Meditations on What Can Be a Crappy World


I once thought it only interesting that Mariane Pearl once said that she believes in the power of individuals rather than that of politicians to effect true change, but I think I understand what she means now. With all the scandals ripping through the news about this senator or that Congressperson or the governor of such-and-such state, I’m losing more and more patience and faith in our elected officials and turning more towards the actions and courage of people like, well, Ms. Pearl. Maybe she’s right…maybe the only real hope for change lies in the work of people with no agenda but their desire to make a difference, to reach out to the helpless and innocent and pull them out of their dire circumstances. There’s been a lot of talk about the need for peace and dialogue and understanding, but in the fifty years since the founding of the United Nations, we’ve only seen more war, famine, rape, genocide, poverty, and oppression than ever before, and this time on a global scale.

Writing appeals to me partly because I feel helpless myself when confronted with the intractable problems that continue to confound us. I vote, but as the 2000 elections demonstrated, it apparently doesn’t matter. I donate money to worthy causes, but so many more children are born every single day who will never know anything but struggle and pain — if they even make it out of childhood alive. I’ve worked for nonprofits for most of my professional life, but there never seems to be enough time and resources to really make a dent in one’s mission, and the need never seems to diminish, only increase.

And the cacophony of voices that spill over into the Web just add to the white noise. Lots of words hurled at others, very little really accomplished. Reasoned dialogue goes out the window in the heat of some very nasty exchanges, most of which reveal little but the sheer ignorance of the parties involved.

There’s a great special issue of Smithsonian magazine currently on the newsstands with the cover story: “37 Under 36: America’s Young Innovators in the Arts and Sciences.” Some very inspiring profiles of people who apparently aren’t letting their despair get in the way of their creativity and desire to change the world in their own unique way. I especially loved the story of Matthew Flannery, who started, a people-to-people microlending organization that crosses borders and cultures. It’s one of those God-I-wish-I’d-thought-of-this projects that can help restore your faith in your fellow Earth-dwellers.

There’s plenty more inspiration in those pages, including writers and other artists who are showing the world that not all is lost, that there is still much to celebrate about the world, so much more that remains to be explored, whether in the depths of the Earth or the farthest corners of the human heart.

Not that my own writing equals that of honorees such as ZZ Packer. But I do take comfort in knowing that my writing can transcend the petty grievances and minutiae that often plague my easily distracted mind, that there exists something more eternal and meaningful than what occupies the shallow attention of a limited world.