Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Historic Times?

“…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” –George Elliot (HT to my friend Bruce K.)

We in the U.S. have been bombarded of late with missives that declare that we are living in “historic times”. Among that which might make this true is that we have another “historic opportunity” to participate in an election that will “determine our fate as a country in historic ways.” But is that really so? At the moment it appears that we will simply re-run the last election, albeit with all semblance of nuance peeled away in the acid bath that has been these last four years.

Are we truly at an altogether unique inflection point, one so different from all that have come before that our fate, our daily experiences to come, will be affected in ways that we cannot miss or ignore? In ways that we as a people, nay, as a species, have never encountered before? Or is this particular upcoming election occurring as it will simply the next in an unbroken series of political or governing evolutionary steps that has been unbroken since the end of the Civil War? (We must note that despite the upheaval at the Capital in 2021 the handover of the Presidency proceeded as always). Is the excitement and the drama simply another extension of the “Techquake” and its always on firehose of information?

Seriously now, if you are one who is on your soapbox (facing in either direction), are you really telling us that upcoming Election Day, likely pitting two men well past their expiration dates, is going to change our nation to a greater degree than the one that brought us 4 years of LBJ and the Great Society? FDR’s command of the nation through WWII? Heck, do you think it will really end up in the upheaval wrought by Reagan that resulted in the dismantling of the USSR?

As a people the citizens of the developed world have been swept along in the great rivers of effluent poured forth from that firehose of information spawned by the internet. Goodness, unlike even 4 years ago we have an even smaller ability to parse the accuracy of literally anything we see on the various coms brought our way along the interwebs. Have we forgotten the accuracy and truthfulness of Elliot’s words above? If so is it because we simply cannot get even a single pupil above the torrent of information to see what he saw? Or is it more that we have lost the ability to paddle even the tiny amount necessary to do so? No matter, the result is the same. Legions of people who have lost the will to see another person as more than an idea, opinion, or meme.

Literary fiction is taught as the study of quiet acts of desperation and the fall-out that follows. Life, on the other hand, is made up of quiet acts of little distinction one way or another, made out of sight of nearly everyone. Anonymous acts carried out with neither malice nor benevolence. These are what constitute the reality of life. It seems to me that at least a (very loud) portion of our people have lost the appreciation of this reality. For them each act is either an existential affront or a tiny step toward canonization. I do not believe they are correct. Elliot is only wrong in that he underestimates his object; that things are not so ill with you and me, is not half but mostly owing to those who lived that faithful life.

To what, then, is this anonymous majority faithful? This is quite simple, and because this is so it is all the more painful that it must be pointed out: they are faithful to one another. They live lives that are faithful to the belief that it is another person with whom they are living, not an opinion or a belief. This anonymous mass lives lives that are intertwined with other people, not other opinions. When they look to their left or to their right what they see is not a position or a platform, but a person. It is this, the acknowledgement that we are surrounded first by other people, that leads to peace and salvation in this life.

You and I are surrounded by people who are faithfully living quiet lives, anonymous to all but a handful of others, whose lives will be remembered by even fewer, if at all. Unbeknownst to one another they likely crossed paths with someone with whom they would find little common ground in belief, someone who is close to you, about whom you care very much. Despite this lack of commonality the crossing was uneventful. It was peaceful. On balance it was marked by quiet goodwill, if it was marked at all. It was a moment that will have passed directly into an unvisited “tomb” in the memory of each of these individuals. If they saw anything at all, they simply saw another person.

And yet it was that quiet faithfulness that behind whatever disagreement might exist between the two there lived much more than another opinion or belief. There lived another person. Another person living a life largely unnoticed, hopefully a quiet one with less desperation than more, on their way to an end noticed by few and mourned by fewer still. Lives that were lived in the faith that there exists much, much more good in others than not. Lives lived with a faith that no real ill lies between them, or between us.

A faith that we, the living, must endeavor to keep alive.

I’ll see you next week (which will surely arrive, regardless)…

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