Dorothy Day had Something to Say

December 8, 2013 at 10:06 am

Be Here Now


I just finished reading  a  prize winning book by Arundhati Roy,  The God of Small Things,  which describes life in a small village of India including the lawful and ordered discrimination of the caste system.  The book captures the overpowering force of history, the ways we shape our society  and the impact on our individual lives.  The author also describes aspects of India that resonate for me in the short time that I have been here.  While the chaos and tumult of the great numbers of people is energizing , it is also daunting.


There is a great deal of pollution that we generate.  We watch scavengers  pick through the garbage bins for recyclables next to wild, but affable dogs, and  the occasional cow or oxen who are finding sustenance in our trash.  Municipal workers do not try to haul away all of  the overflowing garbage or the small hills of garbage.  Instead they light small fires generating a unique odor.  The city is cloaked in a  haze that is a mix of this smoke and the often visible diesel fumes of the auto-rickshaws.  According to a recent study, the pollution of the vehicles is likely responsible for the high rates of lung cancer found here.


After a while, you can become a bit inured to the poverty. You begin to accept the piles of garbage, the littered and dusty streets that we walk in or drive past.  Seems a bit silly or impossible  to address.  I am  reminded of the story told by John Dunne CSC who described an older man  walking into the middle of a small village in India and asking yelling proclaiming  “Does anybody care?”


Or as Arundhati Roy writes:


“…Like the country that Rahel came from, various kinds of despair competed for primacy.  And that personal despair could never be desperate enough.  That something happened when personal turmoil dropped by at the wayside shrine of the vast, violent, circling, driving, ridiculous, insane, unfeasible, public turmoil of a nation.  That Big God…”


She goes on describing one of the untouchables as a Small god…


“That Big God howled like a hot wind, and demanded obeisance.  The Small god (cozy and contained, private and limited) came away cauterized, laughing numbly at his own temerity.  Inured by the confirmation of his own inconsequence, he became resilient and truly indifferent.  Nothing mattered much.  Nothing mattered much. And the less it mattered,  the less it mattered. It was never important enough….So small God laughed a hollow laugh, and skipped away cheerfully….the source of his brittle elation was the relative smallness  of his misfortune.”


In the midst of such grinding poverty and powerful economic and social forces,   it  is still possible to achieve some detachment and find beauty and God in everything:  “ They had nothing. No future.  So they stuck to the small things.  They laughed at clumsy caterpillars sliding off the ends of leaves, at overturned beetles that couldn’t right themselves…At the particularly devout praying mantis. At the minute spider who lived in a crack in the wall of the back verandah …and camouflaged himself by covering his body with bits of rubbish—a sliver of wasp wing.”


Living in the moment and experience the richness of life is always a goal.  Be Here Now.  In the Moment.  Very Hard to Do and  Is it enough?  Perhaps. Am I then ignoring a call to see God in others and their plight?


To say it  is chaotic and disorganized here is an understatement.  Would a stronger more centralized government help?   Barun Roy in an article in the Times of India said:  “When it comes to patch up jobs, nobody can beat Indians.  This is the only thing we excel in, having perfected it into an art, from repairing rain-damaged roads after every monsoon to pursuing economic policies that are always aimed at meeting temporary needs and dousing immediate fires, instead of taking a long view of where we want to go and how we intend to get there. “  He goes on to described how China has passed by India in so many respects.  Particularly in planning infrastructure and laying out new cities and towns.


No doubt better governance would be a start.  There are elections going on here and many Indians answer the elder’s question of “Does anybody care?”  by going out and voting.  A Maoist group promised to attack polling places and voters in one of the regions.  It did not matter.  Over 80 percent of the population of that region voted.   Turnouts of over 70 percent are commonplace.  The world’s largest democracy has a lesson for all other democracies in that regard.


At the end of the day,  I cannot escape my responsibility for my  brothers and sisters by suggesting that it all about the Indian government and its people.  Such a thought is a classic  escape route.   The question becomes “Am I doing What I should  do?”


One has to be careful to not give a quick and facile answer which is tempting.    As James Martin writes  “Ultimately we find our identity and vocation in God. Our desires come from God and lead to God.”    In turn, as we discern those desires, our hope is that we will find a quiet joy and make a difference as we become who God  has created us to be.


Similarly, Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker movement focused on this power of micro-actions.  What we do as an individual matters.