I saw a gaggle of crows outside my office window this morning. They foraged in the grass, looking for food, I assume. Either that or looking for whatever crows look for on sunny fall days. With expert practice, they flipped the leaves with their long beaks and nuzzled their way into the grass underneath the leaves.
After a time they became bored, strutting about the lawn before taking flight in the direction of the sun.
This morning I read that the midterm elections are tightening with all signs pointing toward buoyed Republican prospects next Tuesday. Perhaps sensing the inevitable, President Biden and the Democrats are bemoaning the news, warning Americans that potential Republican gains are simply “dark forces that thirst for power.” Meanwhile, most Americans are simply fed up with both parties, and seem to think that no matter who wins they will do a piss-poor job of governing the country.
The crows didn’t seem to care much about who wins next week’s midterms. I suspect that they would gladly poop on whatever political party is in power, and fly off cawing to one another about the reactions from the humans on the ground far below them.
They’re also wonderfully content. They feel no need to annex another crow’s territory, or threaten their existence with nuclear weapons.
And they take sustenance from the world around them. The crows have no use for money unless it’s a paper bill that might make good lining for a nest. Grocery prices, gas prices, mortgages, credit card bills – all of the things that our more ‘sophisticated’ species takes for granted as part of every day life – have no relevance to my black-feathered friends.
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.
My son was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder earlier this week.
While the diagnosis was not a complete surprise, to say that the news was personally devastating would be an understatement. After five years of explaining away the symptoms, after five years of hoping and anticipating that Clark would simply “outgrow” some of his peculiar behaviors, an expert from the University of Indiana’s Riley Children’s Hospital summarily crushed those hopes with the click of a mouse, and the stroke of a pen.
Naturally, I was crushed.
I can’t speak to how other, better parents would have responded to such news. For my part, my mind went into a spiral with a massive, neon “NO CURE” sign flashing before my eyes while I tried to sleep. Mostly, though, I thought about the horror stories of autism that I had read:
And even the latest news out of Miami-Dade County that would see Clark enlist in a “voluntary registry” with the police as a child ‘suffering’ from mental illness. (No way in hell).
Would he even live to be as old as his mother, and reach the ripe old age of 36?
I didn’t sleep much on Monday night.
The following day, I spent much of it trying to process the news, and how to sort out my own response going forward. Worrying certainly wasn’t helping.
Rather than worry, I tried to think about the language I would use when describing Clark’s diagnosis in my day-to-day interactions. It seemed wise to use the proper terms – both for my own edification, and given the fact that our society is fraught with offense. These days, people tend to get pissed off by nearly anything that rustles their jimmies. I certainly didn’t (and don’t) want to offend other parents of special needs kids unintentionally. Better to save a good offense for when you mean it.
In coming to terms with the terms of Clark’s diagnosis, the word that wanted glibly to sneak into my vernacular was the word tragedy. The Cambridge University dictionary defines tragedy as follows:
I think the first definition is plainly eliminated. Clark isn’t dying anymore than we are all dying. And if the photo above is any indication, he isn’t really suffering either. His mischievous laugh, and megawatt smile certainly speak to the contrary. The third definition is also eliminated – at least until Clark decides to become an english major during college.
So really, the only way to classify autism as a tragedy is if one buys the second definition, and the narrative that autism is a situation or result that is ‘bad.’ And I’m not really convinced of this either.
It’s very difficult to talk about the results and outcome of a life and call them bad when Clark hasn’t really begun to live. Sure, as life milestones go he was born. He learned to walk. He has mastered potty-training (thank God). He’s even developing speech and language skills. But the rest of the broad canvass that is his life is wonderfully, beautifully blank.
Now, it could be that his diagnosis will enable him to make a positive impact on the lives of many. I suppose it could be the opposite. After all, no one wants to think of raising the next dictator, but somewhere in the world there’s a couple or a parent who is doing exactly that. Regardless, it seems misguided to use a term like ‘tragedy’ to define a life that has not yet truly begun. Clark is five years old. His concerns this summer are when he will go swimming, and whether he can have only two Go-Gurts or perhaps sneak a third during breakfast. It’s a bit dramatic to say that his condition is a tragedy.
Having reached that conclusion I calmed down a bit. I did some more investigating. I was intrigued to see that there are scores of parents and autistic folks who agree that tragedy is NOT how they would describe their lives, or their kids. From one parent, I learned that I’ve basically been doing everything wrong since Clark was born. From another, I was inspired to see that maybe I’m actually doing alright, and that perhaps triumph is a better ‘t’ word to describe Clark.
Given the disparate reactions, I was relieved to confirm a lingering suspicion: no one has cornered the market on how to respond to adversity – particularly when it relates to medical conditions affecting loved ones. And especially situations that no one can control.
In all, I can’t say that I have any more answers than I did almost a week ago Monday evening.
But I can say that I love my son. And that as long as I draw breath, I will strive to given him every advantage that I can, and meet every need that he has. Despite the seriousness of the news, it’s a comfort to see that, in some ways, nothing has changed at all.
I broke my fountain pen this weekend. The imperial blue ink that I used in my Lamy CP1 had run out, and when I tried to refill the ink, I inadvertently broke the internal fill mechanism inside the pen.
I spent many hours researching a replacement pen, but I couldn’t find a perfect substitute. Instead, I was left to negotiate the next best alternative and hope for the best.
In the process of deliberating, I found myself forced to consider the utility of using pens at all in our increasingly digital age. In really every respect, pens are bygone specters of an age long past. Their usefulness is almost as passé as the bottles of ink that are sold to fill them.
And yet, there’s something intangibly satisfying about setting pen to paper – to seeing one’s ideas made manifest in written form; to seeing one’s thoughts scratched on paper as mankind has done for countless centuries since that first ancestor etched stories on the walls of caves.
Writing is primal.
Despite the fact that I pride myself on my technological prowess, that ancient link between humans, pen, and paper won the day. And it was rather an easy decision to write again. I hope it’s a trend that continues.