Virtually every generation in human history – until this one apparently – has understood the principle of priming the pump.
It’s very simple, but if you have never experienced it, it might not make sense to you.
In dry, especially desert cultures, where pumps were used to draw water – the ultimate literal membrane between life and death – a jug of water was kept beside the pump.
The pump, when dry, would squawk and shudder, but would not draw water; unless lubricated by the near-by – and essential jug of water.
As long as each user left a jug full of water, each following user would give an anonymous prayer of thanks and find an endless supply of water.
Each person survived because of the thoughtfulness of absolute strangers.
It’s an image I grew up with in countless movies and real life.
Many times I’ve primed pumps in rustic campgrounds and marveled at how little it took to make a world of difference – or even save a life.
But we now have a generation who has not learned this simple yet essential lesson.
Somehow we have spawned a generation of Scrooges and Grinches, those who believe that Mr. Potter was the REAL hero of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (keeping those pesky immigrants and ‘takers’ in their place) and that, for other people at least, going hungry or being evicted builds character.
These people would gladly re-institute work-house and debtor’s prisons for the needy. And they would eagerly quote Mr. Scrooge’s memorable line – “Are there no prisons?” “Are there no work-houses?”
We have politicians and policy makers who do not know how economies, or cities, or families work.
They do not understand that a little, leveraged at the right time, can save much.
And they imagine that austerity programs will somehow do something other than produce more austerity.
They do not understand that wealth does not create jobs – jobs create wealth.
They do not understand that money spent on parks, education and the arts is not a cost, but an investment.
They do not understand that to grow a crop, a family, a culture or an economy takes time and sacrifice – and many times the fruit will not be visible for a generation – or more.
We, like every generation before us, have the choice to be generous and life-giving – or not – to total strangers and inhabitants of the future.
Previous generations never would have considered withholding their legacy from future generations.
We, however, not only consider it, we are actively pursuing it.
We would gleefully hold back – or even squander – the earth’s resources – hoping that future generations wouldn’t notice or care that we took it all.
To put it mildly, these observations do not always meet with approval or thanks – in fact they are often met with threats.
In fact one person I know on a professional level sent me this note; “And yes, I’m a hater. I HATE people like you and would like nothing better than eliminate you from our society.”
As I read this I suddenly understood the two trends our era will be remembered for; an inertia bound Congress and near daily mass-shootings.
The conflicts within Congress and our inclination to murder both reflect the baseline value system of my friend and our culture at this time – we seem to believe that we have a (Constitutional?) right, if not obligation, to ‘eliminate’ things and people we do not like or understand.
And I understand why so many people want to tear down – not rehabilitate – unique and historic buildings. These buildings stand as enduring testimony to the skill, determination, and yes, generosity and hope of previous generations. And I, for one, stand thankful in their presence.
They are continuing evidence of faith in the future.
The ultimate irony though, is that I, who urge preservation and restoration, am portrayed as the radical while the ones who urge ‘elimination’ and destruction consider themselves ‘conservatives’.
In this season in particular, we think back and we look forward, we gather and we reflect. Some of us rejoice, while some of us resort to threats.
Our beliefs are not abstractions – they emerge in every word and action. I find myself ever more thankful for the hope and faith expressed by previous generations and the gifts and legacies they have left us.
Fear and hatred are also not abstractions. I can only hope and pray that particular ‘pump’ will not continue to be ‘primed’.