“Snow again? How are we supposed to walk into the forest?”
“We already have 6 inches, Auss. Just look at how the birds are eating! Good thing I filled those feeders last evening.”
“You put your dog-walking clothes on!”
“On the days I know I’m going to be indoors all day, especially due to a storm, I like to put on my warm, faded, brown dungarees and my gray sweatshirt. But as long as they don’t plow the driveway, we can’t walk out, Aussie.”
“I feel stuck stuck stuck! Unfair unfair unfair! You know what this is? It’s a God problem.”
I told Aussie about an article I read on San Francisco’s Tenderloin District facing overwhelming challenges of drug abuse and homelessness. The mayor, London Breed, who herself grew up in poverty in the city, is bringing in more police and surveillance cameras even as others say that a different approach is needed. The article ended with the words of a man who grew up in the Tenderloin, became involved with drugs and prison, got his life together, a job and family, and moved out: “So they will just fill all the jails—and then what? I was a part of all that and it did no good. London Breed is not going to solve this problem. This is a God problem.”
I’ve been mulling God problem ever since in various contexts, be it racism, the war in Ukraine, climate change, or creating unity in a country cleaved by factions and disinformation.
I think he was referring to the totality of the situation, the complexity and interdependence where it’s not enough to just take care of one thing, you need to take care of many things because they affect each other and the total picture. In other words, partial approaches don’t work, and when you see that, you shake your head and say: This is a God problem.
I write these words while the birds go after food at the feeders and on the snow (see photo). The feeders are almost empty and it’s not even noon. The blue jays have arrived, lording it over the finches with their size and aggressive temperament, sending them away.
Saraswati, which Bernie gave me many years ago, sits on the window ledge. She looks not out at the birds but towards me at my desk, as if I’m the one who needs help. To do what? Find solutions? Volunteer somewhere, send money, write, pray?
I know that calling anything a God problem doesn’t let me off any hook. I can’t waste time or words on speculation or abstraction, there is lots of work work to do. If there’s such a thing as a God problem, there’s also such a thing as God’s work and I have to find my piece of it.
I am sketching out a fictional character who wants to end tragedies and save the world but doesn’t know how, can’t find himself in narrower, more practical scenarios that need help. He wants to do God’s work but not human work.
Hearing that there’s a dearth of winter clothes for children in immigrant families, friends gathered a small warehouse full of coats, jackets, hats, gloves, boots, slippers, and mittens. Jimena divided and bagged them by size and put many bags outdoors, and when I came over last night most had disappeared; the few left will disappear over the weekend.
I handed Jimena a Whole Foods bag full of crackers, dried fruit, jams, oils, pastas and beans. “Aussie’s friend, Leeann, gave it to me. She said that a neighbor brought it over.”
“But we didn’t ask for food, certainly not from Whole Foods.”
“That’s what I said, Jimena, but Leeann told me the neighbor just wanted to do something.”
That wanting to do something, that opening of the heart, that response that is almost a reflex—that’s what I think of as love. It’s so natural that, in order to dam it up, people resort to propaganda and lies; hence the need to “deNazify” Ukraine, as Russia trumpets, even as Ukraine’s president is Jewish, because how else can Putin convince his troops to keep on marching and bombarding civilians? SS officers had to go through classes about Jews being unhuman to counter their own natural humanity, otherwise how else lead mothers holding little children to slaughter?
Fear could dam up that natural response, or at least cause it to go sideways. A big reason while we, living in this Pioneer Valley, can be so generous and giving is because we have relatively little to fear from war or want, not because we’re any better than anyone else. Free of fear, we respond.
Even as the universe continues to expand outwards, another force pulls us in closer to one another. Even as I exercise my back every day to stretch it up, sideways, and all around, creating more and more space for ribs and spine, it’s all one body.
“Just because the storm is a God problem doesn’t mean that you don’t walk me,” says Aussie.
Groan. “Right, Auss.”
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