On Friday I received a call from a man with a heavy accent. He called to inform me that if I didn’t act immediately, I would be arrested on Monday morning. He had just enough personal information about me to get my attention. I had apparently defaulted on a personal loan. The federal authorities were involved. The local sheriff was in pursuit. I was in big, big, trouble. Despite the fact that I haven’t taken out a personal loan since applying for financial aid in college—a debt that has long been repaid—and despite the fact that I was pretty certain I was being scammed, the threat upset me. A lot. His persistence. His tone. His conviction. His willingness to strike out an innocent.
My whole life I have been told I am naïve. Naïve to believe that people are inherently good. Unwise to so freely give my trust. Silly to believe that critical mass must lean in the direction of people, not toward profit. Irrational to believe that the world could be a benevolent place, peaceful, cooperative, good for all if enough people wish it to be. That’s me, downright foolish. Yet, I remain hopeful. I have always been this way. And thus far I have managed to maintain this outlook, mostly. Doing so, I’ll admit, means somehow allowing, ignoring and accepting all that is bad or evil about the world; I have to accept that most of the bad stuff is out of my immediate control. The only real power I have as a common Joe-citizen is to be a good one, as kind as present in all my interactions as I can be. So I try. I want a rosy life, one without drama, conflict, disconnection. And I want that for everyone else, too.
I didn’t get arrested Monday. I blocked the calls that came incessantly throughout the day and went on my way, with Friday’s nasty incident far in the rear view. Peace had returned to my realm. As I motored through Ann Arbor I came upon an angry motorist gesturing violently in my direction. I am guessing she was attempting to cross three lanes of traffic, got stuck and I was the one that wound up in her crosshairs. Her face shocked me. It was contorted and explosive and laser-focused on me. She immediately jumped into the lane behind me, trailed me, virtually attached her vehicle to my bumper for a mile or two, all the while articulating her fury with gestures. I wondered what she with do with her anger. I wondered if my kids in the back seat were in jeopardy. I wondered what would cause someone to lash out at a no one.
Back in the late 90’s I read Dr. Andrew Weil’s book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health. One of his recommendations was to go on a news fast, to stop reading papers, or watch television news, or listen to news radio, to instead tune into what informs our life—the unreported stuff of daily living. I don’t think Dr. Weil was suggesting I stick my head in the sand, though it felt a little that way. I think he was asking me as his reader to step away from the drama, the faulty constructs, the madness. So I did this, unplugged my TV, stopped listening to NPR, stopped reading current events…for two years I fasted. My news fast ended on September 11, 2001, when a colleague called and told me to turn on CNN. I did, just in time to watch the second plane impact the tower. I did not move away from the television for the next eight hours. I was jolted back into the world: a world overflowing with horror and grief and fear and death.
Sticking my head in the sand did not prevent bad things from happening; rather, doing so dulled my awareness of them. These days I choose my news carefully. The profusion of internet and with it social media into my life means I am purvey to the whole world’s opinions and troubles, and I am even more aware of our serious shortcomings toward making our world a better place. It isn’t enough to have strangers calling my home, threatening me, or pissed-off motorists tailing me. Now my Facebook newsfeed has become peppered with propaganda and harsh criticism about this guy or that one or some other thing. Which leads to me to wonder, why are people so gosh darn angry? And why do they feel compelled to share it, with everyone?
These days my rosy countenance is crumbling. People are hurting. Everywhere. People are seriously hurting. Pain makes people do ugly things, which means that in a world where there is so much pain, ugliness is everywhere. If we are lucky enough to be living the rosy life, the life without drama or conflict, we are the last ones who should be aloof or choose to be ignorant of it. Detachment does not help a hurting world one bit. Distance is an illusion. Suffering is not geographically limited. It is not the province of those in an economic class that differs from mine. Anguish is not possessed solely by the ill-fated, the unlucky, the other. Pain is right here, showing up in my every day and shaking its angry fist in my face trying to get me to do something. It is impossible to ignore.
As I write this, my daughter looks on, asks me what it’s about. So I tell her. Her response? “Is there going to be a solution?” To which I can only respond: “I sure hope so.”