Reference Points


When I watched my sheep push their fuzzy heads through the range fence to reach the greener grass I focused on their foolish penchant for looking "elsewhere" toward what seems better place. This lesson, definitely, I could apply to my life.

But time changes a number of things, such as

• the commodities I regard being valuable;

• the depth and quantity of relationships;

• my geographic location;

• the interests and preoccupations that swirl in my brain;

-and the meaning of important events like sheep poking their heads through my fence.

Fences not only separate areas and define the boundaries of activities. Fences are physical landmarks that give us points of reference for our activities. In fact, fences are perhaps an inferior analogy to trees and buildings: practical objects that possess unique observable features which we use to orient ourselves when determining direction.

During the routine activities of each day, I rarely think about how the requirements of those activities and the compulsory time they occupy give me a framework for my time, for my personal goals and for my sense of being. Now that my "frameworks" are being removed, I have a poignant sense of craving reference points. Simple events like what time do I need to wake up on Saturday? Do I have construction assignments on the house to complete, like wiring the hallway light fixtures? Is there some overdue maintenance like cleaning leaves from the gutters? No; none of that is necessary so...with nothing that needs doing, what do I want to do? I; uhm, am not sure what I want to do, being out of practice in considering that question.

Yesterday at church we received a kind, "farewell!" from our local Christian body. The kind words and tears and smiles were appreciably received. Lunch at a local restaurant with a thoughtful pastor and his wife was a gentle introduction to the idea that we are now cut loose from that body.

The challenge is obviously to live a righteous life in a rational way, while straining to perceive the cues to action when the familiar indicators are absent.

I realize one challenge for refugees: Not just the dramatic loss of material goods or "simple, " uprooting, but the evaporation of normal reference points and cues. What does a clever businessman do when he is separated from the organization of goods and service tht he is familiar with? Without contacts and means of communicating, what does he do with his time? How will he provide for his wife and children without a means of support?

[By the way, where are these stories from refugees about living in camps. They make a huge proportion of the worlds population and yet they do not exist so that we can read them.]

On, "This American Life" last Saturday, the host told stories of summer camps and camping in the U.S.A. One of the themes that provides a powerful point of attachment for children in this peculiar type of camping, is the role of ritual at camp. Ritual events like the "turtle monster" coming out of the lake to collect a camper at the Monday night bonfire, or selecting team leaders for "color days competition" on the basis of merit and leadership. These are touchstones for years into adulthood; reference points by which campers later evaluate mature life experiences; landmarks by which adults will make decisions

Copyright 2012 Jay Reimer    (You can email me at