It’s not a competition, it’s a doorway.
― Mary Oliver
My sister and I were opportunists. We knew what we wanted. We knew how to justify, to determine if our particular choices were going to get us into trouble. We were good girls with a penchant for seizing the perfect moment, that moment to make the ask, to take the risk. And with twenty-one months between us, we shared most things – clothes, rooms, friends. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes it didn’t. We knew about each other’s misdeeds and promptly tattled and told, a way to even the playing field and not let one get ahead of the other. Justice was our commodity. Equality our language. There was nothing unequal about our existence. All things meted out to the fraction.
Julie and Jenny were not troublemakers for the sake of being troublemakers, we were opportunists. At the grocery store, while our mom was preoccupied with the little brothers and checking out weekly foodstuffs for a large family on a budget, we would pilfer through the bags of peanuts piled underneath the bulk chocolate candies. Stuffing our mouths full of the renegade pieces offered our sweet toothed cravings a respite.
Another notable moment, while waiting outside for a parent who ran into Kmart “real quick”, Julie and Jenny waited for an unsuspecting mother to add her change to the carousel’s coin bank. As the most-fortunate-child-for-whom-carousel-rides-were-purchased chose the best of three little ponies, Julie and I claimed the other two and rode on the shocked mother’s dime. We were not rebellious but we were opportunistic. If our parent’s weren’t going to purchase chocolate candies in bulk or carousel rides at Kmart, we were going to figure it out for ourselves.
I often wonder if we were stealing. Were we wrong? No-one said anything, except our parents upon discovery, but that didn’t seem to stop us the next time when we exercised our opportunities with the other parent.
I’m not sure how I would feel if my children were pilfering loose candy or snagging free rides, but the other horses were not occupied, the candy was headed to the trashcan. Why not?
We’ve been a supposed even-steven society, probably since our inception, a nation presumed best built upon each person pulling their weight and not sucking the system. The problem with this definition of collective equality is the fact that many do not start from the same starting line, and depending upon skin color, gender, sexuality, ability, the starting line looks very different.
The work of grace is nonsensical and unfair. Grace says it’s all good. The first is last and last is first. Grace is about boys who squander wealth and opportunity and in a last-ditch-effort, return home with tail tucked between legs to a father that runs to greet and a fattened calf to boot. Grace, the language of God, is nonsensical to our rational and opportunity-driven selves.
The disparities are legion in this nation – from healthcare to education, immigration to wealth. We who are in the power position oftentimes believe people with less are lazy or selfish, opportunistic, when in fact, we are each a touch away from being accused of the same thing. My mental health is intact (for now) because of my physiology and financial resources. My physical health is intact (for now) because of insurance and access to nutritious foods and medication and a gym membership and genetics. My relational health is intact because of counseling and the opportunity to have time to work things out. I have so much privilege and so many resources, but this is not true for all.
The candy was gonna get thrown out. The horses were gonna go around with or without Julie and Jenny on them. We do not have to live in the notion of scarcity. If we all can give a little and hold a lot less tight to our stuff and our comfort I bet we would discover something to pass around.
I know it’s hard right now. We are nervous with a kid wanting to go to college, and then another, and another. A third set of braces, house payments, a small business to run and employees to cover. Health insurance payments are high and income doesn’t always cut it, but we are warm and well-fed. We are clothed and housed. We have cars and furniture, a full pantry and pets. There are many without the same amenities and many who need a just a boost.
With the recent spate of hurricanes, fires, floods, I wonder what small sacrifice I can make with my money, my time, or another untapped resource I might have. I wonder if there’s someone that comes to mind, someone in my immediate vicinity that needs me to take a risk – small or large, it doesn’t matter. If we give what is in our hearts to give, the amount that settles into our bones, the thought that presses late at night and early in the morning. Give that, give what the gut says, what the heart reveals. There’s no guilt here, just opportunity. We aren’t in the earning game, we’re in the giving game.
Grace and love and mercy are poured upon us freely – what can we freely give?