Did you even know there were boy and girl artichokes? My daughter tells me that this one is a boy.

Bob Matthews and I have shared a friendship for nearly 30 years, dating back to the time I worked with Jimmy Carter. Nowadays, both Bob and Jimmy, along with another close colleague, are on hospice care. Yet another friend depends on an annoying oxygen machine. It seems as if our whole species—humanity—is living in diminishing days.

Bob, who is living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is cared for by his wife Marjorie, his daughter Sarah, and hospice nursesall blending both skill and humor. A few weeks ago, they hurriedly assisted him as he struggled for breath, to which he responded, “why bother?”

It’s a real question. And as a pediatric chaplain, Bob would know smarmy distraction.What justifies any effort or expenditure—bother—when the recipient can’t give back? Insurance may pay for the oxygen or rent the special bed, but no amount can offset the emotional investment of a daughter, wife, or friend. Why bother?

Bob’s patio blooms with flowers that he nurtured, now with help from his daughter Sarah. Did he earn their blossom? Do we ever truly earn anything? Certainly not through our clumsy endeavors labeled as “work.” Most of the most beautiful things in our lives are unearned and now in threat. The fading redwoods, air itself. Why should we bother?

Weed or miracle? Who cares?

As long as Bob can marvel at the beauty of a single blossom, he is on duty. The world runs on wonder, not mere logic. I suspect the flowers grow towards Bob’s awe just as they do toward the sun.

Later in the day, while in another garden with another daughter, I experienced the astonishing beauty of a raspberry. Can anyone truly earn even one of them? And there, from the same earth, an onion the size of her head emerged, worms wriggling away to prepare another one. Witness the egg laid by a generous hen, young Malbec grapes nearby, their roots digging into the same miraculous soil. 

A honeybee paused to watch us. Most honeybees live six to eight weeks in the summer, their wings worn out from countless flights, collectively producing less than a teaspoon of honey. Does any human deserve enough for a single cup of tea?

Stone sober, I felt as high as any Californian had ever been at the audacious generosity of it all.

Most of the most beautiful things in our lives are entirely unearned, but often under threat; the redwoods, air itself. So there’s plenty of urgent work for the young and healthy, and even some for the grey, who can endure policy discussions in closed rooms. But work without wonder is unlikely to heal.

Just last Thursday, I saw half a trillion dollars worth of gold in the basement of the NY Federal Reserve Bank; money isn’tlacking in the world. The upper floors, though, offered something more valuable—brilliant minds, brimming with expertise and energy, contemplating the intersection of climate, health, and community. These minds can envision, then bring to life, things that haven’t existed before. But, why bother?

Some people are willing to give their lives away to the last breath—Jimmy, Bob, Jerry. Why wait to follow what they show us? What about the approximately four thousand weeks most of us get before those final moments? ‘We should begin, not end in wonder and then act. Any tool in a hand not guided by love, is more likely to harm than heal.’

I’ve never been much attracted to contemplation, being busy myself. But I see that worthy labor only grows from a sense of wonder, especially as we grapple with the fear of losing our natural systems and social structures. Fear triggers action, but rarely discernment.

Nobody has ever been busier than Jimmy Carter, who even managed to squeeze in bird-watching en route from the airport during an election monitoring trip to Zambia. The miracles on the wing captivated him, just as the miracle of free voting did. He observed, then he worked.

Make haste to wonder.

Forgive anything that distracts from kindness.

Accept the bother of others with grace.

Take “yes” for an answer.

About garygunderson

Professor, Faith and the Health of the Public, Wake Forest University School of Divinity. NC Certified Beekeeper Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders, Religion and the Heath of the Public, Speak Life and God and the People. God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. Secretary Stakeholder Health. Founder, Leading Causes of Life Initiative
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3 Responses to Bother

  1. Gerald Winslow says:

    Thanks for the gentle thoughtfulness, Gary.


  2. jjsbrooks says:

    All so true. Thank you, Gary.

  3. Gary,

           I’m deeply moved by your post! Thank you! I hope you and TC are doing well.


    div>       I returned from Duke

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