We live in a world where we can affect less and less of what we see, and where we can see more and more.
When the stormwater drains overflow, or the traffic is terrible because a road needs another lane, or some political problem keeps getting worse and worse, we can do little if anything about it. As Brooks points out, most of us are cut off from those in authority. Traffic is an excellent example; studies have shown it is one of the few annoyances of life that is actually cumulative—it makes you madder every time you have to deal with it, which is why road rage becomes an issue. I think an obvious reason is because we can do nothing about it. We are powerless.
Meanwhile, we are aware of more and more problems, as Brooks also points out. Rather than only seeing what’s before our eyes, we are slammed with a 24-hour news cycle of tragedy and fear from around the world. We don’t just have to worry about getting the kids to school—we are supposed to worry about a shooting 2,000 miles away. What is right in front of our faces matters least, and the Big and Important things that will never affect us matter most—a civic and economic calculus in which, as Joy Clarkson pointed out this week, the things that make us most human are the things least prioritized.
I took a long road trip with my sister yesterday. As she drove I read Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book out loud. I read through about 140 pages over the course of the day. This was far enough to hit upon some passages that relate to Percy’s thoughtsabout the roots of the mental health epidemic.
Percy takes a different approach from the media blitz, because he does not think that depression is merely a problem to be medicated away, but rather a rational response to the state of our world. He also differs from Borch-Jacobsen by arguing that the problem is largely real, but not really a problem.
Let’s start with how Percy takes a quick stock of modern life by answering the question why so many people are depressed:
Because modern life is enough to depress anybody? Any person, man, woman, or child, who is not depressed by the nuclear arms race, by the modern city, by family life in the exurb, suburb, apartment, villa, and later in a retirement home, is himself deranged.
Sara Thomas Monopoli was pregnant with her first child when her doctors learned that she was going to die. It started with a cough and a pain in her back. Then a chest X-ray showed that her left lung had collapsed, and her chest was filled with fluid. A sample of the fluid was drawn off with a long needle and sent for testing. Instead of an infection, as everyone had expected, it was lung cancer, and it had already spread to the lining of her chest. Her pregnancy was thirty-nine weeks along, and the obstetrician who had ordered the test broke the news to her as she sat with her husband and her parents. The obstetrician didn’t get into the prognosis—she would bring in an oncologist for that—but Sara was stunned. Her mother, who had lost her best friend to lung cancer, began crying.
The doctors wanted to start treatment right away, and that meant inducing labor to get the baby out. For the moment, though, Sara and her husband, Rich, sat by themselves on a quiet terrace off the labor floor. It was a warm Monday in June, 2007. She took Rich’s hands, and they tried to absorb what they had heard. Monopoli was thirty-four. She had never smoked, or lived with anyone who had. She exercised. She ate well. The diagnosis was bewildering. “This is going to be O.K.,” Rich told her. “We’re going to work through this. It’s going to be hard, yes. But we’ll figure it out. We can find the right treatment.” For the moment, though, they had a baby to think about.
“So Sara and I looked at each other,” Rich recalled, “and we said, ‘We don’t have cancer on Tuesday. It’s a cancer-free day. We’re having a baby. It’s exciting. And we’re going to enjoy our baby.’ ” On Tuesday, at 8:55 P.M., Vivian Monopoli, seven pounds nine ounces, was born. She had wavy brown hair, like her mom, and she was perfectly healthy.
From the Chicago Tribune:
Jeff Malanoski sat in front of his bowl of cereal, watching “The Price is Right” and forgetting to eat his breakfast.
His sister, Marilyn Long, sat at the table next to him and repeatedly reminded him.
“Why don’t you eat your cereal?” she coaxed, reaching over his shoulder to give it a stir.
Her husband, Mike Long, sighed.
“It takes forever,” he said.
It didn’t used to. Malanoski has Down syndrome, but until a few years ago, he ate without prompting, dressed himself and was relatively easy for the Longs to care for in their Elk Grove Village home, as they have for 26 years. For 20 years, he worked as a bagger at Jewel.
Now, however, his sweet smile is topped by short gray hair. He can’t eat or dress by himself. He no longer works; he was forgetting how to bag groceries. He no longer knows how to tie his shoes.
When Rick Rayburn retired from the California State Parks system, he had his heart set on balmy days of gardening, playing tennis and traveling to France with his wife, Marianne.
But then, about three years ago, she was diagnosed with dementia. It disrupted the couple’s lives from top to bottom, right on the cusp of retirement. At 67, Rick has taken on a big new role.
“I’m 100 percent responsible for her well-being. I have to help her pick her clothes out, be there when she’s getting dressed,” he says. “I can’t leave her alone too often. I can run out and empty the trash cans or do this or that. And that’s always a game you play: How long can I run out and brush my teeth and get shaved without something happening on her side?”
