I’ve sent this essay to a couple friends this week because it captures so well the project I care about. Increasingly our world is being pulled into thinking in abstractions. But how do we keep drawing ourselves into the “25-foot radius of wherever we are standing.” It seems the great challenge of today is to not lose track of what’s near to us.
The good news is that the most important events of my life, and your life, will always take place more or less within a 25-foot radius of wherever we are standing. Like the Beatles said, all you need is love. So, try to be kind, and avoid making sweeping statements about large classes of people. Give food to the hungry. Tell your children that you love them. And please, whatever you do, don’t embrace anyone’s sweeping program for remedying historical injustice, because history’s victims are already dead—and soon, there will be plenty more of them. I can hear the sound of the engines revving up, even from here.The great inconvenience of trying to learn anything from history is that it keeps happening. What I can say for certain is that nothing is going back to normal. The steam-powered loom-shuttle and the Erie Canal and the workingman’s democracy are long gone.
So even taking the broadest views of things, it’s hard to imagine why I might leave my farm, even though I agree that America doesn’t deserve to go out like this—the golden land of steak and butter, where every man can live like a king and take the kids to the Polar Bear after dinner for soft-serve ice cream. Where children aren’t taught to report their parents for thought crimes.
America! For some people, those words might seem like a pledge of allegiance to racism, sexism, imperialism, transphobia, and the superspreading of infectious diseases by racist, sexist yahoos led by their deranged commander-in-chief, but that’s not how I see things from here. We are only poor, forked creatures who are all worthy of compassion, including Karens. Every once in a while, we may be offered the collective opportunity to summon forth something new between the earth and the heavens. Those moments are rightly terrifying.