Thursday, April 28, 2011

out of the office

Massive storms have pummeled the southern United States. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was badly hit by one of many tornadoes to wrack several states. Death tolls are rising. Devastation is widespread. Pockets of hope are surrounded by acres of despairing uncertainty. The land is a mess and with it, the minds of those forced to face an upended array of facts.

"All the stuff you need to be a hospital are fine: just not necessarily all the things you need to run an office," spokesman Brad Fisher  told the Tuscaloosa News.
My father once told me of a time when he was working for a homesteader in, I think it was, Oklahoma. He was hired on as someone to help plant peach trees. And one evening, as he sat on the porch of the house, looking out over the fields where he helped with the back-breaking work, he saw a tornado funnel bearing down on the field. The tornado seemed to have a specific and malevolent intent in mind as it passed over the field and ripped up every damned peach tree he had planted. Since his father had been a Presbyterian minister, my father had a whopping distaste for God, but he did admit to feeling that there was something devilish about that tornado.

Disasters offer such easy times in which to reassess and reshape assumptions -- basically because events of one kind or another have ripped those assumptions to shreds. The hospital still works, but the office has been decimated. And everyone has an office, a place in which to shape and adorn assumptions that grow out of sweat-of-your-brow experience ... the real work; the productive work; the hospital work; the no-screwing-around important stuff. Offices are places for fine clothes and favorite jewelry and social status and a car that is shinier than your neighbor's and ... well, all the stuff that you figured would assure your standing.

Disasters are easy times to reassess office assumptions. It is harder in good times -- times when the office is running smoothly, a paycheck is assured and the worry of the day is whether to plant pansies or tulips in the garden outside the front door. And yet the assumptions are everywhere and always ... of course I will wake up tomorrow with my right pinkie.

All of the office assumptions could lead some to a convenient social whine ... oh the arrogance of the rich; oh the sorrows of the poor; oh the unfairness .... but what is more interesting than social commentary is the assumptions anyone might make ... about anything. What are things like when the office is no more and yet, somehow, the hospital is still operating? Despite the trappings, here I am ... but who am I? Take away the trappings, if only for a moment, and what is left? If you say nothing is left, well, that's not quite right. And if you say something is left, how is that not just another attempt to refurbish the office?

Gautama, the man frequently called "the Buddha," left his palace life behind. He walked away from the assumptions and comforts of his youthful office in search of something more credible. His office assumptions had been challenged and he accepted the challenge, spending six years seeking out his hospital, seeking that which did not expand or contract in the face of life's blandishments and tornadoes. And with considerable effort, he was able to send an email to his constituency ... "out of the office."

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