Only once ever did a man introduce himself to me as bad, and that turned out to be Mr. Mann with a head cold. It seems to be the conceit of enormous swaths of humankind that they number among the good. So much so that when ill befalls their lot, they imagine themselves equipped with evidence to indict God — if not for malice aforethought, then certainly for negligence. ‘Tis scarce indeed to encounter one so schooled in humility that he’d say like Macduff:
“…Did heaven look on
And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff,
They were all struck for thee! naught that I am.
Not for their own demerits, but for mine,
Fell slaughter on their souls…”
Or like Jonah in the Bible explaining the typhoon that lashed the ship carrying citizens of many nations: “Lift me and place me into the sea and the sea will be silenced from upon you, because I know that it is because of mine [sins] that this great hurricane is upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)
It’s Thanksgiving and here we stand as a nation, bloodied by the predations of Bin Laden and Zarqawi and the depredations of Katrina, Rita and Wilma, and we wonder what it all means. Macduff again:
“…each new morn
New widows howl; new orphans cry; new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
…and yell’d out
Like syllable of dolour.”
Having suffered somewhat in each of these hurricanes as they visited Miami, I can bear witness to some of those dolorous syllables. Not for me to chastise in random flourishes; I’m no better than anyone else. Yet, after sixteen days in the dark when Wilma scourged our power grids, I can deliver one message with a measure of clarity. We are guilty of a lack of thanksgiving, a dearth of gratefulness, a shortfall of appreciation, for the blessings that God bestows through technology. Even those disposed to thank for their health and wealth and family are apt to dodge their debt of gratitude for the machinery that enhances their life.
Let’s start with electricity to power our homes. This was not imported from another galaxy, it was something built into the fabric of our world. Yet it hovered beyond our reach for over five thousand years of recorded history. All the great men of history, all of our ancestors, all the people who brought us to where we are today, did it without the benefit of a heater in winter and an air conditioner in summer. They spent many an exertive hour flailing at frozen trees with hatchets for a few cords of firewood or hacking at frozen lakes to dislodge blocks of ice for cooling.
Our mothers lost so much of their lives in the arduous painstaking tasks of washing dishes and clothing by hand. Without washing machines and dryers, without dishwashers, every speck of grime on a dish or a cloth exacted a toll in strenuous labor. And time, always time, as great lives ticked away with hands elbow-deep in murky water. We are gifted with a great bounty of hours freed from bondage, open for creativity. Pieces of our lives have already experienced their Exodus and their Messiah; no woman should ever again have to lose an afternoon churning butter.
What of refrigerators to store food and enable us to limit the adventure — and burden — of food shopping to once-weekly binges instead of daily grinds? How about ovens that cook by flipping a switch and microwaves that reheat in moments? These enhance the flavor of our lives and emancipate our time and energy, all utilizing materials that were provided in nature from its inception but revealed ever so slowly. Not to mention indoor plumbing and water heating.
Transportation is rendered nothing less than miraculous. Indeed the Jewish tradition speaks of miracles that occurred enabling certain characters in the Bible to travel great distances in short times. For instance, it teaches that Abraham’s servant got from Israel to Mesopotamia (near the Syria-Iraq border) in one day via supernatural intervention. Yet we can do that trip today by plane in a few hours and by car within a day. What was once a miracle is now natural and everyday. And we have not even begun to discuss the communication of human voices and images through radio, television, telephones and the Internet.
Someone needs to write a special prayer thanking the Creator for opening our eyes to the secrets that He planted in the world to be discovered in our own era: the era of prophecy fulfilled, the epoch of “a new heaven and a new earth”. The next time a light bulb flickers or a tire goes flat, don’t sit there and cuss, but close your eyes and reflect on the Fate that chose you to have these wonderful things that all of our noble ancestors did not. Perhaps then we will be spared the more violent reminders by the likes of Zarqawi and his brothers, Katrina and her sisters, that electricity and oil are ours by grace, not desert.