“Is the world getting more complicated, or am I just getting older?” said my sister over the phone this week. My junior by eight years, she is awash in toddler mayhem (her third Mission Impossible), which includes, but is not limited to, sketchy nap times, bottles of soap poured all over the floor and endless loads of laundry to complement endless weeks of potty-training.
That morning she’d made the mistake of compounding infinite despair with a quick look at the news, and was feeling less than certain that God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world.
As much I would have liked to have told my fresh-faced, still-well-under-forty sister that yes, she was indeed getting older and this was just the beginning of total mind and body breakdown, I could not do so in good conscience.
For it certainly seems as if the world is getting more complicated – or at least, that we are more aware of the complications of this world. It’s precisely why I have made Sundays and Tuesdays computer-free and why I spend as much time as humanly possible in the garden, where life truly is complicated – and yet profoundly simple.
Without the distraction of fresh disasters often more than half a world away, or the ranting of friends over the latest outrage flooding social media (how we do so love to be outraged), I am free to experience the moments that make life so quietly and intensely beautiful.
A Handel concerto in the far-too-early morning…Garden porn and a crazy strong cup of black coffee in my yellow chair…Cold air on my face as I walk down to open up the chicken coop…The discovery of Lycoris radiata foliage that I had thought long since lost to a sprawling spirea….And this afternoon the sound of an old friend’s voice over the phone as we discussed her impending visit in November. The list is blessedly long.
And yet, in an instant, I can lose two hours or more of those moments by simply opening an app to send a quick message to a work colleague.
I am not of a naturally weak mind, but sidebars will beckon, ads will flash, videos will automatically load and I will be lost to sadness, anger, helplessness and despair at things I am in no position to remedy before I have a chance to find my way out or even process where they are happening, much less why.
So rarely is there something heartwarming…something to make me smile. Even the smirk elicited by a witty political meme is one rooted in the frustration of a world gone crazy. Cannibalism in Russia? Thousand dollar iPhones? Massive data breaches and North Korean despots? Ye gods.
And ironically, as we struggle to absorb each soundtrack- and graphics-enhanced disaster, we live increasingly isolated from the friends and family whose voices, laughter and touch are the very things that could save us from the anxiety of a virtual life. We unconsciously separate ourselves from fully experiencing exceptional moments in this beautiful world in our quest to create content. Even when we are physically with others, we are connected elsewhere by the device in our hands.
I have written about it before, as have many others. It is nothing new. The only thing surprising is the way in which we all suddenly find ourselves here – even when we thought we were paying attention. Connected, engaged, aware…and yet, not.
This writer at least is reminded of James Wright’s 1961 poem “Lying in a Hammock on William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island Minnesota” where the poet expresses pure happiness at the natural beauty and serenity around him, only to end the poem with a stark realization: “I have wasted my life.”
Perhaps then it is not that life is more complicated, but that, like Wright, we are paying attention to the wrong things, aided and abetted by the tools we have created to ostensibly give us more time in that hammock.
Thus, Tuesdays and Sundays for me and hopefully a day away from the computer for you too. Perhaps just one day a week. Cold turkey. Time to rediscover pleasures we had forgotten.
For my sister, there is little immediate hope. She is potty-training and the pleasures are few. Maybe just a beautiful ceramic bowl filled with Chunky Monkey when the monkeys have gone to bed.
There’s a poem somewhere there methinks.
Reprinted with permission by The Frederick News Post
I love your voice. You clearly are balanced, though you find yourself in a world which clearly is not.
Thank you Phyllis – my husband would argue that I am a little unbalanced when it comes to my deep love of plants…
Marianne, Very nice photos to inspire contemplation. One of my favorite sources of inspiration in the face of an unbalanced world is the letter from E.B. White on ‘Winding the Clock’ http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/wind-clock-for-tomorrow-is-another-day.html. In fact the whole of the Letters of Note book is worth reading in front of the fire on a winter’s evening. — jw
Noted! Thanks John.