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Camping in the light

08/18/2011 @ 10:01am

We went camping with our three oldest grandchildren –roughly two, three, and four.  Have you ever seen photos of the Normandy invasion?  It was like that, only with more equipment.

We used to camp a lot when our kids were little, but it’s been a while since we spent any time in a tent.  We still had almost all the gear, but for some reason we were unable to lay our hands on the air mattress.  It didn’t seem like a big deal for just one night – it’s not like we were heading out on the Oregon Trail without our orthopedic pillows.  

It turned out that one night laying on the bare ground, at my age and weight class, was a big deal.  I felt every stone and stiff blade of grass, particularly around 2:00 a.m. when thirty pounds of grandchild used me for a climbing wall in order to get to Grandma.  I started checking my watch at about 2:30, in hopes that dawn was just around the corner and I could give up any pretense of sleeping.   At the first blush of light I crawled out the tent flap, started a fire, made a cup of tea and sat sipping it,  hunched over like the “before” drawing in a poster showing the evolution of man.

The morning sun slowly steamed the kinks away.  After breakfast the kids got into their swimming gear and headed for the beach as I gimped along behind.  The littlest guy is kind of a clown and he soon developed a routine of spinning around and falling flat on his butt in the shallow water.  It might not sound funny (I guess you had to be there), but he soon had his sisters and all other onlookers helpless with laughter.  It felt so good to laugh, just laugh, at a small child playing in the sand and water.  It was summer music of the highest order and made the world a brighter place.

It made me think about an email I received from my sister.  She was sitting on her front step and saw her granddaughter headed her way on a small bicycle.  Everyone she met on the sidewalk smiled and watched as she sped by.  Sensing the warmth of the glances spurred her on and she zoomed up to her grandmother.  With her mother’s help, she’d decorated her face to look like a lion.  In the photos I saw, the contrasts of the yellow face paint, flowing blonde locks and sparkling eyes were a marvel. One little girl riding her bike down a city sidewalk had, for at least a moment, made their neighborhood a better place.  How inept, how foolish we are to live in a world of such darkness, of such bleak pessimism, when it is so easy for even a child to turn that darkness into light.

That leads me to wonder just how much light the 29,000 (so far) children who have died in the famine in Somalia could have brought into the world.  Perhaps you haven’t been paying attention.   I don’t really blame you – good news from Africa is hard to come by and it’s easy to turn a blind eye.  But it is happening.   A hard drought, stupid governments, bad foreign policies and men with guns stealing food from starving children have all combined for a fresh catastrophe.  There’s plenty of blame to spread around.  In a just world, every single adult would lose his/her chance at heaven simply by allowing this to continue.  Of course, we all know we don’t live in a just world, so it’s easy to turn your head and pretend it isn’t happening.

But it is.  And the world gets a little darker every day because of it.  Think of that the next time you listen to a child laugh.

I worry a little when I write columns like this.  What I hear from most people is that they turn to my column to lighten their day, and it isn’t too hard to picture people thinking, “Well, this is a downer,” and skipping me next week.  It wouldn’t take too many people to make that decision and the folks who pay me might well decide to stop.   But then I think about a movie I saw years ago in which the hero says, “Some things are worth losing everything for.”

I’m not really risking all that much – a not-very-lucrative job doing something that most people don’t really consider work at all – and I do apologize for bringing your day down, but this matters.  Drought is an act of nature, but a famine occurs because of the acts of mankind.  It occurs because rats and roaches love the darkness and the people who should be shedding light are corrupt or distracted or apathetic and, as a result, the children are dying.

And light is leaving the world.

Copyright 2011 Brent Olson

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