The new day beyond my window is breathtaking, a panorama in green at this fringe of foothills in Colorado, at the fringe of this town-become-city, my childhood home. I am here to write. What lies before me is the discipline of mental “plow-work”—that push-shove of digging into perception. Turning the mulch, let’s call it—uncovering and breaking up the packed topsoil of moment-by-hour-by-day. It is a need we all know, in infinite variations.
Need. The roots and nature of need are both the seed and the weeds of our lives.
To be human is to be needy. Such a large word, for its alphabetical smallness—a basket overflowing! Need is foundational to life. There are basic, and diverse, life requirements that create havoc or misery if they go unmet. We can readily acknowledge them as indisputable. The truth about living, however, is the tangle that comes from equating essential and desirable.
We all face varying necessities—the bedrock stuff of living that enables us to survive, but we also contend with our desires—the hunger to thrive. The nature of our own ambivalence sends us off on endless searches. And we each, when we’re self-honest, find ourselves in this territory: segueing from wanting what we truly need, to an equivocal choice of “needing” what we badly want. The double nature of the word want may most nearly describe it.
As a noun, to live in want is poverty—a lack of, or inadequate, basic necessities: food on the table; roof above us; medical certainty (a real doctor, not the ER shuffle); steadfast love.
When we want, verb, we desire, beyond our “daily bread:” an ivy-league education; a great body; a promising job; a doting spouse; the amenities they represent. Nothing is inherently wrong with that, unless it drives us into a state of perpetual or resurging “wanna be.”
We do not want to live in real want. Hopeless, helpless want. But many of us with the privilege to do so often live in conjured want—for both the material and non-material.
The concept of simplicity, of seeking less than our endless yearnings for what is ultimately self serving, has become virtually un-American. We have reaped a bitter harvest in the filling of pockets and constant chasing of goals.
The world is off-balance and earth-life grows ever more precarious. The “wants” of the already wealthy and those who want to become them are pounding life out of the multitudes who will never know the freedom of viable life—of dreaming their own dreams, yearning for what most of us take for granted, forfeiting all their tomorrows without hope.
Here is my proposition, a thought-dream that has nibbled at me for a long time:
I believe in something greater than this all-too-human condition. I believe we are created to be needy. That it’s in our blood and bones, in our psyche, in our soul. Our Creator’s definition of “needy,” however, is vastly beyond our own. When, initially, we were merely two joined cell-clusters, perhaps we were endued with an ineffable life-yearning for oneness, for fulfillment. Our Homing beacon? I imagine it as the gift of our separation from our precursors. Our re-Creation.
For all its unique splendor and sustaining Grace, this Life-Need Gift becomes too often unnamable, unattainable . . . too readily skewed into a driving force that shatters the speed limit, the road rules of life as a Sacred Journey.
Again, perhaps: To deny, to distort this elemental need, the essence that underlies all that we are, is to deny life. When we mis-shape our yearnings in ways that are nonessential, even destructive, and focus on the peripheral, the “decorations” of life rather than the core, we tend to lose the core. When we focus our life on inordinate desires, both literal and existential, we carry around a backpack of angst that feels like the weight of the world. It is. It is the curse of the world to grip and to be gripped by its wanting without the boundaries of need.
The greatest need God placed within our secret self is the Call to see life as it is meant to be: our birthing upon this small, lush planet, free to explore and fulfill the capacity for unquenchable love. God showed the way, in one “small,” eternal gift: a joining of the Divine and the human, a cluster of cells shaped and created to eternity, as we are. They called him Jesus.
We will know the wan face of grief, the darkness of hate, the betrayal of all things good. And through this we are offered a transcendent Hope to feed upon, to break as loaves and fish and watch them multiply. To tilt our basket, with its never-ending sustenance, into empty hands.
To know this, to receive this, do this, is to Love. To love is to see deeply—exploring the want, the deprivations beyond our own mix. To yearn for a way to help. To rise up and reach.
To heal the want before us, beyond us, is to heal the want, the need within us.
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