It’s interesting how the world has suddenly gotten so stiflingly close. We can’t even have the “How’s the weather?” conversation without it bringing up a boatload of anxiety, angst, indignation and possible guilt that will likely end in an argument, as if the whole population is on the brink of divorce with no place to go.
I think it may be doubly bad because of that very fact: like bubbles trapped in ice, there is no place to go. But before I get to that point, let’s backtrack.
As mentioned before, I basically grew up in a crotchety old church. Though beloved, the atmosphere was mostly less than ideal. My parents are pretty stubborn when it comes to change, though, and perhaps rightfully so. My family could trace their ancestry of attendance there for nearly a hundred years. In many ways, they felt they had a right to the place, much more so, in their opinion, than the grumpy and verbally-abusive people who had shown up and infected the community like a virus. Trying the Irish parish down the road was not even considered; it was expected we stick out the issues and wait for it to pass, as one does a food poisoning or flu.
That was the mindset I grew up with, though I suspect the place was likely ailing with a some other batch of unnecessary meanness even before I showed up in my lace socks and fancy dresses, fidgeting on kneelers and eating cereal from my place in the pew. No matter how bright your rainbow, there’s always at least one grumpy crayon in the box. And grumpy crayons can dull any color if colored over, no matter how bright the picture you start with.
I saw a lot of people come and go from my spot in the bench, and I can’t say, in all of my time there, I ever actually saw someone go because of beliefs. It’s kind of surprising, if I think of it; there’s a lot of crazy stuff on the record books that are a hard sell if you haven’t grown up with it, but overall, no one ever really seems to care about all that, that I can think of. It’s funny to think the phrase “proceeds from the Father and the Son” in a prayer was one of the causes for the schism between east and west, dividing the Orthodox and Roman churches in the first big fracture of Christianity. Only in the sixteenth year of my religious education did the topic ever come up, and then it was only to mention that it was a cause for division. You would think something that drove a wedge between whole populations would be given more screen time; I mean I was taught how not to have sex before I even knew what sex was (or at least what the name for it was). But the east and west are mostly friends now and aren’t engaged in any sort of hanky-panky, solo and/or premarital coitus, so perhaps it’s better not to press the issue.
But it does bring up a point worth mentioning. I’d reckon people may not leave for beliefs in most cases, but they do leave on account of intimacy becoming sour or inadequate, when people’s general lack of consideration has worn them down and the desire for justice gets mixed with a demand for retribution. The ability to leave is a luxury people are used to manipulating. There’s an implied mobility which compensates when people do not or are not cared for, when a place or person lacks growth, respect or love, or perhaps even, when they demand too much.
There are many unpleasant and unreasonable reasons people discriminate, but I like at least to try to think people are mostly good, and that discrimination stems from a misplaced desire to keep these people together. Less than two generations ago the a Pole marrying a Slovak from the next neighborhood over was pretty scandalous where I grew up (“Can you believe they pronounce Golumpki [stuffed cabbage] Holubky? That marriage will never work.”) It’s possible people are just being jealous and petty, but if I try to go for a more compassionate view I might say the old generation might simply be attuned to the very real fact that people have historically not been good at being attentive and considerate. The more similar your cultural mindset is to another person, there’s less to judge and get annoyed at, and a much smaller gap when you wake up and realize you’ve actually ignored each other for the last fifty years (or maybe 48. People are usually pretty attentive at the get-go). The more likely you’ll stay together.
And I have to say, living so far away from country and culture, I can understand how easy of a trap that mindset is. Some days it’s so tiring to try to understand people, especially when very few are willing to afford you the same courtesy. I’m to the point now where if I see someone even remotely similar in personality to what I’m used to, I just want to go and hug them. I don’t, because that would be awkward. But I really want to. Sort of a mental, “thank you for existing” hug.
But they are rare and I mostly just have to keep practicing being considerate, to greater and lesser degrees of success. It’s like a muscle you have to keep building. It’s not always pleasant, but there’s no other choice really in my case. It’s a part of where my life’s ended up, though I’d argue it’s a part of everyone’s lives now in a rapidly connecting world.
And that’s the thing with media like Facebook; when the whole world’s connected, there’s no place to go. We’re forced to interact with people we don’t understand, who in normal circumstances we wouldn’t even meet in polite company. We are misunderstood for saying things that in small communities wouldn’t even catch a glance. We look at the number of views afforded to big celebrities and feel there’s no opportunity for our little pages, overwhelmed by problems affecting 7 billion people in every part of the world. In isolated neighborhoods, achievements were manageable, the illusion of importance easier to come by.
When I was small, if a man wore a cape and carried a sword during mass, he was a pretty big deal. It meant he’d worked his way through the Knights of Columbus by doing things for the community. Serving mass when they were around, walking through a tunnel of swords lined with capes and funny hats, swinging a smoking censer filled with incense, always felt like a big deal. We’re they actually so? In the grand scheme of the universe, world, country or city, not nearly as much as they seemed.
In fact, the whole idea would mostly be torn apart now in the internet-connected realm. Sexist? Promotion of controversial principles? Named after an explorer who history has now shown to have been not a very nice person? You could tear the whole thing apart on so many levels online, but what do we put into the void? A cheeky Instagram photo garnering a million plus views? It’s a weird world sometimes, and until we manage the colony on Mars scientists are so wistfully hoping for, we’re stuck here.
(Well, most of us. My name is going to Mars in May on a tiny microchip, along with the names of a couple million other people, though that’s mostly inconsequential and just an excited nerd brag.)
But yeah, I can see and feel the frustration. If you every watch soap bubbles stuck together, they don’t move in a nice way. One pops and the whole thing shifts with an unpleasant, jerky movement, like too many people stuffed in an elevator. We might be a bit like that now. Pointing out faults is great when you can or need to leave. But if you’re stuck together, it’s probably better to pick out the positive and work on building that up so that it naturally squishes the unpleasant things out of existence, instead of just trying to tear them out. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum.
But I know it’s rough. As someone who’s met a fair share of people of various cultures whom “I just can’t even…,” I know it’s rough, and most times, it doesn’t even feel fair. Overall, though, I think it’s one of the best gifts we could give the next generation… a more understanding and loving world.
Still, we all need a little support sometimes. Here’s a video I filmed of bubbles freeing themselves as ice melts, which to me is about the visual equivalent of popping bubble wrap. And yes, though ice is melting at our poles and the weather is worrisome…though the bubbles technically leave the ice when they get to the surface, it’s good to note that they have space to move within the ice first, and it’s pretty nice to watch them do so.
Love does that. Love frees people to move within their sphere of influence. It makes it nice to watch them move. And, as they say, love melts…