People often view life as a gift. I have, over time, come to believe that my own life is a gift as I continue to recover from a tragic addiction to cocaine and alcohol. I really have no business being alive, and when times are toughest, I often remember that there were times during my life when I did not have the will to live. Liberation and salvation are biblical themes that have real meaning for me and for my family. I believe that I should voluntarily submit myself to God, Community, and my family in a manner that stresses the egalitarian qualities of such a commitment.
I think there are other people who view life a precious, but for the most part think that we belong primarily to ourselves, with potential gods, communities and lovers having no more than a peripheral claim on our being. Our life is our own, and ought to be lived as such. I am not necessarily critical of this view, but acutely aware that it stands in contrast with my own.
Then, there are some who might view life as an accident. They might believe that life is either without meaning, or only made meaningful by values that we ourselves attribute to it. I am not really clear on the particulars of this view, though I will admit that I tend to view it with a critical, even if uninformed, eye.
However, I can now say that I have experienced life as a product of laziness. There is a broody hen that sits in our garage all day and all night. She doesn’t lay, she hardly eats, and as far as hens go, she is not particularly friendly. Since all the mothering instincts are supposed to be bred out of her, she stands as an anomaly among the flock. Since farm protocol and family finances dictate that we don’t feed any unproductive mouths that aren’t human teenagers, this hen was due to be culled in July when we butchered the broilers. However, when the time came for butchering, we forgot about the broody hen and she lived to see another day because we were too lazy to butcher her later.
After a few more weeks, my wife noticed eggs were gathering underneath the broody hen, and marked them all with an X so that we wouldn’t harvest them. She was interested to see if they hatched. We were all skeptical. However, last Saturday, when we were doing chores, my wife and our daughter Rosa and I heard a distinct peeping. We checked by the broody hen, and there was a new chick, very sick looking, and being ignored by its somewhat confused mamma. The body temperature of the chick was so low that it felt cold to the touch. I silently thought that I would put it out of misery, but Rosa the 7 year old, who wants to be a vet, took it into her hands and brought it into the house. Six hours after a heat lamp had been applied, the chick was up and walking, eating and drinking, and full of the promise of life.
Then, two days later, we heard more peeping, and sure enough, one more chick had hatched. This one was in worse shape, because another hen had driven the mother hen from the nest and began to peck at the chick as a meal. Its head was pecked raw and the chick was near dead, but Rosa took it into her hands, brought it into the house, and applied a new heat lamp and some antibiotic ointment to the it. Two days later, and both chicks are healthy.
So, our family is learning lessons about life. Not only that it has value, but also that, sometimes, human arbitrariness plays a role in what lives or dies, or what thrives or survives. What does our own arbitrariness about life say about a creator God who allows such an inconsistent human value to thrive. Why doesn’t God “breed out” our ambivalence about life, which exists at every level and across the social, political, and religious spectrum. Perhaps such arbitrariness is cruel, or, perhaps it is not so much divine ambivalence as it is that God is as full of wonder as we are about the miracles of life and knows that without a certain level of ambivalence, life would lose its meaning altogether. Life indeed would be an accident, and those chicks would have no more value to my daughter or her parents than the time it would take to end it. We need the tension that exists between viewing life as something that belongs only to us, or exists as a gift from a Creator, because , I believe, the alternative that suggests it is meaningless takes away our drive to use life as a means to something greater than ourselves. There are great questions to be answered, but only when we accept that life has precious value in spite of arbitrariness are we driven to find the answers that give life more meaning.
I just hope the chicks don’t grow up to be roosters. Roosters still have meaning, but only rank a little higher than teenagers when it comes to total value of contribution.