During the second of two rounds of a game I played at the picnic this afternoon at the farm of one of the brethren I consider a friendly acquaintance, an elegant and sharp widow who happens to own forty acres and some cows and who reminds me a great deal of my own grandmother, who was a sharp-witted and elegant elderly German farmer herself, one of the young women playing happened to accidentally grab one of the three bola for the other player, which were helpfully color-coded. The reply to this on the part of the rest of us who were watching was, “Which of these is not like the others?” This sort of sentiment did not only express that small moment, but also the larger context of the event, especially given that twice I was asked to play games with teenagers, and even be the partner of a preteen in our congregation in the game I ended up playing, by the host of the party, which put me in an awkward position that I hope I dealt with in a way that was friendly and gracious, given the fact that it made me uncomfortable, and may have made some of the others involved uncomfortable as well.
For someone as sociable and friendly as I am, I often find social occasions to be full of great stress. A large part of this is due both to a strong hostility to ugly and unpleasant scenes, a strong desire to be friendly with everyone possible, and also a strong desire not to be offensive to others or to make others uncomfortable. I am aware that my own presence and activity makes life more stressful for others, and there are others whose behavior makes life stressful on me, and I often struggle with what the best way to ease the mutual anxiety and pressure and frustration is, for I hate suffering and I hate making other people suffer, regardless of what they think or feel about me. And yet we still suffer, and are unable to make life better for ourselves or others despite our friendliness, despite our fond wishes for others, and despite our good intentions and best efforts to stay out of harm’s way and to keep a low profile as best as we are able.
For the most part, the trip to the picnic was enjoyable. Although I never ended up playing my viola because of the way that the musical schedule went, without the clear signals for when I was supposed to be doing my folk jam, it was still a pleasant afternoon, for the most part. I spent much of it talking, as is my fashion, both with people I consider to be close friends, as well as those who I would consider at least moderately or passably friendly acquaintances. The conversations on the drive to and the drive from were insightful with intriguing thoughts and comments from those I was taking in my full car. I even managed to get my errands done and eat a light and somewhat late dinner after it was all done, and so as a whole it was a successful day, even if it was a bit complicated in its cross-currents, with wild kids and even a tackling competition with one of the people who rode in my car where I demonstrated surprising strength to her. I often wonder why people are surprised at my strength when they see it in evidence in various activities, like weightlifting small children. One could hardly think I could have survived my difficult life to this point without at least some strength, right?
Overall, I hope the picnic was enjoyable to others. It was a bit melancholy to look at the brown grass, to think about dry creek beds and a poverty of hay to harvest to feed the cattle over the winter because the grass has not been watered enough to provide summer grazing pastures for the cows. As the child of a farming family myself, I fret and feel anxious perhaps too easily about the difficulties faced by farmers and by their animals, knowing all too well the difficulties my own family suffered when the weather was contrary. Being a farmer is a constant reminder that all we possess comes from God, and that if the weather is hostile to us, and if conditions are poor, the greatest efforts we give will be without result, except to strengthen our character, and to remind us that in life not all circumstances will be friendly, but we will never lose the responsibility to do the best we can. Sometimes all we can do is pray for rain in due season, pray for the grass or the hay to grow so that we will be blessed in our harvest, and pray for blessing and not cursing, for life and not death, for love and not hatred for ourselves and our friends and family members and our brethren and our neighbors, and hope they are praying the same for us. Days like today remind us that even if we may not all be the same, we all share the same essential context of our lives. Perhaps someday we may be able to act in the knowledge that we are more alike than we often act or recognize. For if we cannot empathize and show compassion and feel love and respect from our family of blood and of Spirit, how are we to find it anywhere else?