Recently a relative passed along an online inflammatory pamphlet. Wars, freaky climate, economic meltdown, oppressive governments, violence in the streets, feckless politicians – it grimly prophesized the end of life as we know it. The solution: horde precious metals, buy a gun, hunker down with plenty of water and dry goods, and accept Jesus as your Savior.
I didn’t respond. There is no sense kicking the dog just to see if she’ll bark. Instead I reserved a table at a nice restaurant and took my wife out on a date to commemorate 40 years of marriage. We’ve seen plenty of market and mood swings over the years, and still we’ve managed to muddle through together. I don’t know how exactly. We help each other out, but we don’t talk much about it. Plus my hearing isn’t what it used to be. Or maybe I hear what I need to hear and disregard the rest.
We got married after I was discharged from the Army. People weren’t welcoming soldiers back from Vietnam as heroes then. Now the country is engaged in more useless wars, and we plaster pictures of soldiers all over the media and call them patriots. It’s pure theater. Our culture is so saturated with manipulated images that some of us can no longer tell the difference between the images and the reality they represent. If we still had the draft, and the sons and daughters of upper class Americans were slogging through the mine-laden fields of Afghanistan, I doubt we would be there.
In these unsettled times, the best thing is to follow the advice of Voltaire’s Candide and cultivate your garden. I have great respect for people who quietly go about their business in an honest, competent manner and help others out with no expectation of recognition or reward. I’ve had plenty of role models to follow in my line of work, and it’s been a blessing.
For me, the greatest satisfaction has come from working with people on a one-on-one basis, whether it was as a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels, Literacy Volunteers or other organizations. I like the concreteness of it, the immediate feedback. I don’t get the same level of satisfaction from sitting around a table with others and making big plans. It’s necessary and even useful, but it’s too easy to disappear without remainder into the endless talk and meetings.
People talk entirely too much these days, mostly about themselves. It’s when you stop thinking so much about yourself, and whether you’re happy, or what would make you happy, that you start to pay attention to the more interesting stuff that is out there waiting for you to discover it.
I’m going to miss all of the fabulous people and community projects I’ve been privileged to know and be a part of during my tenure with SLHI. Groups working in community gardens, health clinics, in-home care, advocacy on behalf of children and people with mental illnesses, self-help circles, networks linking up people with resources, organizing the homeless, churches that walk the talk in their social ministries. It never ceases to amaze me how strong and resilient most people are, especially in difficult times.
To my relatives, I would say this: If you think these are the end times, look for the people in your own backyard who are out there every day weaving a rich web of social reciprocity and building better communities. They are not images living inside your head or fools hunkered down in caves with precious metals and dry goods. They are outside waiting for you to join them.
Go out and play. Walk in the light of human connection. It’s where the joy is.
Feedback? Send it my way: Roger.Hughes@slhi.org.
*The Drift reflects the views of the author, and does not represent the official view of SLHI’s Board of Trustees and staff.