A collection of essays on life, teaching, parenting, and finding the good in this crazy world.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
I write for my own pleasure. My head swirls with all manner of random thoughts. Some of them make it as far as my journal, some of them all the way to my computer and beyond. I enjoy observing my world and once in a while I discover that I have some commentary to make about the state of it.
Like many writers, I write about what I know. My world is filled principally with parenting and teaching. Human relationships. My subjects are the people I meet, the places I frequent. There’s not much chance of me becoming an adventure writer at this stage of my life. My wildest adventures encompass road trips in the minivan to visit the in-laws and excursions to the zoo. Don’t get me wrong. I’m fond of both, but sadly you won’t find me running rapids down the Amazon or scrambling up Ayers Rock any time soon.
I do, however, consider myself a worldly, well-educated fellow. I have done my fair share of international travel. I’ve lived in three countries on two continents. I’ve certainly met several books-worth of interesting characters. Of course, I only have to take the #15 bus through central Denver to find those folks. They are the same people that Kerouac used as fodder for ‘On The Road’.
I like to keep abreast of the world’s events. I enjoy my morning newspaper. I’m a skimmer. I run my eyes over the headlines and photos and only settle on the stories that appeal. I confess that I have little tolerance for the stories that have been part of my reading for decades now. As important as they are to millions, I don’t dwell on peace and war between Middle Eastern countries nor between the blowhards of the U.S. political parties. I’ve given up reading about violent crimes, particularly those against children. I don’t intend to create a false view of the world. I just have an intense need to avoid the worst of humanity. Life is too short. I look for the best.
The pickings are slim. It was Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who said that well-behaved women rarely make history. Good news is few and far between in my local broadsheet. A quick glance at today’s paper illustrates my point. It is full of depressing economic stories and a new president struggling to come to terms with the mess he has inherited. In addition, the front page carries stories about dead soldiers being brought back from war, a verdict in the case of a man accused of murdering his infant son, arguments about environmental impact of offshore drilling, devastating wildfires in Australia, and deadly tornadoes in a neighboring state. I empathize with the victims, I truly do, but I can’t allow that kind of energy to color my days.
Instead, I try to find tidbits of good news, happier times. There’s not much. But I’m grateful for what I find. A picture of the first signs of spring. Michelle Obama committing to taking her girls to school as often as she can. A few jobs opening up in the rural areas of my state. A dinner in honor of the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives. That’s about it. All in all, about six inches of column space. Slim pickings indeed.
There were a couple more mentions of events that aren’t altogether bad news, not nearly in the same vein as murder and natural disasters, but they certainly don’t feed the soul: Barbie turns fifty this week. That’s Barbie, the ridiculously shaped plastic doll. New York is hosting a Fashion Week event in her (its?) honor. And even more bizarre, “a Michigan zoo is hosting a exotic, erotic afternoon on Valentine’s Day when consenting adults will get an unabashed look at how wild animals make babies” (Denver Post 2/11/09). Is this the state of our world – when okapi pornography is among the least worst news we have to report?
I’m thankful that I’m a reflective writer, not a reporter. Most reporters, at least those not chasing the latest celebrities through the undergrowth of fame, are wonderfully intrepid individuals. They are undoubtedly doing the world a great service. But I find I need to be selective in what I inhale. My soul cannot stand too much tragedy and disaster. It needs to find kindness and compassion to grow. The goodness of humankind is what I crave.
I find very little of it in the news media. I find it in my family, in the children I teach, in the smile I encounter from people I pass on the street, in the gestures of friends, in the generous offers from neighbors, in my community. I find the goodness of humankind in the world around me, in my world, not in the news reports from the world at large.
And here’s the good news. My community is one of hundreds of thousands around the world. What I label as “my world” is duplicated for every single other individual on the planet. Not only does each of us receive some sort of kindness every day, however small, more importantly each of us has the ability to be kind to others. I’m pretty sure that every one of us does show some sort of kindness to one other human being every day. But we can do more, all of us. Each one of us has the potential to show one more kindness, show one more ounce of compassion, do one more favor.
None of it will reach my morning newspaper, but altogether, it will change the world.
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