Friday, November 21, 2014

Danger and Opportunity

"Sunshine and Shadows"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Many years ago John F. Kennedy gave a speech in which he famously observed:

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word 'crisis.'
One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.
In a crisis be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity.

Over the past few days I have been thinking about the wisdom of this statement. I think it's true that times of crisis, difficulty and stress are indeed dangerous times, but they are also occasions for great opportunity.

I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and so I have been paying special attention to the barrage of recent stories and media images of a crippling snowstorm that brought Buffalo and Western New York to its knees over the past few days - images that are so very familiar to me.

Out here in the desert the average high has been about 75 degrees this past week- my neighbors tell me that they just can't imagine what it must be like to be covered under 8 feet of snow, freezing temperatures and howling winds, no electricity for days, all the roads closed. I respond by regaling them them with my own blizzard stories of days gone by where the snow level was so high that it covered the windows of my house and blocked all the doors.

I suppose that, by most standards, a debilitating blizzard is indeed a crisis fraught with danger - people get killed in storms like that, sometimes they even freeze to death in their cars stuck along the road. And yet I clearly remember one particular (and especially severe) Buffalo blizzard that, while dangerous, it also offered many opportunities for residents of the city to show kindness and compassion and to foster a sense of the common good. 

We were all in it together - the city had been shut down for days, stores were closed, no cars on the road. People were running out of food and my neighbors started to get real worried because they were unable to fill prescriptions or get to medical care. And then all of a sudden, in the midst of this growing crisis, it was as if some sort of light went on and we all somehow realized that we weren't going to make it through this mess unless we took care of one another. 

So, local restaurants opened their doors and started to serve free meals, neighbors went from house to house to check on neighbors and in some cases they got on snowmobiles and went out to get whatever medicines a neighbor might need, sometimes even transporting folks to a hospital.  All sorts of closed doors began to open up as people pooled resources, shared common meals and sat with one another before fireplaces - everyone "weathering the storm" together. 

My home town, Buffalo, calls itself "The City of Good Neighbors. Back when that blizzard hit us those many years ago, it was a city that had really lived up to its name. I fondly recall that "crisis" to this very day. For me it was a time far more filled with opportunity than with danger.

The "homespun" popular philosopher, Eric Hoffer, once said:

It still holds true that we are most uniquely human
when we turn obstacles into opportunities.

Every day each of us faces obstacles - sometimes small, sometimes obstacles of crisis proportion. But as I see it, if we pay attention, we will almost inevitably discover that obstacles are always occasions for reminding us just how interdependent we really are and just how much we all need one another. Every crisis is an invitations to compassion.

Whatever obstacle might come my way today, I will turn it into an "opportunity" for opening my life-doors to others, so that together we might "weather the storm."

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