I had a bad week. Car trouble (for the benefit of any potential buyers, older-model Hyundai Sonatas are very reliable cars, but they have a design flaw which places their alternators near the bottom of the engine. In order to reach them, one must remove the cooling fan and a bunch of hoses as well as the front wheel and a protective panel. And they have a tendency to leak oil directly onto those alternators, shorting them out regularly.) and medical issues (the good news is that my mom’s pacemaker surgery went smoothly) and the yearly tax bill stepped in to compound the regular stresses of life.
I’d begun to get angry. On top of all of the familiar stresses and the unexpected ones, I’ve been living for two years with the daily reminders of what I see as fundamental betrayal of principles and a shared political history. Those I’d once seen as my allies were instead actively working to destroy something of which I’d been proud to be a part. Those who I’d once viewed as opposition – the hard left – hadn’t changed; they were still my opposition. But reason had been abandoned on all sides, replaced with emotion. It wasn’t enough to disagree, everyone had to despise.
I expect that many others have found themselves in a similar place. The stressors might not be the same; maybe it’s financial difficulty, or a broken computer or appliance, or joint pain, weather issues or family friction.
For everyone, then: a reminder. This world is magnificent. And sometimes, all you need to do is remember to step back and take a look with new eyes.
There’s a basic economics essay by Leonard E. Read which became famous when Milton Friedman explained it on PBS: “I, Pencil”.
This is a great explanation of the value of the free market. But it houses another lesson: how impressive are even the smallest of items taken for granted every day.
It’s easy to become impressed with the development of technology when, say, a family member goes in for a pacemaker and walks out a few hours later with only a bit of soreness. Or when you watch a movie streaming through the air to your television, when only a few decades ago one needed to watch it in a theater with light projecting through reels of film. It’s easy… but it’s forgotten. New developments come, and we forget how astonished we were by the old ones. We stared in amazement the first time we saw a smartphone in person. Now most of us carry them around like they were just another tool like a set of keys.
Those aren’t, to me, the truly impressive things, though. For me, the wonders are found when we take a moment just to look at a flower or blade of grass or a pet cat, and consider the magnitude of complexity required to create such a thing. We hear of the way attitudes change toward life when people become parents for the first time; I believe that’s because people are likely to consider, as they see their baby trying to understand the nature of the world around them, just how majestic is that world around them.
If you, like me, have been angry, or derisive, or merely frustrated with the world lately… I can’t argue that. There are good reasons for those reactions. But if you’ve slipped down into sadness or even despair, I can offer this advice: don’t just go do something you enjoy but remind yourself of two things. Remind yourself why you found enjoyment in it in the first place, and of how, in the vastness of the universe, across the breadth of the planet, with all of the difficulties in creating even the simplest of items, you were given the opportunity to find pleasure.
The world, and this country, and the internet are all great places of utmost complexity. I am greatly pleased to be able to share them with you. No humor piece today, but maybe tomorrow… and we’ll have Beth’s Something Good as well.
Thank you, everyone, for making my week better.