Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Need to Know

need to know meme

If you watch the news at all it’s easy to believe that the world we live in is a senselessly violent place where no one is safe. You aren’t safe walking down the street. You aren’t safe in your schools or your places of worship. You aren’t even safe sleeping in your bed. Danger is everywhere; the stories of death and destruction come at us non-stop on the television, in the newspaper, over the radio, down our Twitter feeds, through our friends’ Facebook posts. The unrelenting barrage of bad news often leaves me feeling hopeless and thinking that the world is spiraling out of control.

I hate feeling this way so I’ve thought a lot about how not to. I’ve tried finding my peace through faith and prayer, and while that helps, it doesn’t stop me from getting drawn back into the maelstrom of madness that is the “news”. So, as the above cartoon suggests, I’ve tried to limit my exposure to it. When I am successful I find that my mood improves significantly. But – and this is a big “but” – I often, so often, find myself seeking it out so I’ll know what’s happening, even though I know it will make me feel like crap.

So what is it that I think I NEED to know?

This is an extremely confronting question, and worth exploring. What, exactly, do I need to know about events in my own country and the wider world in order to live my life? What information is necessary for me to have to be a productive member of society?

Do I need to know about every natural disaster, devastating fire, missing person, or horrible murder that happens every day somewhere in the world? Do I NEED to know the details of these awful events, or is it enough to know that they happen every day?

Do I need to know every excruciating detail of every dumb ass thing our elected representatives say and do? Do I NEED to know all the latest scandals and outrages, or is it enough to know that these things will continue to happen as long as human beings are in charge?

Do I need to know every time some heinous act of terror is perpetrated somewhere on the planet? Do I NEED to know who these people are, where they came from, and why they did it, or is it enough to condemn all acts of violence carried out by people who want to hurt others and make all of us afraid?

When you put it that way, it’s pretty obvious that I don’t actually NEED to know any of this stuff. I’m not saying I shouldn’t be aware of world events, particularly if they will have a direct impact on my life, but maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to be quite so thoroughly consumed by it all.

Of course that’s easier said than done. Following current events as they happen is an addiction, and I don’t think I’m the only one hooked. I have tried to wean myself off of the minute-by-minute news cycle but in spite of my best intentions I keep going back to my dealer, the internet, for more of the drug I crave – and hating myself for it. Why can’t I go through life being blissfully uninformed? Would that be so bad?

I think back longingly on the years when we all got our information from a trusted anchorperson on the 30-minute nightly news. We all went about our daily lives, and then, after dinner, we’d sit down and have Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw or Dan Rather tell us what we needed to know that day. And that was plenty. We knew what was going in the world, but we weren’t overwhelmed by it like we seem to be now. Sure, the coverage wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as it is today – thanks to the miracle of the internet, we can know what some despot on the other side of the world had for breakfast – but dear God, do we really NEED to know all that just because we CAN?

I know that unless I move to some remote island or mountaintop retreat it’s unlikely that I will cut myself off from everything and everyone I would have to in order to achieve that level of disconnectedness. So I have to find another way to stay sane.

Here’s a radical thought, so bear with me. I think that the key to keeping  in touch with the world around me while at the same time keeping my sanity is entirely dependent on my own perception. What I mean is, I can either see the latest catastrophe – whether man-made or not – as a reason to panic, or not. I think we’ve gotten so short-sighted that we confuse what’s happening now with what will happen tomorrow, and the next day. We have lost our ability to look at the long term, to see down the road. We’re so focused on the information coming at us from those little screens in our hands that we’ve forgotten how to look up and really see the world around us. Beloved, the stars in the sky could give a fuck who’s president. We need to keep that in mind. Focusing on what’s eternal is a huge help in processing what’s temporary. This too shall pass.

We also need to see our neighbors with compassionate eyes. We need to recognize that we all want the same basic things – to feel safe, to be warm and dry and fed. To be loved. We sometimes have extreme differences about how to achieve these goals (and what is preventing us from achieving them), and we have a hard time understanding how someone who disagrees with us could possibly believe the things they do. It’s hard, I know. But we have to try. We have to try, with all our might, to love the people we believe are actively trying to do us harm. I believe with all my heart that it’s the only way through this current crisis.

