The Common Good

Seeking Clarity

NEW YORK — The "October trifecta" that touched my life — my father's death, surgery the next day, and the unprecedented destruction of Hurricane Sandy around New York — did what traumatic events often do.

Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com
Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com

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They left me emotionally fatigued and ready for some fresh clarity, fresh perspective, and fresh prioritizing.

When life seems fragile, it's clear some things matter more than others. It reminds us that attention must be paid to family, friends, and the differences we make in our work and our faith. Lesser concerns — like the tablet computer I have been angling to acquire — quickly fall away.

This will make the upcoming holiday shopping season a bit awkward, because all I really want for Christmas is time with my family and the joy of singing with the Gospel choir at church. Marketplace efforts to stimulate my appetite for stuff probably will fall flat this season.

The October trifecta also shaped my attitude about the presidential election. I fast-forwarded through every advertisement, found myself determined to vote despite obstacles that local election officials placed in our path, and wanted not another minute of politics-as-usual as practiced in the past four years. Instead, I want leaders to lead on behalf of an entire nation, or get out of the way.

I don't want to waste another minute catering to the wealthy or stoking the conspiracy fears of the right wing. The electorate voted for the future and for shared burden. It's time to move forward.

Fresh clarity doesn't just appear; it isn't that easy. I need to examine some specifics, such as how I allocate my time, expend my energies, pursue my work, and care for my family. I need to consider how day-to-day decisions reflect my values. I need to identify what, if anything, needs to be set aside as unnecessary distraction.

I'm the only person who  can do this personal work. I can't look to a profit-seeking marketplace or a power-seeking political class for guidance. They care nothing for me or my family. And they surely don't want my life to find balance, for what would I then need to buy or whose clever hypocrisy could claim my support?

The ugliness of this political season wasn't about legitimate differences of opinion, the push-pull that mature people expect and learn to work through. The ugliness was about deceit, fear-mongering, last-minute attempts to suppress voters, and a multi-year campaign to deliver an entire nation into the greedy hands of a cosseted few.

In effect, I think people took back their votes and used the election to do the hard work of seeking clarity, perspective, and prioritizing. Despite all the campaign huffing about people wanting to be taken care of, I think the reality is that people do take care of their own needs; they do make their own decisions; they do accept a high degree of personal responsibility.

People aren't seeking a demagogue to crystallize their yearnings into blame and vengeance. They aren't seeking the easy answers of a religious cult. They aren't trusting rich old white men to scatter crumbs in their direction. 

Yes, our lives often teeter toward disruption. Life sometimes gets crowded and confounding. But that doesn't make this "open season" for the sharps and short-changers. Their wheedling and hypocrisy simply add to the noise we are trying to work through.

They thought we were fools because recent years have been difficult. Instead, we stepped up and set about cleaning up the messes.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of Just Wondering, Jesus and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich. Via RNS.

Close-up of a man's face, Tudor Catalin Gheorghe / Shutterstock.com

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