From The Week:
The first rule of CrossFit is that you have to talk about CrossFit.
When I described to my roommate what happens during a CrossFit session, I’d just come home at 6:30 in the morning, scarlet-faced and drenched in sweat, feeling like I had grown a second, reptilian skin. Since starting CrossFit four months ago, I generally don’t like to talk about it, because I don’t want to be branded one of “those people,” but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take a shower without some explanation.
“Well, today our workout of the day was a 500-meter run, followed by 30 burpees, 20 deadlifts, and 10 squats,” I started.
She quickly interjected, “This early? That sounds awful.”
“I’m not finished,” I insisted. “We had to do that three times. And that was only a third of the daily workout.”
After a long, ponderous pause, she asked incredulously, “Wow, those people must really hate their bodies. Why would anyone ever do that to themselves?”
To start, here’s what we’ve published on the Hobby Lobby case here at Mere O.
While I’m linking to older pieces, I still think this old Patrick Deneen piece is worth discussing, although others disagreed. (Jonathan Coppage did a nice summary of the dispute on this point for TAC.)
Anyway, on to the roundup:
From Roads and Kingdoms:
In the shade of the mganga’s clinic, a mud-walled rondavel with two dead kingfishers drying from the eaves, the usual crowd of bedraggled patients waits for the medicine to take hold. Some have been here for weeks undergoing a course of treatment, sleeping on the floor at night in a tin-roofed hut donated by a grateful patient. Others stop by to make an appointment, which the healer logs in an A4 notebook alongside patient records, a menu of services, and a price list.
Dina Charles began to ply her trade as a traditional healer only three years ago, but under the guidance of her now-retired father she has already built a loyal following in her village on the southern shore of Ukerewe, a small island in the Tanzanian half of Lake Victoria. A diminutive, bright-eyed woman in her 50s with a green headscarf and a mobile phone dangling in a plastic orange pouch from her neck, her career began, she tells me, when she went crazy one morning and ran to the top of a nearby hill. After staying on its summit alone for two weeks, she ran down to the lake and immersed herself for a day in its waters. On emerging she climbed another hill, this one topped by a cross commemorating the murder of the island’s first European missionaries in 1877. Under the cross she found a Bible, which she picked up and carried back down the hill to her village to begin her new vocation.
From the Atlantic:
But fire shelters have saved hundreds of people’s lives, and saved hundreds of others from serious burns. I wanted to get a sense of what it’s like to endure a burnover, so I spoke to Lathan Johnson, a Colorado firefighter who survived a shelter deployment on the Little Venus Fire, which burned deep in the backcountry of Wyoming’s Shoshone National Forest in July 2006.
“You’re not always going to be able to outsmart a fire,” Johnson said. “I thought for sure I’d never have to use a fire shelter, and then I find myself shaking out one, pretty thankful that I had it.”
Johnson was overseeing a small group assigned to relieve another crew that was monitoring the fire several miles up a river valley. They got a late start and didn’t hike up the river valley until the afternoon, the most dangerous time for a wildfire, when the sun is hot, relative humidity is low, and the winds are high. “That’s when bad things happen on a fire,” Johnson says. “We call it the witching hour.” Indeed, the Wildfire Lessons Learned Center in Tucson, Arizona, studied 115 instances of firefighters trapped by wildfire over the past 20 years and found that half occurred between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., and all but 12 happened between noon and 6 p.m.
An excellent, but deeply sad, piece from New York:
The streetlights in Buenos Aires are considerably dimmer than they are in New York, one of the many things I learned during my family’s six-month stay in Argentina. The front windshield of the rental car, aged and covered in the city’s grime, further obscured what little light came through. When we stopped at the first red light after leaving the hospital, I broke two of my most important marital promises. I started acting like my wife’s doctor, and I lied to her.
I had just taken the PET scan, the diagnostic X-ray test, out of its manila envelope. Raising the films up even to the low light overhead was enough for me to see what was happening inside her body. But when we drove on, I said, “I can’t tell; I can’t get my orientation. We have to wait to hear from your oncologist back home.” I’m a lung doctor, not an expert in these films, I feigned. But I had seen in an instant that the cancer had spread.
PET scans are like that, radioactive tracers that travel around the body and measure how much work different cells are doing. And cancer cells are very active workers. The scans are like the ground seen from the air at night. When there is no cancer they look like Idaho, all quiet. Really bad news looks like downtown Chicago or Phoenix.
It was a warm night for early June, the beginning of the winter in Argentina. People crowded the sidewalks, returning from work, stopping for dinner. All the everyday stuff that fills our lives, neither adding particular meaning or taking it away. We pulled into the garage with the narrow entrance; our tires squeaked on the newly painted floor. Ruth was silent. I was silent. I knew. She didn’t.
Actually, she probably did.
My wife was dead eight months later. We were back in New York. In our home. During our winter.