that all these things that shouldn’t be but are end in death, but that fact no longer binds me. I no longer have to try to figure out how to fix all these things and in so fixing them avoid destruction, my own or others’. The destruction will come, but a second afterward, I’ll wake up on the other side because Jesus woke up on the other side.
This is the reason I can get out of bed each morning. I might die today. One of the many things that shouldn’t be but are might finally overcome me and those closest to me. And that wouldn’t be fun. But that’s not game over.
One day every last thing that shouldn’t be but is will cease. I wait for that day and am thus able to live this day. And so, as soon as my heart begins to beat a little faster because of yet another thing I encounter that is nearly unbelievable, I again focus my eyes on the one who endured the most horrible thing that never should have been yet was—the same one who walked out on the other side of it in glory.
There is hope. There is a single hope. But there is hope. It’s to that hope I cling.