This morning I hung a pan on the overhead rack in the pantry. The plastic ring at the end of the pan’s handle broke, sending it crashing to the floor. OK, I thought–no damage done. I took the pan back to the kitchen, placing it carefully atop the mixer. As I poured water to heat for coffee, I heard a crash behind me. Turning, I saw a broken bottle of wine on the floor. The pan had fallen from the mixer, knocking the wine bottle off the counter.
There was a momentary feeling of loss. It was good wine and I had looked forward to drinking it. David, I laughed to myself, it’s only a bottle of wine. Looking from the chaos on the floor to the scene outside the kitchen window, I was struck by the contrast–finches at the bird feeder, the pleasing shapes and greens of the different trees–no chaos here.
I have two basic beliefs. The first is that most things happen by accident. My broken bottle of wine is a good example. The second is that our purpose (a purpose we share with all the animals and plants who are our neighbors) is to care about things, to nurture them and, as much as possible, protect them from harm. Of course we can’t all care about the same things. The things I care about and what I do for them mostly define who I am.
The wasted bottle of wine is not important. Had it been something I deeply care about that was broken (my wife, my child, my work), that would have been a catastrophe. We (people, animals and plants) are in this position of responsibility because we make decisions. (I’m not sure how complex a life form has to be before it can make decisions, but I’ll give everybody the benefit of the doubt.) The pleasing structure of the natural world outside my kitchen window exists because a tree chose THAT direction for its root to grow, a swallow chose to go after THAT bug, an ant chose to pick up THAT grain of sand and place it THERE. Somehow the creatures that survived got things pretty much right and you and I enjoy the consequences. Without the care that all life has given to this planet, our existence would be just a tangle of accidents. I like to think that understanding this will make me a little more thoughtful about what I do next.
Later in the morning I was washing dishes. I placed a cutting board on edge at the end of the dish drainer and noticed that, if the board fell, it would strike the remaining wine bottle on the counter. I moved the bottle over, out of harm’s way.
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