Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sowing and Reaping

Mindful of a question that was asked of me in response to my recent minimalist post, I have been attempting to assess what exactly I have sowed, but this farm image has this city boy mightily confused.

My reader wrote "Et toi, qu'as-tu semé que tu puisses récolter?" (And you, what did you sow that you can harvest?).

We get this notion about cause and effect from a biblical phrase "For what things a man shall sow, those also shall he reap." Is this pastoral image true for humans as it might be for crops? What would the biblical writer have written in the 21st century? What might we write in the "bible" of our hearts?

Humans just might not seed in their lives, other than literally, in their farms and gardens.

The seeding image for human sex, for example, dates back to a biological era in which the ovum, undiscovered until the 19th century, was unknown. In the absence of the ovum, moralists, philosophers and scientists -- all men -- concluded that each sperm was a homunculus, or "little man," implanted in the soil of woman, who played an entirely passive role in reproduction. We now know better.

Similarly, it's not immediately evident that we reap what we sow in other respects. Over the past year, for example, the top 20% of U.S. earners got half of all money income and the bottom 20% got just a little past 3%. Moreover, the richest got richer, while the poorest got poorer.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told an audience of reporters in which I found myself this week that his daughters had gone to Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Yet he also spoke of the poor of his city, for whom he announced a new initiative imported from Mexico, as people "who weren't dealt as good a hand of cards."

Whomever you deem the cosmic Card-dealer to be -- and I vote for humanity collectively -- it's evident that all we are and have springs largely from happenstance. We neither sow nor reap, to turn biblical again, we are like the lilies of the field.

I cannot be proud to be an American as I did not choose to be born in New York City. Any more than I chose to have parents with the means and the aspirations to see me attend university.

Nor did I choose to have linguistic abilities, nor to have the opportunity to develop them as a child, nor any number of particulars that started me off on an immeasurably higher socioeconomic plane than a child born from parents who lived in Harlem rather than Sutton Place.

I reap what has been sowed for me to reap. Gratefully. I do not deserve my good fortune. Noblesse oblige. Whatever I have suffered is, in the grand scheme of things, no more than life's hangnail.
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