It’s always One Thing or Another … a lighthearted look at aging, life, and the absurdities of it all.
By Mark McNease
There are shadows overhead for all of us, and we sometimes live our lives as if those shadows will suddenly grow larger and darker as something dreadful finally swoops down to take us away. But we can choose another way.
I can’t name a specific date and time, but at some point the past few months I stopped paying attention to the news beyond what I need to stay informed. Is there a significant natural disaster nearby I need to know about? Has a foreign invader breached our northern shores? Have scientists discovered that drinking eight cups of coffee a day leads to a long life or that it causes permanent memory loss? There’s the local political stuff I want to know about, like who the next governor of New Jersey might be, even though I haven’t registered yet to vote here, and which dismal choice I’ll have to make next year for health insurance. But the overall big picture, the cloud of dread and anxiety that is our current 24/7 news cycle? I just can’t indulge in it anymore. Very little of it uplifts me and much of it depresses me. It’s as if, given the possibility we are not living in the end times, we’ve collectively decided to make it appear as if we are, like that Buck Owens and Roy Clark song I remember from Hee Haw, “Gloom, despair, and agony on me …”
Spending most of my days now in a house in the woods, I often look to nature for advice on living a more serene life. Rabbits quivering in the yard, deer venturing out for a snack of grass, birds telling me it’s time to get up as they chirp to each other in a growing sunrise chorus. I know they have their own fears – I can see the rabbit watching for a hawk’s shadow, and the deer’s ears pricking up for the sound of a hunter among the trees – but they’re otherwise focused on the thing at hand, usually eating. They don’t seem the least bit bothered by who holds the levers of power in Washington or how they will pay for their children’s college. And while I have no idea how a rabbit’s mind works, I suspect it’s a linear affair: one hawk’s shadow, one fox, one mouthful of grass at a time.
Unlike the animals I see in our yard every day, my mind takes on worries by the bunch. It’s as if my fears and anxieties jostle for position, all of them wanting to be the first to grab my attention. Far from forming an orderly line, each waiting its turn, they arrive in a raucous crowd, shouting to be heard over the others – Hey, I’m that backache you need checked out! Wait, over here, I’m your crappy vision you swear gets worse every three months! Look this way, I’m all the financial worries you have and your certainty of being old and destitute much sooner than you’d expected!
There are shadows overhead for all of us, and we sometimes live our lives as if those shadows will suddenly grow larger and darker as something dreadful finally swoops down to take us away. But we can choose another way. We can sit in the grass and enjoy a meal for exactly as long as it takes to consume it. We can let worries present themselves one a time and deal with them accordingly. In the best of circumstances, we can even forget they’re there and enjoy moments free from predatory frets and projected losses.
I’ve thought for a while now that the purpose of our current news cycle, which is moment to moment, tweet to tweet, is to keep us agitated. Look at me, every headline screams. It even has a name, clickbait, meant to get us clicking as if we’re round-faced fish and the news is all shiny rubber worms floating just in front of our eyes. I’ve stepped further back from it day by day, listening to it from a distance without running to the television or my smartphone to see just how outraged I can be on an otherwise fine morning. At some point there was one straw too many and I could either let myself be crushed under the weight of a camel, or I could say enough really is enough. I can care. I can act. I can suggest. I can hope. But ultimately, within the limited, allotted time-space of my life, I will not trade my present for the world’s angst. I’ve had my fill. Give me a clear, cool dawn, a rabbit and cup of coffee.
Mark McNease is the author of six mystery novels, two story collections and various short fiction. He’s the co-editor of the anthology Outer Voices Inner Lives (Lambda Literary Award finalist), as well as the editor and publisher of LGBTSr.com, “where age is embraced and life is celebrated.” He’s the co-host of The Twist Podcast and was the co-creator of the Emmy and Telly winning children’s program Into the Outdoors.