Wednesday Walk: Look Around
Living in the present with nothing to lose
Welcome to Willoughby Hills!
As is typical every Wednesday, I’m bring you a smattering of topics that I hope will make you a bit more curious about the world around you and give you something to think about later. I call these Wednesday Walks, as it’s the type of conversation we might have walking down a path in the woods. Shall we take a stroll?
Other Fish in the Sea
My wife Seema posted something to Instagram a few days ago that has been making me think.
I’ve mentioned her Instagram profile in this newsletter before, as she usually uses it for sharing recipes that are compliant with the diet we started over two years ago.
But since conflict broke out in the Middle East last month, she and I have both been a bit distracted from our usual content and have tried to use our platforms to speak out against oppression.
Anyway, here’s the image of her post, where she shares a message she recently received from somebody who is afraid about “picking sides” in the Middle East:
You can click above to go to her post and read the full caption, but this section in particular is what has been sticking with me:
“If you are tortured seeing the senseless killing and suffering of innocent people in Gaza and your friend is in support of it, then speak with your friend. If your friend cannot have an open dialogue with you, then ask yourself, is this person someone you want to call your friend?”
As humans, we naturally seek community and fear being ostracized. That fear drives so many of our decisions as adults. We worry about whether we’ll be accepted by people in the neighborhood, other parents at our kid’s school, co-workers, or even random strangers who we may never see again.
I too have struggled with speaking out during this time, but I’ve had to really come to terms with what I have to lose. I may lose some readers of this newsletter, followers on social media, friends, or even family members.
In some ways, this is a lonely thought, but I’m also realizing that the threads of “community” are often much thinner than we really believe they are. Proximity and circumstance often drive our relationships more than any true or lasting bond.
“When you’re a kid, you can be friends with anybody. Do you remember when you’re a little kid, what are the qualifications? If someone’s in front of my house now, they’re my friend. That’s it.”
Perhaps the better place to focus our energy is on the people who have shared values with us. They may live down the street, but they also may live on the other side of the world. They may be folks that we’ve known since childhood or strangers that we only know through social media.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t coexist with those with whom we disagree, but in a world with 8.1 billion people, there will always be somebody we can find who shares our values and beliefs and with whom we can form community.
I would encourage anybody struggling with what they have to lose during this time to question if the community they are holding on to is rooted in deep, strong connections or if they are simply worried about feeling ostracized from people whose opinions really don’t matter much anyways.
Yes, you may lose work in the short term, or social invites, or passing waves from neighbors.
But does that stuff even really matter?
My wife also says that approval is a two-way street: we worry so much about what others think of us, but we should also be thinking about what we think of them.
No Day But Today
I’ve also been thinking lately about the role that art plays in helping us interpret the world around us. I was brought comfort this week recalling my first Broadway show, Rent. I hadn’t listened to the soundtrack for a few years, but on Monday, I was riding the subway into Boston and something compelled me to put it on and listen to it.
For those who don’t remember, Rent is set in New York in the early 1990s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Four of the characters are HIV positive and (spoiler alert for a nearly 30 year old musical) one of them dies over the course of the show.
There was a comfort in relistening to the familiar soundtrack, but there was also an urgency to it given how tenuous life seems as of late.
I kept thinking about the tag line of that show “No Day But Today” in that context.
“There is no future, there is no past.”
“No Day But Today.”
That is the reality for the citizens of Gaza at the moment. There is no future, there’s only now. It could all end with the next bombing, the next wave of violence.
But it’s also the reality for all of us every second of our lives, even if we’re not living in a war zone. We could be one car crash, one slip and fall, one piece of food stuck in our throat away from the end of it all.
This can be debilitating for some, but I like to think of it as motivating.
I feel like the pandemic really brought this into focus for me and, to quote another Broadway musical (Hamilton), I now try to “write like I’m running out of time.” And not just write. Do everything like I’m running out of time.
My days are much fuller than they have been in a long time, but I’m filling them with what makes me happy. I’m reading books that interest me, interviewing podcast guests that interest me, and spending time with those who are important to me.
At one time, my life was “busy” in air quotes but what made me busy was mostly just consuming. I watched a lot of TV, spent a lot of money shopping, and went on frequent vacations. This left little time for the things that I really should have been spending my time, money, and focus on.
More recently, I have found that by opting out of the marketing messages telling me that I need to be consuming more, upgrading to the latest, trading in and trading up, I can be more present and live each day in gratitude.
Again to quote Hamilton: “Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
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Other Wednesday Walks
If you’ve missed past issues of this newsletter, they are available to read here.