November 10 2004

[b]When we yearn to retreat, it's time to charge ahead even harder[/b]

Posted by Kim
By Sylvia L. Lovely, guest editorialist

One of my favorite Peanuts comic strips is one where Linus and Charlie Brown are sitting and looking up at a starry night sky.

"Did you know there are a million galaxies," Linus begins, "and within each of those galaxies there are a million stars and around all those stars-"

At that point Charlie Brown interrupts him.

"I miss my dog," Charlie says.

I think we are all feeling a little bit like Charlie Brown these days. The world has grown so big and we can feel so inconsequential. And too often the world appears only to be grim and ugly.

Turn on the 24-hour news and it doesn't take long to see what I mean. Grim on grim. It's the reason why we so often look for avenues to escape reality-to not ponder long the fact that 300 children died in a Russian school siege, or that snipers went unchecked for days and days in the Washington, D.C., area, not so long ago.

There is quite simply a point at which you throw up your arms in hopelessness and despair and embrace something that is close by, controllable and comforting-such as your dog, or your TV remote.

But try as we might, it is becoming harder and harder to shut out the world. We find ourselves missing our dog in a number of ways. Surveys, for instance, indicate that we long for the Mayberry small-town ambience of our youth-even though many of us never really lived in such towns.

What is it that we have conjured up in our minds that is missing? If it's the yearning to be isolated from the world's woes, I'm afraid that even Mayberry is no longer immune. Nor should it be.

The technological advances that have brought an immediacy and global presence to our lives aren't going away. We should find a way to embrace the world and make it work for our communities.

The world of Mayberry might be an ideal worthy of pursuit, but it is also nice to have the freedom in recent years to live pretty much anywhere we wish and the freedom to travel and enjoy much of what the world has to offer. Perhaps the trick is to have the best of both of these worlds.

To experience that, it is critical that we regain the outpouring of concern and connection that we felt in the aftermath of 9/11. We should indeed shudder and mourn the fact that more than 300 Russian children lost their lives-fully realizing that their lives were as valuable as our own.

We should grieve at the loss of any child to terror, whether in Russia or Iraq or anywhere else. That said, it is equally important that we do not get bogged down in our grief and yield to a retreat from the world. The only legitimate answer to the evils of the world is to play an active role yourself in making the world a better place.

Small steps, someone once wrote, make a distance. Even seemingly small contributions, when positive, move us in a healthy direction.

You might think you are already working to capacity. You might be a volunteer building Habitat for Humanity houses. You might serve as the chair of a local United Way drive. But you might want to do more-because there is so much more to do.

To build greater communities we must look to improving the greater whole. There may be little to do for children in Russia, but you can reach across the community to help all the youth who live around you find opportunity for their future. '

You can deal with the problems that threaten to tear our communities apart-such as substance abuse. It is an issue that rarely becomes a problem for anyone until it affects their own. However, substance abuse is so widespread now that there are very few lives, if any, that haven't been affected by it in one manner or another.

A recent story about the great writer and slave Sojourner Truth illustrates what is lacking in community life today. Once she was speaking to a group when a man in the audience shouted up to her, "I don't care anymore for you than I would a tiny little flea!"

"Well," she replied, "then it is my job to make you itch even more."

We should get up each and every morning and feel the itch. We need to question our community role. Are we the leader or the follower? It takes both. Do we compromise or not? Do we best serve by running for elected office, or in some other way that takes best advantage of our talent and abilities?

Getting involved not only strengthens the community, it provides a personal sense of satisfaction. We feel more connected to others and more content in our lives. We have a greater sense of how we fit into the bigger picture.

We can have our dog, so to speak, and greet the bigger world out there, too.


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