Sunday, December 1, 2019

A Slice Of Toast

“When we try to take out one thing,
we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”
—John Muir, western U.S. conservationist

We are a unique person in this world, different from all others. We like thinking of ourselves as being unique, even as we may struggle to identify that which makes us unique and then genuinely live that uniqueness. But uniqueness can feel quite lonely, as our uniqueness also works to separate us all from all others, from all things surrounding us. That separation thereby creates barriers that oppose our concurrent desire for community. It is Community that gives us the sense of Connection to all that surrounds our life, and mitigates that aloneness we seek to avoid, that we often fear. Yet Community demands that we surrender some measure of our uniqueness by seeing and accepting our Commonality. Our uniqueness is actually only partial, a piece, of a life that otherwise is shared with, and common to, others. Our life is a balancing act. Our lives are built on a foundation common to all; our uniqueness flourishes in the manner in which we live our daily lives. It is in discovering, and living from, that common core, that our connection to one another will be found.

We are connected in myriad ways. For example, look closely at the construction of our bodies. The miracle of the human form is a series of separate body parts, cells, organs and fluids. Each component has a distinct purpose and job, all intricately interconnected together to make it work – mostly without our conscious awareness or doing anything. It just happens. All of the parts create the singular whole. Are we the parts? Or are we the whole? The elegant design of our interconnected body sets the theme for our interconnection with all that is in the world.

Look outside our physical self. When I fix a slice of toast for my morning breakfast, do I stop to reflect on how many people, and how many individual steps, were required for that toast to show up on my plate? The farmer that sowed the seed and grew the grain and harvested the result – all thanks to Nature who provided the dirt, the seed, the sunshine, the rain, the bumblebee that interacted to allow the grain to grow. The grain wholesaler who received the grain and then hired the driver to deliver the grain in a truck to the baker – a truck made by hundreds of people in the parts and materials chain. The baker that combined the grain with the other needed ingredients – each of which separately followed a similar creation and delivery process performed by similar people – to bake the bread. The next driver who carried the baked bread in his/her truck to the grocery store, the various workers who received the bread and put it on the shelves for us to carry it to the counter person to pay for it. The people and materials who built the car in which we took it home, to be put into the stove (manufactured by still others) that runs on gas/electricity  provided by numerous utility workers.

All of these people and steps need to come together in order for that simple piece of toast to appear on our breakfast plate. If we should then choose to add some jam onto that toast, the entire cycle is repeated. We must now consider all these additional people who have to get involved for our benefit, just for that little extra added pleasure. It makes for a very large crowd gathered around our dining table.

All rivers from which we drink ultimately flow to the one ocean that circumnavigates the earth – one interconnected ocean in spite of the intangible names by which we separate them. All of the air we breathe moves uninterrupted across man-made borders, respecting no boundaries – the woman in Oklahoma sneezes and the man in China says “god bless you.” It is by taking the time to look behind the curtain of our uniqueness that we find the many Connections that truly make our life possible. Make our life worthwhile.

We are not alone in this world, even when we may think we are. For all the people, things and tasks that go into supporting us, we are also simultaneously part of many similar webs that support others. The obligation is on us to think about, to acknowledge, to connect to all those people and things that make our life possible – in whatever form we may choose to live it. We will always give attention to living our individual life. But it is only when we live a life connected to all things that we can experience God’s life – the life we are intended to follow.

We are each singular; we are all plural. Interconnected with all things – human, non-human, inanimate. Like the pebble thrown into the lake, the ever-expanding ripple effects of my life ultimately reach far beyond that which I can see. I am one; I am all. The whole of the Universe can be found in a simple slice of toast.

“How are we?”
—Bishop Desmond Tutu, from traditional African greeting of Connection

©   2019   Randy Bell