Let Us Give When We Have Lost Everything. [St. Patrick’s Day Edition]

Daylight Savings has wreaked particular havoc on me this year. My friends and colleagues have lamented its effects as well. Just a single shift of an hour has reset everything: when I wake up, when I go to bed, when I eat, when I see the sun and when I feel its light on my face. There has been an upheaval of time. It's annoying. And it has unsettled us and it will take time to adjust.

Lent, too, is an upheaval of time. I've written that the word comes from the Latin "lente" for "slowly." If you play music, you may recognize it from sheet music. Slow the music down, change the tempo, and people take notice. It is an irregularity in our rhythms, our schedules, our expectations, our situations. We act and react differently. It is the attuned juxtaposition of the different kinds of time that we experience.

Lent is a massive and sudden deceleration of our lives. What we do, what we eat, what we drink, where we go, all of this has changed. We become more conscientious of our actions and desires. We wonder why we do this at all. Why do we suddenly abstain from doing things for reasons we don't understand, for when we don't believe? Still these traditions, pesky habits handed down over time, affect us and shape us.

Perhaps, we can contrast that idea of willfully abstaining from the circumstances of those who have no choice in the matter. The French writer Simone Weil wrote in Gravity and Grace, "You could not have been born at a better time than the present, when we have lost everything." Weil, a Marxist, pacifist, and a kind of philosophical mystic, offers a strange optimism about one's circumstances. To give up is one thing. To lose is quite another. We must remember this in our bourgeois, middle class Lent.

There are two kinds of loss: the sudden and the gradual. At the moment, we look at the physical, seismic and nuclear unsettling of Japan. This unsettling has been sudden, a jarring shock to so many systems, both natural and social. Everything is literally upset, turned over, volatile. However, today being St. Patrick's Day, we can look to the long-enduring Irish, whose suffering has been so slow and drawn out over centuries. From the political oppression and social discrimination by the English, to Nature's famine that killed countless, to the cruel child and sexual abuse perpetuated and seemingly institutionalized by a Roman Catholic Church that has betrayed its people, to the full and complete economic collapse caused by global greed and malfeasance, Ireland has suffered and continues to suffer much.

Two kinds of suffering. Two kinds of time. And time is drawn out by suffering. Japan has suffered loss suddenly. Ireland, slowly. Ireland suffers a constant Lent. How can it be that we could not have been born at a better time, when we have lost everything? Japan and Ireland have lost nature, have lost family, have lost prosperity, have lost identity. And perhaps hope and faith.

When the Emperor of Japan appeared, unexpectedly and unprecedentedly, on Japanese television, he said, "I hope that those affected by the earthquake will not give up hope and will strive to survive, while taking care of their health" and "I truly hope that with so many people working together to help, the situation will not worsen." We must help one another. In the end, it is all we have. When we have lost everything, we must help one another. Help is a kind of hopeful hopelessness. Even if it doesn't ultimately succeed, at least we're doing something to improve a dire situation.

We must be kind to one another. We must give. We must give up what we can to those who have lost. Because, really, as a species, as humanity, we have all lost. And we could not have been born at a better time to give, when we have lost everything. Kindness, in the end, is all we have.

So, today, let us not become weepy and nostalgic for St. Patrick or "the luck of the Irish." Escape the treacly strains of "Be Thou My Vision" and "St. Patrick's Breastplate." Our forty days of Lent is nothing compared to the four-hundred-plus years of real suffering and endurance by the Irish. All institutions, both natural and man-made have failed and collapsed. Daylight Savings doesn't seem so bad, in light of all that is going on. A reorientation of our sense of time provides a kind of clarity. I truly hope that with so many people working together to help, the situation will not worsen.

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