“Sure, the world seems crazy now. But wouldn’t it seem just as crazy if you were alive when they sacrificed peasants, when people were born into slavery, when they killed firstborn sons, crucified priests, fed people to lions, burned them at the stake, when they intentionally gave people smallpox or syphilis, when they gassed them, tortured them, dropped atomic bombs on them, when entire races tried to wipe other races off the planet?”
“Yes, we’ve ruined the planet and melted the ice caps and depleted the ozone, and we’re always finding new ways to kill one another…But this is the Apocalypse? Fuck you! It’s always the Apocalypse. The world hasn’t gone to shit. The world is shit.”
Jess Walter – “Don’t Eat Cat”
Under the shadow of a terribly mismanaged pandemic, along with riots and looting that could hardly be happening at a worse time, I’m asking the same question many parents are asking: What do I say to my kids about all of this? And there’s another question: What sort of world are we leaving behind for our children?
These are not new questions. No doubt, my parents asked the same when I was growing up, and their parents before them. Ever since humankind developed the ability to foresee potential calamity, developed that truly Sapien gift of worry, we have fretted over all the ways things could go badly for ourselves and those we care for.
My oldest child turns fifteen this week. I sat down to write him a thoughtful birthday note, and somehow it turned to this. I find myself wondering, at the age of fifteen, what sorts of things was I worried about? It’s too long ago to remember in detail, but I can tell you that any anxiety I had more or less centered on whether I’d ever be cool enough for other kids to like and accept me. All other worries I may have had were born of that one. I wasn’t worried about the real possibility of a nuclear war that could wipe out the human race, or pollution or over-population or income inequality, or any of the myriad crises I could have been worried about.
I guess it’s different for today’s children, not because the world has gotten any worse. I believe it’s different because we are so constantly focused on the undesirable parts of ourselves. Isn’t it interesting: we use digital filters when posting pictures of ourselves online to hide our imperfections, but when it comes to the way we view and speak about the society in which we live, we fixate on each crack and blemish. Which flaw shall we dwell on today? There are so many.
Is the world shit? When Jesus told his followers they were “not of this world”, was it the messiah’s way of proclaiming, The world is shit? I suppose it depends on what you mean by world.
I’ve written repeatedly about the miraculous creative power of the human mind. This world, the one you and I may be inclined to describe as shit right now, this is the world we created. We, meaning not them. You and I and every person you have or have not met, we created this world together. If this world is shit, you and I are responsible for its shittiness. The good news is, we have the power within us to make it better.
And there’s even better news: this world you find to be so horrible right now––this violent, ignorant, unjust, unholy, unclean, cranky, stressed out little world––is not inescapable. One might say it’s not even real. The majority of what we keep our minds immersed in––our jobs, our economic systems, our governments, social groups, and religions––these are things we created. We made them up. Though we can’t afford to fully do away with the things of the world, we can certainly take a break from them.
I took an extended break from the Bible in recent years, for reasons I won’t get into here, but there’s a passage in the gospel of Matthew that has run circles in my brain these past few days: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
This is an invitation, not just for the Christian, not just for the theist. It’s available to every person of any color, anyone with human blood in their veins. Take a break. Shut off your screens. Dial down the noise, including the sound of your own voice. Take a walk, smell a flower, listen to the birds, hug a loved one, pet your dog, eat some chocolate; take your time and really, truly enjoy it. Do what you must to remind yourself that you are part of a world much deeper than the one that seems like shit right now.