The past two Saturdays, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and ridden motorcycles down to the Hilltop Restaurant with Mike Goss to have fried chicken. We go in late afternoon to avoid the crowds and eat outside on the patio. I order fried chicken, which has been scientifically proven to kill COVID-19, in addition to being what nutritionists call a superfood. Other superfoods include salmon, blueberries, kale, spinach and almonds. Fried chicken is right there with them. When Joan was a little girl, her father was in the hospital near death from a mysterious illness. The doctors had done all they could with little success, and he was near death, when her mother, who made the best fried chicken on God’s green earth, killed a chicken, fried it up, took it to the hospital, and rubbed it on his lips. His eyes opened, he ate the chicken, and went home the next day, completely healed. That’s the power of fried chicken.
I had been without fried chicken for 3 months during this quarantine. People were complaining about not being able to see their grandchildren, how they couldn’t wait to see their family again, and all I could think about was how much I missed fried chicken with green beans, corn, and mashed potatoes. I mentioned it to Joan, who told me I had a problem, and I said, “Yes, I know I have a problem. I can’t get fried chicken. That’s my problem.”
Sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us what’s really important, doesn’t it. I realize, of course, some people would say I need to keep things in perspective. But I suspect they’re vegetarians.
We’ve been talking about growing up and defined a grown-up as someone who is consciously aware of their feelings, and takes responsibility for their decisions and actions. We’re continuing to think about the qualities of grown-up people. Last week, we said grown-up people were capable of self-regulation. You’ll remember I confessed about thinking today’s protestors needed to do a better job of self-regulating, but then it occurred to me that if white people had been better at self-regulation, if we had not subjected our black brothers and sisters to cruelty and injustice, there would have been no cause for protesting. So self-regulation is one characteristic of grown-up people. When we are grown-up, we regulate ourselves so as not to cause pain or injury to other people.
Today I want to discuss another quality of grown-up people, which is perspective, the ability to give situations and circumstances their appropriate weight. It turns out that in the midst of pandemics and civic unrest, there are some people who think only of fried chicken. I won’t mention any names.
I have a friend who had a birthday this week and he was lamenting growing older. I reminded him that in some cultures, growing older is an honor, signifying the accumulation of experience. Older people have a reservoir of knowledge to draw upon. Many older people aren’t easily rattled when they hit a patch of bad luck, because they know life has its ups and downs, its rhythms of feast and famine, of bane and blessing, so they learn to ride it out. This is perspective. Of course, this doesn’t happen with every aging person, but it happens to enough of us that we notice the trend.
Often when I conduct a funeral I read the opening words from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” We don’t know precisely when those were words were written, or for that matter who wrote them, but don’t you bet were written by someone with experience. Those aren’t young people words.
Perspective: the ability to give situations and circumstances their appropriate weight. Perspective is that calm voice in us that opens the door when anxiety and hysteria knock.
We’ve got a lot going on in our nation now, what with COVID 19 and its harvest of death, record unemployment, the fallout from hundreds of years of cruel and stupid racism, not to mention political strife. I was grousing about this to a friend, who reminded me that 51,000 Americans were killed by other Americans in three days at Gettysburg. That’s perspective. Times are tough, but good people of every race in every state are doing all they can to help those suffering from Covid-19, good people of every race in every state are standing and marching with people of color, good people of every race in every state are donating to food pantries or helping someone else pay their mortgage, good people of every race in every state are speaking up about the threat to our democracy.
Perspective helps us realize and affirm those great truths. Perspective allows us to step back from our problems, look at them and ourselves with a calm, composed eye, and assign them their proper value. Perspective keeps us from bearing fifty pounds of worry over a ten pound problem. This can be hard, because when we’re in the midst of difficulties, it takes real discipline to step back from a situation and look at it with some objectivity and cool-mindedness. Our tendency is to inflate and exaggerate our difficulties until we feel overloaded, overburdened, and finally overwhelmed.
The writer Robert Fulghum once said, “One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”
Don’t complain about a cold while forgetting your neighbor is on a ventilator.
Don’t complain that the grocery store overcharged you a dollar while forgetting black Americans have been shortchanged for hundreds of years and the average woman still earns 20% less than the average man.
Don’t complain about wearing a mask and losing your liberties, while forgetting we’re still imprisoning people for smoking marijuana.
Don’t complain about black violence, while forgetting the domestic terrorists marching into Michigan’s state house carrying AK-47s.
Don’t pontificate about abortion, while voting for leaders who gut programs to feed, educate, and house children.
Our Quaker faith calls us to perspective for two reasons. First, so we do not lose hope. The words of Jesus are yet still true. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Perspective helps us believe in the ultimate triumph of good. Secondly, our faith calls us to exercise perspective so that we do not strain at gnats and swallow camels. Perspective helps ensure we are not inordinately outraged by our comparatively minor difficulties while remaining indifferent to the genuine struggles of others.
In that regard, perspective is not just a characteristic of grown up people, it is a demonstrable expression of love, helping us learn the difference between the lump in our oatmeal and the lump in a breast.