Rustling and scrunching woke me up at 2 a.m. during a Colorado camping trip. I groggily reached for my flashlight and shone it towards the ruckus. The feeble ray revealed nothing, though I was "fairly certain" it wasn't a bear. Camping near residential Boulder at the foot of the mountains could not possibly yield that wild drama, could it? I wasn't looking for it in any case, as I was taking vacation to escape the adrenaline rushes of my Mennonite Mission Network editor job.
Though I tried to calm myself, I was unnerved. However, the sounds soon ceased. So tired after my long trek from the Kansas prairies, I warily took no noise to be good silence, and I went back to sleep.
The next morning, I awoke at 5:30 a.m. to the first hints of sun rousing the geese on the glassy pond at St. Vrain State Park. In contrast to this pastoral image was the ravaged mess of my food supply. I figured a raccoon got a free meal.
Most notable was the package that held my beloved Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares. Not one dot of the exquisite morsels remained — only the wrappers! A few feet away were gnawed-off chips of a sweet potato. A mouth-sized hole was gnawed into a plastic carrier that held my spices, tableware and fruit. Two banana peels laid limp and forgotten on the grass.
The scene flooded me with shame. I should have protected my food stuffs in the trunk. I should have forged better boundaries between what was mine to eat and what was mine to share. I should have known that in the wilds, it is the survival of the fittest.
My first takeaway: If you want your chocolate all to yourself, hide it and horde it.
My second takeaway emerged when I reflected on a writing team meeting several months earlier. It's when I agreed to write a blog for Give Something Away Day, celebrated in the U.S. on July 15. I did not know then that I would share a pond picnic against my will. I envisioned writing something far loftier. More spiritual. Perhaps how I strive to give something away every day on the job — the healing and hope of Jesus in collaboration with our partners around the world.
I have chosen to serve where I can give away with prodigal generosity what I have received — God's abundant love, joy and peace. And yet, after the chocolate fiasco, I realize how much my giving is invisibly threaded through with a sense of control. I choose at work or home or church how much I give, and when. That power of choice is so unlike the feeling of vulnerability that flooded me at the critter crime scene.
As I traveled home eight hours east on I-70, I reflected on how a sense of loss of control has predominated the COVID-19 lockdown for people of all cultures around the world. Protests have arisen over how the pandemic has more deeply affected Black and Brown people. They are demonstrating their inherent dignity of empowerment by protesting systemic racism. Their courage has caused me as a White person to examine the unfettered entitlements in arenas of choice and control that have been mine: where and how I live, give and share. People who aren't born into the dominant culture don't share these automatic privileges.
Telling a hungry raccoon story seems a bit silly during this very serious summer. And I don't want the metaphor to get muddled, suggesting that the raccoon is a symbol for protestors. For me, that raccoon provided a wakeup call to examine issues of power and control. The incident exposed how much I want control in the sharing of my gifts with others. So, this July 15 — while I know I can't humanly, or even wisely, relinquish all my responsibility for balanced self-care — I want to give away an unhealthy sense of entitlement to control. To unfurl some of my tight-fisted grasp of the White privileges that have been mine without question, even before I took my first breath after birth.
I confess that I still grieve not having that chocolate bedtime snack by a snapping fire, beneath twinkling stars. I so wish I could say that I gave those sweets away, but I didn't. They were taken. The good news? I lost my sugary treat, but I returned home with something far healthier: a bittersweet sliver of self-understanding.