Lately, in the early morning, we can hear Canadian geese, and this week I saw several large flocks overhead flying south, resolute and well focused. The geese mate for life in their second year and breed in the north, unlike humans in our time: our youth tend now to change partners frequently and fly south to Fort Lauderdale or South Beach to find new ones. This may well be progress, but hardly an upgrade. I digress.
In times past harbingers of the coming winter promised a respite, shorter days – a time to mend nets and harnesses, sharpen and repair tools; perhaps read a bit more by oil lamps. Fond nostalgia for the supposed simpler times bring to mind St. Augustine’s caution that those who pine for the life of past centuries didn’t have to live in them. Each age carries its own burden: its own blessing and curse. Ours is designated the “Information Age”, and it is aptly named. How we will adapt to “Too Much Information” is an open question. We expend millions of hours Facebooking, Googling, Tweeting, emailing and, yes, blogging. Our worldview can be defined by our choices: Fox News or Huffington Post; WSJ or NYT; The Nation or National Review. News sources have expanded almost exponentially, and not a day goes by when our jobs, our home life and our peace are not careening about new bits and bytes. Our attention is bounced cruelly among so many issues, most of which we can do very little to affect.
Global Jihad, global climate change, plummeting net worth and security for most of us when the thin walls of the housing bubble gave out, economic and financial crises everyday for companies and countries, rising energy costs, train wrecks, airline crashes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, murders and mayhem live in full color, big pharma – medical community collusion and corruption, health care options and costs, public union and lawmaker mutual parasitism with its ruinous costs to the taxpayer, taxes too high and too diverse and too hidden, too much asked of burned out teachers, wars and rumors of war, unfunded pension liabilities both public and private which may never be paid out, venal and vain legislators and presidents concerned mainly with keeping their jobs, 10,000 Baby Boomers entering Medicare a day – for the next 19 years, a drained and grossly inadequate Social Security trust fund, checks our politicians have written that we can’t cash, a dearth of courageous leadership at every level, crumbling family structures, collapsed Western birth rates and a losing demographic battle with Islam in Europe, links from all manner of drugs and behaviors to new and exotic fatal diseases, the risk and potential of the Arab Spring, wild fires in an overheated Texas, exaggerated shrinking ice coverage in Greenland, more frequent solar flares that may, indeed, be the main cause of the rise in global temperature, potholes, mistimed traffic lights, increasing public crassness and diminished civility, a ‘magic number’ of four to make the playoffs with five games to play, fifty five hour workweeks and four nights of meetings or games and dance classes for the kids and a thousand more matters both profound and trivial. How we long for simpler times and have absolutely no idea how to recreate them. The genie has long since escaped the bottle.
So many of the solutions of which we often despair are to be found within ourselves. A winter respite, whether or not it resides in cold, snowy weather and long nights, is to be found in personal grace and personal quiet. The word “grace” originates in the Latin, “gratia” and “gratus” meaning favor, gratitude, charm and gift. Grace holds many distinct definitions today: a disposition to or an act of kindness; a special favor; a reprieve; a charming characteristic; ease and suppleness of bearing; a sense of propriety; a short prayer of thanks or blessing; a state of sanctification; and unmerited divine assistance or gift of virtue. Hemingway defined courage as “grace under pressure”. All of these merit reflection and apply to this discussion.
Limiting our compulsion to follow every story to seek out every factoid and merciless, overwhelming detail means making time each day to quiet ourselves, reflect on the many gifts in our lives, including our life itself, and finding within ourselves gratitude for each of them.
St. Augustine wrote in his Sermon to Pastors about how good shepherds will guide their flock, “And their grazing ground shall be there, that is, the place where they will rest, where they will say: “I am happy”; where they will say: “It is true, it is clear, we are not deceived.”
From Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not proud
nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
nor marvels beyond me.
Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
As a child has rest in its mother’s arms,
even so my soul.