Realize life while you have itWritten by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I did not know Robert Brundage. But after reading about his life in Toledo Free Press (in a story written by daughter, Caitlin McGlade), it was not long before I recognized him. Being in an iterant vocation, I have met him before, many times, in virtually every community I have lived and worked. His name might not have been Brundage, he might not have even been a “he.” Many of these characters were devoutly religious, some not so much, if at all. They came out of different walks of life: business, labor, education, engineering, science. But their core character, their community vision, their activist passions all came from the same place: a communitarian soul.
In an age of rampant and unrepentant individualism, their gentle and persistent behavior seemed quaint and dated, like a Thornton Wilder play. But like Thornton Wilder’s plays, these characters were always turning up in old school auditoriums and other public venues. They went about their business, some quietly, some not so quietly, using their gifts and talents to improve schools, fight poverty, secure justice and making the community a better place.
If their souls were and are communitarian, their vision was and is covenantal. They think a “people” should be more than a collection of individuals who exploit the levers of societal life for the soul purpose of acquiring wealth at the cost of the environment or the health of the community. These communitarians think a people should be a “people …” a people bound together by a shared “covenant.” Another quaint concept. We live in a culture that is much more comfortable with contracts. If a contract is broken, relationships are severed; penalties must be paid. The offending party is written off. “We” are not responsible to “they” who failed to meet their obligation.
Covenants suggest that we belong to each other, regardless of the frailties, excesses and fallenness of human behavior. When a relationship fails, or an individual falls short of expectation, covenants require remediation, not condemnation … healing, not breaking … the difficult work of reconciliation, not the arrogant attitude of self-righteousness. So these characters with their communitarian souls and covenantal vision do things like tutoring kids at risk, arguing with officials and enjoining the Quixotic quest of making all things fair and just — even for angry and misguided 15-year-olds who commit unspeakable acts of violence. Go figure.
The smug among us will see this as folly. The Brundage tragedy will be used to confirm their sense of an entitled and self-imposed isolation from the inequities of society. This will justify their decision to squander all of their passion on the building of their personal empires aloof of the needs of others. It will feed those self-affirming homilies about pulling one’s self up by one’s own boot straps; God only helps those who help themselves, and helping “those” people is throwing good money after bad.
While the smug will often dismiss these communitarians as naive idealists, In many ways these characters with the communitarian souls are the true realists of the world. For their vision implies a reality that is indisputable: Everything from the air we breathe to the work we do to the ground on which we stand and the life we live is connected. Everything.
Like it or not, we are interdependent on each other, the environment and the source or sources of meaning that imbue our life with hope and purpose. They have learned that wonder shakes out of this interdependence. It is wonder that tempers all those personal orthodoxies that nurse our prejudices and feed our self-righteousness. It is wonder that pries open our imagination and expands our vision.
As I remember these characters, often quirky in demeanor but competent in action, it was their sense of wonder about things that was most endearing. These people can pour themselves into some of the most intractable problems of the day and still find great joy in all things. Brundage had this thing about ginkgo trees. For others it was jazz or story telling, or baseball, or stalking skunk cabbage blooms in February.
In Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” a disillusioned Emily asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?” “No,” the stage manager replies. “The saints and poets, maybe — they do some.”
I would add the likes of Robert Brundage to that list.
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist pastor in Bowling Green.
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