"The Big Picture" (Essay)

Feeling overwhelmed? Me too.

It is breathtaking and stunning to take in all that has transpired since I finished last month's essay. Armed Nazis, Klansmen and Confederate sympathizers marching in lockstep through the streets of a city here in my state. One catastrophic hurricane unleashed on Houston, while another takes aim at Florida and the southeast. Wildfires in the west consuming iconic and revered landscapes. Flooding displacing millions in other parts of the world. Never-ending wars and barbarism sprawling across the lands which birthed most of the world's religions. A lunatic strapping a nuke to a rocket in North Korea. Arctic permafrost melting to a degree not seen in recorded history. All amid the ongoing daily routines, of getting ready for school, and work, and tending to the mundane rituals of life.

It seems huge and crazy, and out of whack. Because it is; never in human existence have we had so much of the world's "status" at our fingertips. Within minutes we can fill our minds with dreadful real news of disasters and wars and refugees in other parts of the world. We can empty our bank accounts clicking on links to offers earnest and fraudulent promising to help those in need and relieve their suffering. And we fill our hearts with guilt and dread about all the things we should have done, but didn't, or couldn't or wouldn't.

I've frequently pointed out the enormity of our ongoing transition from communities of geography to communities of choice. Our interconnectedness makes it easy for us to build our own echo chambers and passion pools with those who share our values regardless of where they live, at the expense of those who live across the street but might not share all of our values during campaign season. We no longer have to interact with "them," and thus it becomes easier to strip away bits and pieces of their humanity, free as we are now to label and demonize them. We see the divide between us deepen and widen over matters from the foundational to the mundane, with no healing in sight anytime soon. "Us" of virtue and moral certainty, and "them" of sin and shame. Doesn't seem to even matter what the topic is anymore.

But it feels like this "interconnectedness" is having another huge consequence too. We consume so much information from around the country and the globe that it can be paralyzing. And it often seems to lead to the real world in front of us slowing to a crawl; the dishes pile up in the sink, phone messages go unanswered, and unpleasant discoveries like "how long have we had two cats again?" :)

I'm feeling a need to reset that right now. "The Big Picture," as it appears on our screens and devices, is certainly a distortion of our own making as much as an accounting of the "status" of the world. I sure do care about suffering people in other parts of the country and the world. I have friends in southeast Texas, and in south Florida, and out west too. But my empathy well has been swamped like a storm surge over a barrier island, for many months now. I've got to learn some new routines to manage my engagement with the trials of the greater world, because there is no avoiding them completely. I've got important things right under my nose that need my attention too.

Lifelong learning - acquiring new skills as we "season" and mature; isn't that what life is really about? Rather than chastise myself for getting caught up in it, maybe I'll cut myself a little slack. I'm working on learning how to manage new situations, just like everyone else. These weren't situations that our parents or grandparents had to learn to navigate, but they had their own just the same. I have to learn, and it's going to continue to change, and I'll need to change my behavior as we go too. I won't be perfect. I never am; perfectly imperfect maybe :).

So a prayer for those in danger, that they may quickly find their way to safety. And a little small still but steady voice for me too - "life is all around and right in front of you, as well as far away. Be present. Be at peace with taking a little time to breathe in your surroundings. Hug the kid. Pet the cat. Do the dishes"

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