The other morning while I was still in New York City, I met up with my cousin and her husband for coffee. We got to reminiscing about the past—back when we were younger, when our kids were still little (her daughter just had a baby), and when life just felt, well, simpler.
Then my cousin’s husband hit me with some numbers that almost made me spit out my coffee. He said, “Maria, do you realize that since the late ‘80s, we’ve been gaining roughly 800 million people a decade! Do you realize that in the last 2 1/2 decades, the overall increase in population is 200,000 people a day? That’s 9,000 people an hour, 150 a minute. That’s 1.5 million people a week!”
“Think about that as you look back and think ‘those were simpler times,’” he said. “One reason why they felt that way is because there were a hell of a lot less people!”
Now, most people can’t spew those kinds of numbers out first thing in the morning, or at any time of the day, for that matter. I know I can’t. I was so taken aback by the numbers that I made him repeat them so I could write them down. I wanted to stare at them and think about what they mean for our country and our planet.
That’s a lot of people using our natural resources. That’s also a lot of people who need to collaborate with one another in these complicated times.
As I was reflecting on those staggering numbers, I must say that the news of this week really had me struggling to figure out what pressing issue deserved my attention the most. An impending war with Russia. Inflation numbers we haven’t seen in 40 years. The market’s volatility. A Supreme Court vacancy. An alarming report on the nation’s mental health crisis for children and adolescents. It all felt so urgent.
Actually, everything feels urgent, doesn’t it? That’s why it’s easy to long for a time in the past when things didn’t feel so complex. A time that didn’t feel as fast or as overwhelming. But then I saw a tweet that reminded me that 40 years ago, there wasn’t a single woman on the Supreme Court. Now there are about to be four. That, along with many other things, made me grateful to be where I am today: alive, healthy, and living in America.
I’ve learned that yearning for the past keeps you from recognizing and accepting the present. Change is constant and inevitable, and each of us is responsible in our own way for navigating that change to the best of our God-given abilities.
The best way to navigate change is by being aware and awake in our own lives, as Dr. Julie Smith so beautifully articulated in our conversation below. That’s critical. We also have to be awake to the lives of others and to the realities around us by doing what we can to make our world and the world as a whole better.
We are in this together. There is no getting around that. There is enough coming at us to make all of us scared, angry, upset, and anxious. That is why I’m choosing to do everything I can to stay calm, balanced, and not lose hope. Rather than falling into despair and looking backwards, I want to keep moving forward.
What does forward look like? Well that’s the big question. The answer has a lot to do with how we all decide to get along, how we all decide to behave, how committed we all are to a future that takes all of us into account. It also has to do with how complicated we all decide to make it.
So, if you find yourself looking back in time, don’t be burdened with regret, as Daniel Pink writes below. I love his advice that your regrets can instead be your biggest learnings. As Erin Falconer also says below, think about how you want to move forward, and who you want to go forward with. Be aware of your shame, as Jennifer Pastiloff writes, and don’t let it hold you back. Shame holds too many of us back.
The truth is that our world needs us all right now. It needs us to open our eyes to the reality of this moment. If we close our eyes or run from where the world is going, there will be hell to pay. This is a moment for those who can envision a beautiful future, and for those who will work to make that so for as many of us as possible.
Remember, there are a lot of us on this Earth right now, and that’s why we need calm heads to prevail. We need kindness to be our global currency. We need fear to be met by love. We need anxiety to be held with compassion. We need posturing to be met by a solid, smart calm.
Simpler times ahead are possible if we each commit to getting there with compassion, collaboration, and as much calmness as humanity can muster. Uncertainty met with calmness is something each of us can bring to our individual tables and to the larger public space. It costs nothing, and yet our freedoms just might depend on it.
The country and the Earth that our children and our grandchildren will inherit depends a lot on what we do today and the decisions we make about how we navigate these uncertain times. It’ll depend on the examples that we set. I know it’s tough to be an adult these days, but it’s even tougher to be a kid.
I think about that a lot when I walk with my granddaughter. I think about it when I read her stories, and when I close my eyes and think about what I want for her when she’s in her 20s or 30s. I want her to be able to look back on this time and know that her parents’ generation and her grandparents’ generation did all they could to make her world safe. I want her to feel that we left her a world that was kinder, wiser, more compassionate, more peaceful and calm.
Isn’t that what we all want for our children and grandchildren? Isn’t that what we all want for each other? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves? The only way we’ll get there is if we commit to it right here, right now. Are you with me?
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, may we honor everything you’ve given us here on this Earth and do everything we can to care for its future. Rather than longing for what was, let’s respect what we have now. Let’s commit to building a calmer, more compassionate home together. Amen.
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