Weight of the World
A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a donkey for, but to ride upon?"
So the man put the boy on the donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."
So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."
Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: "Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours with you and your hulking son?"
The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they put the donkey up on their shoulders and carried it into town.
As a young man and a newbie Witch I was delighted with all the advice and attention I got from the Pagan community. One day, as I was eating a sandwich, a new friend looked shocked, "Haven’t you ever thought about the animal that was chopped up so you could eat it?" she asked. Well, no, I hadn’t. I gave up meat.
Sometime later another friend saw me eating grapes. "Don’t you know the farmworkers are on strike and don’t want us eating grapes?" Well… no, I hadn’t heard about that. I gave up grapes.
After having worked for the forest service in Alaska I was very concerned about logging and began to do volunteer work for a conservation group. A female friend asked me why I wasn’t working on feminist issues, didn’t I care about women’s rights? "If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem." She told me. Well, I don’t want to be part of the problem. I started to work for the Equal Rights Amendment. My conservation work suffered.
Soon I found out about the whales, the dolphins, air pollution, water pollution, rainforests, apartheid, native rights, gay rights, racism, etc. etc. etc... What was a concerned liberal Witch to do? What good is caring about all these problems if you don’t do something about them? What a hypocrite!
Like the man in the story I was carrying, not a donkey, but all the problems of the world on my shoulders. Too many good people telling me I should be doing too many good things. After a while I just didn’t give a damn anymore.
Over the years some of the problems seemed to be resolved. The people of South Africa were freed from their virtual slavery, whale hunting was brought down to a trickle, dolphin safe tuna was promoted by industry, the cold war ended and we seemed to have been freed from the fear of a world wide nuclear war. Many good people devoted their whole lives to resolving these issues. I found that they did what they thought was right for their own reasons. Nelson Mandela didn’t work to save the whales, he fought apartheid. Martin Luther King wasn’t out trying to save the rainforest, he fought racism.
True freedom can never be achieved until you have chosen your path. The vast forest of possibilities bewilder and confuse us, draining our energy and purpose. Once we make a choice, we can make a difference.
But the voices are always there, urging us to care about their issues, their needs, their problems. Sometimes the urging devolves into criticism. The most insidious of criticism is the appeal to religion. "Well, if you were a real Witch you would..." This kind of criticism, at its core, is designed to establish hierarchy. If I can criticize you, then I must know more, be a better (fill in the blank), and show everyone else how great I am and how pathetic you are. Such criticism is often designed to humiliate, to erode, to destroy. One of Summer’s favorite sayings is "Destruction is easy. Impress me, create something!" It’s a saying I have taken to heart.
When appeals for our help are for a just cause, and don’t divert us from our purpose, we can indeed lend support. But each of us are limited in time, energy and resources, and where we devote our lives is a true measure of what we hold sacred. It is not a crime, indeed it is an absolute necessity, to focus on the issues that you are most concerned about and to let others take up the burden of issues that they are concerned about.
As I write these words I have no other concerns, no worries, no problems. This is what I am doing and nothing else. I love those brave treesitters trying to save the old-growth forest. I love the wonderful folks who have outed themselves to fight for gay rights. I love those crazy fools on the Sea Shepard who put themselves between the harpoons and the whales. But this is what I do, this is where my heart is, this is what is sacred to me.
How can I ask for more? How could anyone?
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