The backyard is my project for the day. There are four or five large trees in total, but they provide a fine canopy over the whole area. Every morning, I am greeted by squirrels zipping across the yard, scurrying up the trees. They mischievously chase each other from limb to limb and across the power lines, nuts in tow.
A couple of brave chipmunks have even chanced to come upon the deck to grab some of the Biscoffs that I had set out for them. Meanwhile, the birds of the air flit back and forth among the canopy branches and the woodpeckers tap in vain against the synthetic siding of the house. My chipmunk friends look on in bemusement. I can also rely on a family of cardinals and a family of blue jays to make their appearances. This is, perhaps, the only time that red and blue can get along, pecking amongst the grass for provisions.
At the center of it all, a giant silver maple stands sentry in the middle of the yard – a massive tree that has seen more life than I ever will, and has probably done more good than I ever will too. His branches reach 50 feet into the sky with ease, providing a playground to the chipmunks, and the squirrels, and the birds.
How interesting that a living, but non-sentient being like a tree can serve so many of its denizens simply by existing. And yet we humans go to such great lengths in pursuit of whatever vanities that strike our fancy only to find that they are less fulfilling than if we had simply carried out our purpose and passively existed like the Sentry.
Today I will cut the grass, carefully avoiding the roots and briars about the yard. And the Sentry will stand guard over my efforts. One day, I will be no more, and will leave him to look over the folly of someone else.
I’m not sure that anyone still reads this anymore. The old blog has suffered from its share of neglect over time, despite major upgrades over the past two years. Truth be told, I actually thought of shutting the whole thing down after a couple of incidents. Suffice it to say, my online writings have caused issues for some over the years – but that’s another story for another time.
Yet, here I am, in an age where free speech seems to be no longer en vogue, pecking away at a keyboard, sharing my unsolicited thoughts with the internet and perhaps even the metaverse before too long. Given society’s penchant for shutting down opposing points of view, it strikes me as more critical than ever that we brave few and soldier on, and share whatever strikes our fancy – no matter whom we may offend.
What caught my attention of late is the subject of worry.
For many years, worry consumed me. I think everyone worries to some extent, but my worry became paralyzing. I think this was especially common during the pandemic given some polls out gauging youth depression rates, and some of the latest estimates that we are actually closer to the beginning of the pandemic, even now, than the end.
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Problems
There’s no panacea to the problem of worry. It’s simply a reality of the human condition. In dealing with my own struggles, however, I’ve often found and drawn comfort from my faith, which has its roots in the wisdom of the ancients. The challenge, in this case, is to apply ancient wisdom to modern problems. Fortunately for me, Jesus has a lot to say about worry.
Matthew 6.25 came across my radar of late via TikTok. A fact that I think would make Jesus smile. Thirst trap, indeed. At any rate, it certainly found its way on to my desk at an appropriate time when I am very anxious (viz., worried) about a good many things in my life. Given my situation, the imperative quoted above struck me as an especially important thing to reflect on.
To add some background, the quote actually follows from the previous section where Jesus warns against efforts to serve both God and money. The point of the verses is that such a duality of service is simply not possible. Of course, that never keeps us from trying.
The question that follows logically, assuming we choose to serve God rather than money is what then? How do we live? How do we buy clothes, pay bills, buy food, save for retirement, etc. What will my kids do when I’m gone? For that matter, how long do I have left? Nothing sparks the existential dread we harbor inside quite like a pandemic where death seems to be all around. How can we live, let alone choose to serve God, without cash? The questions are unspoken at this point in the section but immediately after, Jesus gives us the lesson above. And it’s a simple lesson, elegant even: “Don’t worry about it.”
Elegant though it may be, the lesson can seem a bit quaint, and at stark odds with modernity. We worry about many things that would be inconceivable to the folks in Jesus’s day. We live lives that are much more complex and complicated than they were in the first century C.E., at least in our own estimation.
Nevertheless, it’s called ancient wisdom for a reason. The lesson is timeless. Or rather, it exists outside of time. A beacon from beyond, challenging our preconceptions of what it means to truly live.
