Columnists Mark my words

Column: If you want things to look up, look up

by Father Mark Goldasich

Right now I’m living in paradise. I’m on vacation at a place where gas is cheap. OK, I’m only in mid-Missouri and, while gas is not exactly cheap, at only $3.79 a gallon, it’s not as expensive as in Kansas.

Over the past few months, high prices — for gasoline, food, medical care — have been on everyone’s mind. There’s no denying that prices are definitely up, sometimes remarkably so. However, what I’ve also noticed is that rising costs have also triggered a rising awareness. Simply put, maybe at last we’re starting to appreciate things that we’ve so long taken for granted.

Perhaps this little story can illustrate what I mean:

There was once a farmer named Brown who owned a pig. Now, Farmer Brown’s pig loves to eat and spends a lot of its time doing so. The pig’s favorite place is under a large oak tree in the corner of the pigpen, where it has just about all that it needs.

In the hot summertime, Farmer Brown’s pig enjoys the shade of that large oak. It spends hours there in that coolness. Although the pig loves that shady spot, it never bothers to look up to see what makes that patch of ground such a good place to be.

Under that same tree is also a big mud hole that the pig wades around in and lays down in several times a day. The rain that falls from the sky keeps it filled, but the pig never bothers to look up and see where the water comes from. It just enjoys the mud hole.

When autumn arrives, the pig gobbles bushels of acorns that fall from that oak. The pig likes the acorns, uses them for its own good, but never looks higher than the ground on which they are found. (Adapted from a story found in Stewardship newsletter of February 2007.)

Up until fairly recently, I’ve been no better than Farmer Brown’s pig. When gas was cheaper, I never thought twice about hopping in my car and heading out somewhere, whether I really needed to or not. For example, it never occurred to me that a better solution to getting the mail from the post office — better for my health, better for my budget, and better for the environment — was simply to walk the half mile there, rather than taking the car. Now, due to those high prices, I’m thinking more and planning more. And that is definitely a good thing.

I’ve tried (less successfully) to reduce my complaining about rising prices, too. It’s far easier to complain when you forget how blessed you are. Like Farmer Brown’s pig, when our attention is only focused on the ground and all of the stuff we have, it’s easy to believe that we’re somehow entitled to all those things. Looking up to where those blessings ultimately come from has a way of making you not only grateful, but humble.

Spiraling costs have also prompted me to do a bit of research on some things that I suspected, but never really cared enough to investigate. According to the Worldwatch Institute, we Americans use some 360 million gallons of gasoline a day. While we make up only about five to six percent of the world’s population, we consume some 44 percent of the world’s gas. That’s a sobering statistic.

Just as sobering, but at the same time incredibly enlightening, is a short two- minute Web presentation from the Miniature Earth Project. To help people get a clearer sense of this world that we live in, this project imagines our planet consisting of 100 people. Then, boiling down a slew of worldwide population and cultural statistics, it presents those stats in terms of how many of the 100 people belong to which races, where they live, what religions they profess, etc.

I encourage you to check out this Web presentation, which can be viewed at: www.miniature-earth.com/me_english.htm. In a nutshell, here are just a few of the more startling aspects of that presentation:

• 43 percent of the world’s population lives without basic sanitation

• 14 percent can’t read

• 9 percent are disabled

• 18 percent struggle to live on $1 a day; 53 percent, on $2 a day

And, by the way, if you have food in a refrigerator, a closet to put your clothes in, a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head, you’re better off than 75 percent of the world’s people.

The Miniature Earth Project encourages everyone to “appreciate what you have” and “to do your best for a better world.” Well said.

Let’s live our lives better than Farmer Brown’s pig and come to realize that if things in our world are ever going to look up, we’ve got to start by first looking up.

About the author

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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