I suppose I should have known on “star gifts Sunday” when the word I was supposed to meditate on in 2013 was “perseverance” that it was going to be like this. The first four months of 2013 have more than lived up to my worry, both politically and personally and then, sadly a combination of the the two.
My clients’ lives have been challenging at best. In their lives, injustice continues to abound. Without going into it in detail, my clients have seen particular injustice and it has nearly crushed them, leaving me to “un-crush” them — a job that I’m more than willing to do. Still, I wish I didn’t have to. People make mistakes or poor choices all the time. I expect that. When the winds of life become hurricanes through no fault of their own though, it’s hard not to get caught up in their struggles.
Speaking of hurricanes, having the worst storm I can remember this year didn’t help much. My kids have been sick a lot this year. I’ve had the flu in the middle of it all — and that was just January. In business for myself, snow days also bring financial stress if I can’t go to work, but such is life.
Newtown happened in December and – has anybody else noticed? — the number of crazy people with guns, bombs, and, in the case of North Korea, countries — has grown this year. How many crazy people shot up malls, schools, district attorneys and so on this year? More than enough. Thinking about my own kids during and after Newtown really hit hard and I didn’t ever really bounce back.
In the midst of this, a good friend from seminary’s wife (and a good friend herself) died young. I don’t do well with death, never have, so this hit hard. A week or so after this, one of my favorite people growing up — my uncle — died suddenly. Again, my ability to bounce back remained diminished and life was just hard.
Upon returning from Florida and my uncle’s funeral, on the Saturday before Easter, I was trying to take it easy when I realized I might miss the train and ran to catch it. I managed to catch the train, but didn’t catch my breath after the run — for five or six hours. After phone calls to various doctors, I made it to the hospital where they thought it might be heart-related or lung-related. Neither sounded good. Easter Sunday of this year I woke up in the hospital and was released by noon-ish. Turns out, I had my first-ever asthma flare up (it being a year of “firsts”) but I am ok.
But wait, there’s more! As you probably have heard by now, there was a bomb that went off in Boston. Turns out the two suspects ran through or drove through Watertown, MA. a few days later. Not being able to sleep at 4am, I began getting notifications by my friend Rob who lives there that there was some sort of fracus near his house which involved police and sirens. The first instance was 2 blocks from his home and the second was filmed from the roof of his work, in walking distance from his house. Facebook status updates all day informed me that he was under lockdown and the police were going door to door. The news, bad enough already from a distance, had come home to invade my personal life.
Between the asthma, general stress, and the thought of my friend dying in a world-famous incident, I couldn’t take it anymore. I started to do what I frequently do — blog about it. I was going to make some theological or political statement about what was wrong and how to fix it, when I realized that I didn’t have a clue how to fix it, because it was everything from everywhere that was wrong. I don’t have any idea why there have been more mass shootings than you can shake a stick at this year. Clearly, though Rob’s circumstance could have been related to that, my uncle’s death had nothing to do with terrorism, nor did Holly’s death, or the weather, or the explosion in West, Texas (did I mention that, too?). The only thing that these things had in common was … me.
Something had to give and it was me. There is an old saying that “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” and I don’t necessarily believe that anymore, given my clients’ lives and a few rough spots in my own, but I’d like to and — on some level — it makes sense on a gut level to me. Still, I am convinced that if God doesn’t give us more than we can handle — as Jesus said, “today has enough problems of its own” — we can find more problems if we go looking. In these days of 24 hour news, the internet, radio, it’s not hard to seek and find. I notice when my clients get into “drama” on Facebook, but it occurred to me that I also love drama — not personal things like hacking someone’s account and telling their girlfriend that their boyfriend is cheating on them — but political drama, intellectual drama, theological drama — drama on a different level to be sure, but drama nonetheless.
So I took control of the one thing I had control of — me. Turns out those therapy/twelve-step ideas actually work. Who knew? I decided that I would remove myself from the news and Facebook for a week. My iPod lets me just see my emails the news or any actual subject matter, so I started deleting the political ones. If I wanted to connect with my friends, I could go the old fashioned way and call them.
I laughed to myself when my first email had “ANNIHILATION” in the topic sentence. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that people even considered that we could cause the planet’s and our own annihilation. Now we consider it every day. Kim Jong Un has missiles. The XL Pipeline could destroy the environment. Fujiyama’s nuclear waste could go anywhere. The polar ice caps are melting and — according to my emails — Congress isn’t doing anything to stop it but my $3.00 donation could help. I’m sure that people on the Right get emails that say their own version of it, but I now understand the trap for me: “Be afraid, the world is out of control, but you can save it and you must if you care at all.”
A week later, I was itching to re-connect with people and watch the news, but I was reminded by the ubiquitous TV that at the bus station (I missed the train this time) — regardless of what CNN tells me, I don’t know the Boston terrorists by their first name and I don’t need to know every detail of their lives before, during and after the events. I remain generally out of the loop for now, but read Facebook to see what happened to people I do know personally. I avoid political scraps and long argument threads. I avoid the word “annihilation” and “send money” for now, and my head and my heart are clearing. I can now see the forest for the trees again and I’d just as soon not get lost in the woods again.
Does this mean I’ll stay away from the news forever? Not at all. I struggle with a week of political “fasting”. What it does mean, though, is that I’ve got choices about what I do with my time and I am not God. I have limits and this world messes with them a lot if I let it. In the religious world, there is a thing called “Sabbath” which requires a break from all work — which includes saving the universe — and getting some perspective on who’s really in charge of the Polar Ice Caps and Kim Jong Un. I have to do it more often.
The world is a freaky place right now, in ways that it has never been before, but we don’t have to pick up every package that Wile E. Coyote (dressed up as CNN or ABC or NBC or Yahoo) brings to our door. We can return it to the sender.
If everything is IMPORTANT, nothing is. I think I’d like to live a small life again on occasion, where only a few things — like the people in my life — count. I’m tired of being overwhelmed and depressed. I want to be empowered again to deal with the things I can. Annihilation stops here, unless it doesn’t. In any case, if it happens, it won’t be at my own hand, caused by the remote for the TV.
We’re not meant to live like this. We have choices. I encourage you to exercise yours.