The fact is, worry is an insidious demon. Not in the horns and fire sense, but in its subtle ability to take over our lives and destroy them, dream by dream. By contrast, the message from Jesus is intended to be one of liberation. Freedom. The antidote to worry is to not play its game.
Worry operates by placing tremendous stress upon our souls, mind, and our bodies. The stress that results is ultimately derived from fictions that we choose to believe are facts. We may grieve or regret something that has happened. We worry about what may come. Worry coerces us into believing that our worst fears are inevitabilities and this simply isn’t so.
In the end, we are only responsible for the present. That’s all we can control. This point underlies all of the wisdom and beauty that follows in the remainder of the chapter. I hope to unpack some of this in the posts that follow.
For now, the take home point is a counterintuitive one. Despite our view of life’s complexity, despite every emotion and temptation that besets us when life seems to be going awry – even so, it is still better to be a peace with our lot, rather than worry about what may come.
Jesus seems to be telling us, don’t worry because all is well.
I don’t write with much consistency these days. I thought that the pandemic and working from home would see an increase in posts and a whole series unfold on the different tech dilemmas that I find myself in.
But the truth is my heart just hasn’t been in it.
When I watch the news or read the headlines trying to drum up a creative spark that might lead to a post, I find that writing anything political or satirical would be mundane compared to reality.
Take the recent Trump v. Biden debate for example. The debate was an absolute brawl put on by two men who desperately want to be the President of the United States (or acting President in the case of Biden). Both sides came out swinging, and caught the usually nonplused moderator Chris Wallace completely off guard. One candidate called the other a clown. The other retorted back by calling him stupid, and our moderator was left in the unenviable role of a Presidential Debate Schoolmarm who had clearly lost her class.
If there’s one thing we’ve managed to do over the past year it’s figure out ways to clobber each other. I say this metaphorically with respect to politics, but given the riots-cum-peaceful protests, I have to say this literally as well. We are a Nation so divided that even our collective response to the pandemic has been politicized. Mask wears vs. the anti-mask wearers, to say nothing of the pending Supreme Court nomination, the looming election, the economic downturn that has beset so many, and those we’ve lost to this wretched virus.
It’s strange but at a time when thoughts are plentiful, I’ve found it plenty difficult to focus on the tasks at hand. Sharing anything remotely thoughtful with the blogosphere has been low on the priority list – somewhere on the level of responding to emails, unfortunately. (Is the blogosphere even a thing anymore?)
A personal failure of words strikes me as especially odd given that we are living in a truly historic time. And when one lives through history it would seem that there’s something significant to talk about. To wit, I think the last ‘certifiable’ pandemic was the Spanish Flu in the 1920s. However, it seems there’s some debate about this point as some quarters only call it a mere epidemic rather than a pandemic. Roaring twenties, indeed. Given that very few if any people are alive who survived the pandemic of the 1920s, it’s fair to say that we are living through a historic moment. And yet words have been few and far between.
I think the difficulty stems from the fact that living through a pandemic is rather boring.
Movie theaters are closed. Restaurants and bars have lost their appeal. Amusement parks are no longer amusing. Halloween has been canceled. Travel abroad is severely restricted. Travel at home is undesirable. And, to state an obvious (albeit unpopular) opinion, wearing a mask is tedious. Rather than breathe my own breath, like billions of people around the world, I’ve simply opted to stay home.
In truth, it hasn’t been all bad for me. Home in my case, is back in Oklahoma. At present, I’m writing from the comfy environs of my childhood room, sleeping on an extra-long twin bed with a small writing desk allocated for me to do my work. It’s a humbling thing to be nearly 40 (gasp) and living at home with my parents.
The saving grace of my situation is that it’s not for unfortunate circumstances that I am here. My apartment in Tucson is happily unoccupied with all of my belongings just as I left them in late May. I remain gainfully employed at the University of Arizona. And my health is as good as it ever has been – though I certainly need to lose a few COVID pounds at some point. My excuse is that the gyms are closed. That I would not have gone to one anyway is a moot point.
So, despite it all, those I care about are safe and healthy. I have a job. My needs are met. Many have it far worse. I’m a fortunate person though I don’t deserve it. I just hope this thing turns around for us all very soon.