So, when I call my elected representatives to share my concerns about something of real importance to me and my family I will not do so in a state of fear and panic, but in a state of love. I will approach the conversation with an open mind and heart, and I will see the “other” as someone who is capable of compassion. I know this approach doesn’t fit in with the concept of “fighting” the good fight, but I’m hear to tell you, it is the most powerful thing you can do. Look at Gandhi. Look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those men achieved real change, and they did it not meeting force with force, but by overwhelming the resistance with kindness, and gentleness, and with love. We have to do this differently, and it starts with you and me, right now.

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‘Tis Better to Give

Girl with present

A couple of weeks ago I got a package in the form of a padded envelope in the mail. The return address told me it was from one of my most enduring friends, someone who has been special to me for thirty years. I couldn’t imagine what she would be sending me, and I quickly opened it.

There was no letter inside, just a handful of greeting cards in individual envelopes. They were from different people, mutual friends from high school. Still not understanding what I was holding, I opened each one in turn.

The cards were about friendship and variations on the “hang in there” theme. All of them had hand written notes; my friends had sent words of encouragement and support, mostly surrounding the recent adventure of having my car stolen (and recovered).  And, as if that wasn’t enough, inside were gift cards in various amounts for gas stations, the grocery store, the movies, and even one for a spa.

I finally realized what had happened. My good friend had reached out to this circle to tell them I was struggling and to ask them to help however they could. Their response was to send me their love and concern, and a little financial aid. I was overwhelmed. As I opened each card and read the messages inside and found the gifts all I could do was cry. I don’t know that I have ever been more touched by anything than I was by receiving those cards.

As I stood in the kitchen sobbing in gratitude for these friends, a thought popped into my head. “What did I do to deserve these amazing people?” I couldn’t think of a single thing I had ever done to warrant this expression of love from this particular group of women, some of whom I have hardly spoken to in many years. A part of me couldn’t understand why they would do what they did for me. I didn’t feel worthy of their kindness.

Then one day not too long ago I was telling my mother about my feelings, and she said something profound (like she does).

“I’ve found that acts of kindness like that say more about the person giving that the one receiving,” was what she told me.

You’re right, Mom. Of course you are. My friends’ generosity and willingness to help doesn’t have all that much to do with me; I’m sure that they would do the same for anyone, if asked. That’s just who they are – kind, giving, and concerned for others.

My friends didn’t take the time to pick out a card and write those lovely notes and buy gift cards and send them because I’m so great. They did all that because they are. I don’t  deserve their kindness; I’ve done nothing to earn their generosity. I’m just lucky to know them.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of help over the course of my life, from family, friends, and total strangers. Sometimes I ask for it; other times it is just given. I have given help to others when I can. I find I’m much better at giving help than receiving it. Giving makes you feel good; receiving can be more difficult, especially if you have no immediate ability to reciprocate.

I don’t know why I find it so hard to gracefully accept a freely given gift, and why I sometimes refuse offers of help even when I need it. I see this in other people, too, this difficulty accepting that someone genuinely wants to do something nice for you. I struggle against my instinct to refuse an offer of help by putting myself in the giver’s place and acknowledging that by denying that person an opportunity to do something nice for me, I have denied them a moment of joy – and that’s a terrible thing to do.

There’s a lot of talk these days about who “deserves” to be helped. Apparently, you have to meet some impossible standard of moral purity and total desperation to be deemed worthy of your neighbor’s assistance. By that definition I am not worthy of any kindness; I am mostly self-absorbed and forgetful of others. I am deeply flawed and I fail constantly to be the kind of person I want to be. I have no right to expect that anyone not located in the close sphere of family would have a single thought to spare for me, much less go out of their way to show any concern for my wellbeing. That’s how I know my friends’ kindness is not about me. It can’t be.

So why do we constantly ask those who need our help to prove they “deserve” it? Instead, we should just help them. In the end it will say more about who we are than who they are. I think that’s a better way to look at it.

Wouldn’t you rather be kind than right?

photo credit: tobias.fuchs via photopin cc







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