We live in a small world.
Most of the time we use that sentence to mean we are all more aware of the whole planet: I listen to the BBC on the way to work in the morning; I have a link to Al Jazeera (in English) on this page; we can buy produce shipped from Chile and Peru in our supermarkets and even buy sushi; I can call around the world without hesitatinig; most all of my clothes are made in another country; and it’s not just ABC’s Wide World of Sports that spans the globe anymore.
As I drove home from work tonight thinking about what I wanted to write, the idea of a small world kept playing over and over in my head, but not for the reasons I just mentioned. I live in a small world and that troubles me. My life too easily becomes about going to and from work, running errands, and responding to life on such a local level that my eyes never see beyond the city limits of my own existence. Unless I work at it, life quickly becomes like living in Pleasantville, where it doesn’t matter what happens to the road outside of town because no one ever goes that far.
I like my life. My job is challenging and fun, even when I have to work three twelve hour days in a row, as I’m doing this week. I can’t think of anywhere in the world I would rather go than home to be with Ginger and the pups. I love my church and I love spending time making sure we have what we need for Coffee Hour every week. I like digging in the dirt to plant flowers and vegetables. I look forward to spending time in front of my computer screen each evening as I write. I don’t feel as though I’m wasting much time in my life and I’m aware how easily my world becomes smaller unless I intentionally figure out a way to zig where I normally zag so that The World Out There can break in.
Part of zigging for me is looking up from my task to see what is going on. I can be more focused than a homing pigeon when it comes to setting my mind to a task and getting it done. One of the good things about that is I get a lot of stuff done. The down side is a lot of stuff goes whizzing right past me without my noticing. A couple of weeks ago, I was going downstairs to change into my chef’s uniform, which meant I had to pass through the laundry room at the Inn to get to the changing room, and as I did I spoke to the Italian woman who does the laundry.
“How are you today?” I asked.
“I’m OK,” she said as I passed and then added quietly as I was closing the door to change, “Actually, I’m not so good.”
When I came out of the room, I asked what was going on and she told me her father, who was in Italy, had had a stroke the night before. She went on to tell me about her family and how hard it was to be so far away and how her brother in Italy was coming down on her pretty hard for being so far away and leaving him to take care of everything. Somewhere in there I realized I was standing with a bundle of kitchen towels under my arm and speaking a body language that said, “Sorry about your dad but the restaurant opens in thirty minutes and I’ve got prep work to do.” For once, I put down the towels and listened and made my world stop shrinking.
That was a couple of weeks ago. This week, my life has focused on me and on my family. I know there are things happening across the planet and in the lives of my friends and none of them is a part of my world right now. I’m not looking at or listening to much outside of my own orbit. I have my reasons and some of them are good. There’s a legitimate time to say, “I’m doing what I can right now.” There’s also a unending call to not let that be the last or only word. The creative tension between those two poles is where worlds grow, and hearts as well.
In the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of the favorite shows in the Brasher-Cunningham household), there was an episode called “Earshot” in which Buffy ended up being able to hear everyone’s thoughts. Ultimately, the sheer volume of pain was excruciatingly crushing. She needed some filters, some limits. We live in a time when it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There are more worthy things asking for our attention and energy than we can count – and those are just the worthy ones. There’s also enough guilt to go around when it comes to struggling with the reality that we can’t respond to all the need in the world. We can’t even meet all the needs in front of our faces.
And when I feel overwhelmed, I let my world get smaller. I can’t find the answers to my life, so I quit listening to all the questions. But there aren’t answers, only a call which requires that I listen and look up to hear and see more than me. Tomorrow, for the third day in a row, I will drive down Route 3A to work, spend most of the day cooking, and then drive home. Thursday, I will run errands and try to check a couple of things off a very old list of things to do around the house, and then spend two more days driving and cooking. On Sunday, I’ll go to church. In the nights and evenings sandwiched in between those days, I will come home to my wife and my puppies.
It is a meaningful existence, perhaps even noble in some sense, and it is small in the same way all human lives are small and particular. Yet, in the paradox of grace, I’m called to be both grateful and unsettled as I look at my life.
It’s not a small world, after all.
That’s a good deal. I am glad that you are finding so much pleasure in your work.
It’s all in the rhythm of the seasons, right? I think the ultimate resonance in life is coming to grips with that paradox of life and death, grateful and unsettled, sin and grace, our finite moments and the thought of eternity.
Beautiful post – one that echoes the rhythm of my own life. Thank you for putting words to the commonality of things that we might overlook.
Milton, speaking of a small world, go and check out this website. brooksworldtravels.org
Milton, your post really hit home for me, because for the past couple of months I have had a worrisome and annoying medical problem that for many weeks made me turn inward on myself — curvatus in se, as the old theologians might put it. It was as if I couldn’t bear any more in my life than the drama of my own health. So I was pretty neglectful even of people I care about, let alone the larger world of human experience and need. It’s been an interesting experience, because it makes me think that before I write someone off as being self-absorbed I need to ask if what I perceive as self-absorption is actually the sort of filtering you describe, done by someone trying to bear a lot of burdens and feeling overwhelmed by his or her immediate situation.