What I know – or think I know – is that the world is big. I have passed through at least some significant and difficult period of wrestling with the question of how to be alive, of what to do with the accident of life, and what seems clear to me is that the complexity and conflict we experience arises not from people but from circumstances. People are simple; life is hard. We’re just trying to make it from one end of life to the other and to love and be loved along the way. But, the limitations of our physical world — that make finite the resources and energy we must all consume, and that make mysterious and impenetrable the souls of others — impose upon us a labyrinth that reflects neither who we are nor what we seek.
I believe that the world is random and mostly beyond our control. I believe that birth is the inheritance of some position in a network of universal expanse that binds the fortunes of every one and every thing. I believe that advantages, like hardships, are not choices and therefore belong to no one. I believe that, across us all, the distribution of advantages and hardships lifts up and bears down unevenly, and that ultimately this jeopardizes the integrity of our whole enterprise.
This vision of mine, of the world as a multidimensional ecosystem, precipitated from a simple realization I had a few years ago. I’d been traveling, working, and living abroad for several years, and one day an obvious truth dawned on me: I had profoundly and intimately treaded into the very different lives of hundreds of people with remarkable casualness. The stupid revelation was startling for what it meant about the potential consequence and reach of my “status.”
You see, growing up in a rural town surrounded by dairy farms, under a roof upheld by a single-mother, I never got much a sense of what global currency there is in being an able-bodied/heterosexual/cis-gendered/middle-class/white/American male. And I certainly didn’t grow up thinking that I’d ever be able to touch nearly any corner of the world for no reason grander than simply, “yeah, that sounds cool; maybe I’ll live there for a year.”
Over the years, there have been many experiences that have forced me to confront the intersecting bands of my privilege, but I felt none so pointedly as this epiphany about the scope of my connection to the world.
What is clear to me now is that the ligature that emanates from my point in our kaleidoscopic mesh is not just of contact but of responsibility. That is, in my worldview, the very presence of my connection to something – be it local and immediate like my mother or distant and indirect like the climate – means that I can affect that thing (albeit and importantly, to various degrees). And, once this awareness has needled itself into my consciousness, how can I feel anything but my responsibility?
I believe all of this points to an essential kind of labor. It is the labor to see that there are vulnerable, neglected points of this web, where people suffer greatly because of how it is so jaggedly lifted and burdened. It is the labor to imagine what strain in the threads that encircle us might be allayed if we could turn the attention of our dreams to pulling and stretching smoother this fraught, tangled web. And it is the labor of committing to those dreams, no matter what massive weight they threaten or sacrifice they demand.
I believe this labor to be essential because it is how we support one another and protect the future of us. I believe in this labor more now than ever.
Not too far from you