The 5 year old that lives with me often talks about his plans for being an adult. Among his plans is something of a landscaping company. He began it with the realization (to him) that mowing lawns looks easy, and so he would like to mow lawns. He plans to shovel snow in the winter because that looks easy too, he might plant flowers in spring and blow leaves in fall…his class has been learning about space and a couple of astronauts read them books from space (a cool program of the international space station that involves pre-corded messages). He has decided he could be an astronaut, but not all the time, just in the summer, like when he isn’t mowing lawns, because mowing lawns should leave him bandwidth for flying rockets.
His ability to hold juxtaposing ideas and see no problem is adorable and cute and innocent. More importantly it leaves open, at least to his understanding, a whole world of possibilities. It makes me wonder at my own cynical pull towards dualities and how that can make the world smaller. Adults often choose “either or” when “both and” might make more sense. We struggle to see the dad yelling at his kids to get their toques and mitts on as a holy man who also meditates. Like my friend the retired RCMP officer who used to repel down the sides of shipping vessels with guns and armoured vest is the same hulking-muscle-bound man who sweetly sits not he floor and has a tea party with his granddaughter, we contain a wide range of people within us.
In high school I was someone who read and wrote poetry and played on the football team, I tenderly cared for those in my my in-group and was ice hard to those outside it. One poet I have long admired is Walt Whitman, I always remember his line from song of myself,
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
My 5 year old contains multitudes, we all do.
Sometimes I feel that I must make a choice when it comes to identity of action and if I reflect long enough I can see a “both/and” approach forward. One can be an intellectual with or without a PHD, one can be a chef with or whiteout working in a restaurant. Can I be a holy man without retreat centres, mountaintops, or hands in the air tears in my eyes sort of praise? Or perhaps to be less comically stereotyped about it: I am unhappy to pay the government 179$ plus tax for my Gatineau park ski pass but I would happily donate 500$ to the friends of Gatineau Park volunteer group. Cheap or generous? Both, I suppose.
From a faith perspective it makes me think about how we all contain good and righteous and holy elements, like when we happily serve others, act with generosity, humbly give thanks, and at the same time we look at beautiful people and are prone to lust, we gamble, we lose our patience with other drivers though we can be seemingly infinitely patient when our bosses drone on and on…Whitman nailed it, we all contain contradictory selves and contain multitudes.
I suppose that is where grace comes in, the love of God who knows us fully and loves us anyways, who calls us to our most perfect selves and yet understands and forgives our falling short. God too, contains multitudes, the completely other-worldly maker of all things, and the baby in the manger, the burning bush and host of hosts, and the one crying out from the cross.
Being in God’s image we too contain more than we often admit. Maybe sometimes we don’t admit it because we fear failure, for instance, if we admit that hard work, accountability and the like produces results then we would have to admit if we fail to produce results we are at least somewhat to blame for that. There is natural gifting and there is also hard work and perseverance and resilience.
I would guess we all have lazy and motivated elements, fearful and confident elements, big important roles and smaller less glorious but still needed roles. Maybe many of us tend toward what we perceive as the easy route and in doing so shut out or shut down the bigger roles we may be called to fulfill. Few of us can imagine being an astronaut landscaper.
The astronaut leaves the international space station and gets home and mows the lawn, just as the ER doctor shovels the snow after a long night, and the parent can read philosophy after Dr. Seuss.
What might living as though you contain multitudes mean for you and how you spend your day?