I’m sick. A three-year old coughed in front of me at preschool singing and I knew I was a goner. A mere three hours later came the tickle in the throat, then the rush for the Wellness pills and then the genuine sore throat and the stuffed head at night. I’ve actually been quite lucky, expect this two or three times a year and think it’s been over a year since it got me. But a lifelong habit of feeling sorry for myself is hard to break.
But compared to everything else that is going down, I’m almost grateful for a cold. This minor inconvenience is a small price that we incarnated humans have to pay. A cold is something of modest proportion— cancer is not. An argument between two people is right proportion—random mass killing and terrorism is not. Government responding to crisis with appropriate measures is right proportion—the shameless NRA continuing its stranglehold on gun control and getting away with it is not. A flood or blizzard is right proportion— melting polar ice caps are not.
That sense of right proportion in the inevitable problems of human co-habitation has been lost. What was once a genuine tragedy—Columbine, for example—is now simply tomorrow’s next headline— 355 mass shootings in the U.S. this year. Al Qaeda dies down (or does it?) and ISIS springs up. Trump keeps reaching for the next level of outrage to find where his follower’s sense of “too much!!” lies and hasn’t found it yet.
Not that human history previous to our times was a mild run of common colds, household arguments and minor misunderstandings between various religious or political groups. Let's not wax nostalgic for the good old days of the Mongol hordes and the Inquisition and witch-burning and Native American genocide and slavery and lynchings and war after war after war after war. But it does feel like we’re entering some new, previously unexplored low. War has always been with us, but soldiers who mostly agree to sign up and shoot mostly at each other makes it feel positively enlightened compared to terrorist shootings and mentally unstable people deciding to kill perfect strangers just because. And then the politicians who recently pass a bill allowing terrorists to purchase assault weapons, who purposely block a gun control that has proven effective in places like Australia, who have the shameless gall to offer their prayers for the victims even as they sell guns to the killers. And to say nothing of the gun manufacturers and gun dealers and the schools and churches and families that are breeding monsters. And again the politicians threatening their own children’s futures by officially pretending climate change doesn’t exist. I don’t need to name the party here.
My days at school are filled with human foibles that seem like big deals— the kids who didn’t turn in their homework or excluded a classmate from play or subverted my music class with silly behavior, the teacher who wasn’t as flexible with the change in schedule as we wanted, the parent who wrote an outrageous e-mail of complaint. We all can get worked up over all of it and all of it does demand our attention. But in the big picture, it’s simply the human comedy and tragedy in bite-size pieces that our tender psyche can mostly handle. But the Facebook photo of kids in the hall hunkered under bullet-proof blankets (on sale now!), the videos of beheadings, the latest news from scientists, the next mass shooting— it’s too much for us all. We become numb to grief, to outrage, to any sense that anything makes sense anymore. And such numbness only makes it worse.
I saw the film Spotlight tonight and here was yet another example of a lifetime of needless human pain and suffering caused by people of God and the vast conspiracy to let them get away with it. And the bravery and perserverance of the newspaper that shone the light on the problem to begin the healing. How I love stories like that! A time (a mere fourteen years ago) when media existed to hold folks accountable instead of revel in the gore and flash fear in people’s faces day after day. When people could still be outraged and respond accordingly.
Well, I don’t think those days are done, but it sure is harder and harder to summon up the energy and the hope and the organization and the work.
Especially when you have a cold.