Keeping A List

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The world is an amazing place that is filled with wonders, but in the business of our daily routines we all too often focus on the minutiae of minor irritations. We get upset about the small things that in reality are unimportant, a comment that offends us, arriving late to an appointment because of heavy traffic, a broken appliance in our homes, even a bad hair day. 

As a rookie teacher I used to only remember the one disappointing thing that happened in my classroom rather than the twenty-five wonderful things that should have made my day. I’d fret and fume and sometimes even lose sleep. More seasoned teachers would advise me to do things like write down the truly positive occurrences of each school day in a column next the the horrific moments. They assured me that my record would prove that there is always more good than bad in any given situation whether it be at work or home or across the globe. Over time, with my proof in hand, I became certain that they were right. 

The irony of our humanity is that on the one hand we are very small in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, each individual is a unique and glorious miracle. We sometimes take insignificant things too seriously, while failing to consider what is really important in life. Now and again we experience something so incredible that it puts things into perspective for us. I can think of no two examples that better encapsulate both our potential and our limits as the birth of a child and the death of someone we love. Each instance reminds us quite vividly of what is truly important, what should command our attention and our care. 

During the past two years I have witnessed a kind of beautiful balance in our world. Like virtually everyone I have grieved for many who have died. In my sorrow I have been reminded of how trivial my personal worries have been. I have been humbled in feeling that I might have spent more time reaching out to them, telling them how much I admired and loved them. I have felt long term grief in losing them. On the other hand, so many beautiful babies have been born or will soon be born. They are the products of love and optimism that our world will be okay in spite of its problems. Their innocent delight and their smiles reassure me and remind me of all that is good. 

There have certainly been cataclysmic events during my lifetime and that of all people during the long stretch of history. Humans have endured slavery, wars, restrictions on their freedom, poverty and want. Nonetheless humans have also freed people from their chains, defeated despots, made parts of the world more democratic, shared wealth to provide a decent life for everyone. We are at our best when we use our time and energy and talent to make the world a better place, not one that punishes and restricts. Even the smallest act of violence sets us back.  

During the pandemic I have been quite fortunate. I never got sick, I had everything I needed. I was able to travel in my trailer without exposing myself to contagion. I settled into a routine that was actually quite pleasant. I taught mathematics remotely to a number of children and kept them moving forward in the mastery of fundamentals and more advanced topics. I wrote my blogs and read my books. I enjoyed the loveliness of my backyard garden and listened to the singing of the birds and the laughter of the children in my neighborhood. I took classes at Rice University and watched Master Classes with various professionals. I registered for one day symposiums and Zoomed with members of my family. Mostly I was humbled by the millions upon millions of people across the globe who were working feverishly to keep things running as smoothly as possible. 

Sadly I also witnessed people growing angry, pitching fits, whining about the sacrifices that we were all making. I might have focused on the negative behaviors, but I had learned over the decades to look to the helpers, to see that the positive actions far outweighed the negative. I knew that we would all have to sacrifice and work our way slowly away from sorrow and back to normal. I understood that while it might be difficult, with the doers and the optimists we would all ultimately be okay, even as there is still much work to be done. I feel for those who have only seen fit to attack our doctors and nurses and teachers and the vast numbers of people whose only goal has been to keep as many of us as possible healthy. Those who ignored the negativity and continued doing the work that had to be done have inspired me and kept me going with the certainty that things will one day be just fine as long as we don’t turn on each other. Instead of constantly pointing out the inconveniences we have endured, we should be celebrating the innumerable efforts of people both great and seemingly ordinary who continue to bring us through, often at great personal cost.

I refuse to revert to my younger years when I was unable to see the forest for the trees. I have journeyed to a mountain top and from my vantage point I see so much good. I will not allow the negative voices to convince me that we humans only care about ourselves or that the trajectory of life is dark and hopeless. People have overcome worse things than we now face. The best in us and among us will undoubtedly come to the fore. They always do. My good versus bad lists tell me that this is so.