Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
December 2008 - Volume 08, No. 12
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Scaffolding - and the New Year 2009

Sometimes when I’m writing really well, the material of my first draft has almost completely disappeared by the time of the final result. Many years ago a writer friend taught me an important lesson: I had shown her something I’d just written. Her response was “This is good, but it’s ‘scaffolding.’ Now re-write and re-write so you can begin to see what real work grows underneath or behind it - then you get rid of the scaffolding.” As often happens when we’re receiving an important lesson, my first response was to feel upset (even insulted). But she had given me a wonderful gift.

It’s year-end 2008, and year-beginning 2009. There’s so much going on that one is hard put to see, so to speak, what’s happening behind the happening . Here in Michigan we’re suffering a double-whammy. In additional to a national recession, we’ve already been in recession for some years, due to the necessity of local economic restructuring. Both the nation’s economic reality and the ongoing collapse of our indigenous automobile industry as we have known it, are bankrupting us. Those who don’t leave, or are stuck here and can’t leave, know already that 2009 will also be a very difficult year. Perhaps 2010 will give us the beginning of a resurgence.

So I’ve been paying attention to see what happens when the structures we depend on implode or collapse around us. More importantly, what remains?

Nature (Mother Nature), the great teacher of native or ethnic peoples, has always shown us that things change, and that ‘she’ rides the changes with them. More often, their term is “balance” - when things get out of balance, Nature (or God, or ‘things in general’) work to restore that balance. Sometimes that means great disruption to the ease and well-being of people. What strikes me is that Nature is not necessarily cruel, yet in the changes and re-balancing of things, people often get caught and hurt (or killed). Here is where emerges that ‘other’ nature - human nature. It is up to us to care for the people who are hurt when things are being rebalanced. And it’s no accident that in addition to the “really bad news” of the headlines these days, there is also story after story of people caring for other people. This isn’t just “feel good journalism,” it’s also what’s happening around us.

My clinical practice is filled with individuals and couples asking for assistance. It’s not just because they’re under great stress or crisis - which they are - but it’s also because in times of crisis folks begin to look at what is most important, and what we can do something about. When the world outside is going to hell, what happens within, or inside the house becomes the more precious to us - we pay more attention.

Michigan is a great state! And when the turmoils of the collapsing auto industry begin to settle out, there’s a spirit here that knows how to work with our hearts and our bodies, and how to create with active minds and spirits, how to appreciate and work with nature, how to surrender to beauty, how to care for each other and build a common welfare. The arts have long been alive here. Our literature as well as our industry has always had its own native tone . However, in recent times, much of this has become lost or ignored.

I see the difficulties of these current years as the scaffolding so something else can grow. In much of nature, when something new is born or created, that which bears or births it will ‘by nature’ then collapse and disappear. When the butterfly emerges, the cocoon can disappear, its (scaffolding) work accomplished.

I am careful to not be just positive - if for no other reason it is cruel to those who are suffering. The “things will be OK” sayers are often counterphobically masking their own anxieties about despair and suffering. But I do trust a larger order by which the sufferings of one time can become the creativity of a succeeding time.

Perhaps we can say it this way: The suffering and turmoil of our time is a scaffolding. It has a purpose - to provide an external structure and even protection to something that is newly forming within it. And as we are faithful to care , those of us who can, for those suffering more than ourselves, that care begins to nurture something new.

The scaffolding itself may betray the prevalence of greed, corruption, warmongering, destructive self-interest in our larger society, as well as our own anxiety, fear, depression, anger, betrayal, despair, desperation. When we consider this as scaffolding, we can also begin to see something else, often hidden in its early stages. Out of despair comes hope. Despair and hope - that’s the order of things now. Both are real, and they come in that order - even though many fear they can’t wait that long.

Nor is this order automatic for us, as it seems in Nature. Human nature necessitates a decision, an intentional choosing. So it is important that we choose to care, to pay attention in the turmoil. In the Bible, in St. Matthew’s parable of the last judgment (Ch 25), we are given an ancient standard (list) of carings that build the secret within the scaffolding: We give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, we welcome the stranger, clothe those with no clothing, we care for those sick and in prison. Translate this list into its modern counterparts, and the sufferings of today can become the hope of tomorrow. The scaffolding then does its work. The New Year 2009 can fulfill its purpose. Let’s all Pay attention!

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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