Hi. Oh my god whataweek. Fuck. Right? (Use your words, Ruth.)
It’s kind of a cliche to say, “Like no other time in history . . .” But how else can anyone describe the experience each one of us is having? Are you holding your phone right now? Looking at a screen?
The same screen where you learned about the bombing Monday in Boston. The same screen where you learned about the 7.8 earthquake Tuesday in Iran-Pakistan. The same screen where you learned about the explosion Wednesday in Texas, the gun safety bill that didn’t pass, the gun battle, the lock down, the earthquake in China.
The same screen where you previewed a photo of your friends at lunch and posted it to Instagram. The same screen where you pressed “like” on the photo of your niece at a sorority event 2000 miles away, and also on that video of the preschooler climbing the fridge. The same screen where you texted “REDCROSS” to 90999 to make a $10 donation, played chess with a stranger in Spain and also a friend in Maryland, answered 77 client emails and 4 personal ones, made dinner reservations, transferred funds, got driving directions, and read a poem.
I don’t need to remind you that you have the power to communicate with the entire planet — this isn’t 2006. You’re aware that everything you type, every picture you look at, every expression you make online is going down on your permanent record.
It can be for fun, like those retrospective apps that produce digital scrapbooks with practically limitless data storage; it can be so Safeway will send you the right coupon for the organic Greek yogurt you eat three days a week — usually for breakfast, sometimes for lunch; it can be for public safety, so if your neighbors’ interests fall into a certain profile, a wee bit of tax funding can go towards keeping an eye on him.
Your paranoid sister in California — the one who tried to convince your children to send 2/3 of their ginormous Beanie Baby collections off to the children in Iraq when the war first broke out (she’s become a socialist, you know: “left of Obama”), that sister — she’s quick to remind you that limiting the rights of Dangerous Suspects also limits the rights of everyone. Only she doesn’t remind you to your face. She passive aggressively layers her opinions into blog posts. “What?” she’s coy when confronted. “It’s a love letter to the human race.”
You don’t wait in waiting rooms anymore, do you? You’re constantly researching, shopping, playing, chatting. You’re an educator, a student, a philanthropist, a preacher, a coach. You’re these things twenty-four hours a day.
Closing your eyes in the dental chair, breathing deeply for a stethoscope, the occasional MRI, that’s as close as you get to a real break, isn’t it?
Oh citizens of earth, I’m afraid for us.
I had a sour interaction on social media this week; the discomfort stayed with me for days. I thought, “She’s just afraid and sad.” I thought, “I feel petty for being angry.” I was so uncomfortable. I thought, “The world is at war, we should be uncomfortable.”
I feel like the least I can do is tolerate discomfort. But every time I reach for the ibuprofen, every time clean water flows from the tap into the water filter and goes into the fridge that stays cold because the electricity works, every time I swallow the pill and the water, I think how lucky I am. How grateful. How comfortable.
Until the anxiety comes back. Until the screen shows red limbs and black smoke. Until the voice-mail says, “Call back. I have some bad news.”
Yet, another puppy video comes up on Facebook. The flowers bloom on Instagram in backyards all over the Northern Hemisphere. Leaves ripen down under. The cellist across the courtyard practices again with her window open. Ruby catches the sparkle ball with both paws. I win a chess game. The mail comes. Mad Men returns.
And my entire physiological chemistry shifts. I catch myself dancing when I thought I was distraught. I type “:” and “)” and actually smile. I type “Love, Ruth” and mean it.
Oh citizens of earth, I am in love with you. You are brilliant. You’re fierce. You’re adorable. You’re hilarious. You are generous.
I think you’re under more stress than ever before. But there is goodness, too, isn’t there?
Yes. Yes. There is.