Saturday, July 23, 2011

The World is Too Much with Us

So much sadness recently: a massacre, a young woman's talent and potential wasted, unexplained deaths, children killed in horrific ways.  Summer is the time I spend almost every waking hour (and many sleeping ones, especially when we travel), with my children, and I invariably begin to feel that looming fear and lack of control as we prepare to go our separate school ways in August.  A spate of highly publicized bad news presses in on the fragile membrane of every family's bubble of bliss, reminding us that of course these tragedies remain possible. The fears of threats to my people spike and wane in cycles, with the occasional wide-eyed midnight waking hours worrying about kidnappers and car accidents.  But mostly I feel safe.

I am much more susceptible to the dull ache of daily reminders that we've still got work to do to keep hopelessness at bay.  I was recently reading an essay by Poe Ballantine in The Sun in which he describes a familiar and discouraging landscape:
...families were divided, parents divorced, children drowning under waves of chemical pleasure like flies in syrup.  Why were the mom and dad drunk?  Why did they seem not to care?  Why did they molest and beat their daughters and sons or, at best, leave them unattended?  Why didn't someone clean the kitchen, fix the heater, mow the lawn, have that broken-down car towed away?  Why did everyone give up?  What was the source of all this anguish and despair?  Why, in every house, was the television always on?
Children without adequate resources for enriching camps and family field trips often languish during these long summers and then return to school each fall, where a free public education attempts to provide an equal opportunity for all, despite unequal advantages and privileges.  I often feel daunted by the task before us.

I'd pay more taxes if I knew we could ensure good jobs, clean dwellings, childcare, medical care, rehab programs, counseling, and healthy food for all.

I spoke with a fellow educator about this phenomenon of recognizing our impotence in the face of enduring cycles which provide challenges in our work:  poverty, families in crisis, addiction, illness.

He reminded me of the Buddhist practice of acknowledging reality and recognizing one's limitations, without giving up or feeling helpless (or unhelpful).

How do you cope with and reconcile the realities around you?  How do you stave off fear, panic, and the gloom of enduring poverty, famine, and depravity?  Escape?  Assemble an earthquake kit?  Install an alarm system?  Plant a garden?

Cultivating connections with my people helps, starting with, of course, my inner sanctum--the four of us and critters.  When I feel us spinning out--over-scheduled and overtired--I tend to close our doors and protect our time together.  Family dinners, family walks, and family movie nights, as simple (and cheap) as they are, instill some confidence in me that all is right with my world, and that I am capable of affecting the greater one as well.

I am reading The Future of Success (Working and Living in the New Economy) by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who argues that "one way to better social balance might be through a great moral and spiritual 'reawakening' in which people rose en masse to renounce the excesses of acquisitive individualism."  Acknowledging, however, the difficulty of channeling "moral fervor" in any one agreeable direction, he advocates for a balanced society which would help "cushion people against sudden economic shocks," "widen the circle of prosperity," "give caring attention to those who need it most," and "reverse the sorting mechanisms" which create distinctions between the qualities of neighborhoods and schools.  I know many would argue that as an American I ought to be focused primarily on my own bootstraps, but I've come to recognize my sense of well being as highly affected by the well being of those around me.

In the meantime (while waiting for the revolution), I'll keep on keepin' on:  Work on my personal health and the health of my family.  Assist our neighbors.  Offer a meal.  Donate a little.  Give some time.

What does Sarah McLachlan say?  "The world is on fire/it's more than I can handle...I'll tap into the water/bring what I am able."

1 comment:

aitchpea said...

This is a timely post, as many of these ideas have been rolling around in my head lately. My brother's best friend from college died in a motorcycle accident a few days ago, and it's hitting me pretty hard. Beneath the sadness of the loss of such a young life is the fear that at any moment something could happen to me or my kids or Alec or my parents or anyone else I love; it just can change so fast. And I wish there were a log or, literally, a life preserver to cling to, to say, "Aha! This will keep us all safe in the sea of uncertainty," but at any moment a wave could wrench that out of my hands. I don't like to dwell on fear, and so I am pretty good at pushing it aside and staying in the moment. I can easily rationalize that worrying about it does no good (other than to perhaps prepare you for quick action should something happen), and can move on from the darker thoughts, but with such an onslaught of premature deaths this week, I am finding it harder than usual to refocus. My heart goes out to all the affected families, and despairs over what happens in the course of someone's life to cause them to stray so far from themselves or to use violence against others. As you've said, our job as parents is to keep our kids safe and help them to become the best themselves they can be. If we do our job right, they will become healthy individuals who work towards the betterment of society and who treat themselves and others with love and respect. And so we can hope to maintain some balance...