Bending the knee

None of us are truly independent. We all have our struggles, and our highest calling is to help each other through them.

Stormy Weather, by Carol L. Douglas

Yesterday I had a short chat with writer Tim Wendel. He has finished his 13th book, called The Cancer Crossings, which is now in production by Cornell Press. It is about his brother Eric’s treatment and ultimate death from leukemia. It also mentions my own brother’s death at the hands of a drunk driver. Tim and John were close friends at the time, and our families were intertwined in many other ways.

Tim has kept me apprised on his progress, and I’m grateful. I plan to read the book, but I can’t say anything as insipid as “I’m looking forward to it.” Rather, I’m braced against emotional shock. These are deeply buried griefs, but still painful. I can’t imagine how Tim wrote it. It must have felt like being keel-hauled.
Safe Harbor, by Carol L. Douglas
At any rate, we were discussing our lack of autonomy in decision-making. I told Tim that I’d had this same conversation with 3/5 of my kids over the weekend. We all want to be the master of our fate, but it never works that way. I have a high level of financial and professional independence, and I still defer to others. It’s part of the cooperative human existence.
Yesterday I mentioned that there is a power struggle at play in all artist-gallery relationships. That’s not true in just art, of course, but in all of life. I told my son he can’t avoid his struggle by changing his major; he’ll just run into different obstacles. The only answer is the mature understanding that we ultimately pass through the problem.
The Harbormaster’s Dinghy, by Carol L. Douglas
To wildly misquote my friend Mary Byrom, if there’s no struggle, you’re not aiming high enough. She was talking specifically about getting into shows and winning prizes, but her logic can be extended to all aspects of life.
I end up listening to people’s problems a lot—not just with my own kids, but to all kinds of people in temporary distress. I’d like to blame it on being old, but it’s happened since I was a kid. Inevitably, I always take on a bit of their burden. Most of the time, I can shake it off, but occasionally it overwhelms me.
Mouth of the Mamaroneck River, by Carol L. Douglas

Recently I heard someone refer to this as helping clear the weeds from their propellers (props). It’s an apt metaphor. Weeds can wrap around a boat’s prop and screw up the water flow. This makes the engine rev up and lose thrust, working harder and getting nowhere. Left uncleared, this can permanently damage the engine.
It would be stupid to stand by and watch someone wreck their outboard. It’s equally stupid to let them do that in their lives as well. We all help clear the weeds from each other’s props every day, through concrete help, suggestions, or prayer.
I think this prop-clearing is perhaps our first and greatest calling. It’s what Jesus did throughout the Gospels. It’s also an insight into Jesus’ miraculous character. He had infinite patience with needy people. I, a mere human, don’t stand a chance of that.