Halloween used to be one of my favorite holidays. When my kids were young, I loved dressing up with them and going trick-or-treating. I enjoyed watching the looks of amazement on their faces as they ran from house to house in our neighborhood. They alternated between looks of terror when they encountered scary decorations, and then looks of thrill beyond belief when they scored a Kit Kat or Reese's peanut butter cup.
Fear and joy all in one night! That’s what Halloween represented for our family.
I thought about that this week as we approached this holiday. I experienced great joy a few days ago as I got to watch my granddaughter dress up as a daisy for her very first Halloween. It was beyond adorable. I felt so much joy getting to share this experience with her.
But alongside that moment of joy, I also felt fear this week. I didn't feel fear for any personal reasons, thankfully, but I did feel it as I watched Mark Zuckerberg explain the “metaverse" and his vision for Meta, the new name given to Facebook, Inc. Zuckerberg described a virtual world where we would live almost completely online, meeting, working, and playing with our communities behind screens instead of in person. Listening to the description of it all brought me such disbelief.
I also felt disbelief this week as I witnessed those in Washington D.C. refuse to come together to give the president the legislative victory he so desperately wanted and needed. I couldn’t believe it when paid family leave was thrown out midweek! When I heard that news, I actually had to sit by myself and meditate on where we are as a country. I found myself thinking about our values, about who we are and who we are not. I reflected on the harsh reality that so many families live each day as they try to manage the cost of daycare and elder care while holding down multiple jobs to get by.
This news, against the backdrop of Mark Zuckerberg explaining his vision for the metaverse, felt like an alternate reality to me. I closed my eyes and imagined the world that my children will live in, and that my granddaughter will grow up in, and I gotta say...it scared me. Meanwhile, someone asked me this week whether I wanted to have a meeting "IRL" or not. I must admit, I didn't even know that IRL was shorthand for "in real life." Now I've been wondering ever since what role IRL will play in our future.
This was one of those few weeks when I was actually happy to be my age! It’s frightening to me to think of people living almost exclusively in a virtual world, devoid of human contact, but I'm told that’s where we are heading.
This is a moment to pause and ask ourselves: do we want to go along with Zuckerberg's vision of the future? Is there any way to push back against his vision of a virtual future? Is there any way to push back against the algorithm that’s feeding us and simultaneously dividing us as we sit here? Are most of us even aware that there is a bigger force at play right now trying to keep us from agreeing with one another?
Growing up, George Orwell's vision of the future was seen as something scary, yet off in the distance. Today, machines know everything about us. In fact, some say they know more about us than we know about ourselves. These machines are driving a wedge between us, and I fear that we are sitting back allowing it to happen right beneath our very eyes.
All of this was on my mind as the week was coming to an end, but then I watched a meeting that Pope Francis and President Biden had IRL and I instantly felt better about our world. Here were two warriors in the fourth quarters of their lives still trying to make the world a more equitable place. They haven’t given up. They are still engaged, still out there fighting against negative forces in their own faith and in their own bureaucracies. They are still believers, and they are still hopeful that our better angels will carry us forward.
Their meeting gave me hope. It reminded me that if we have a vision — if we have a conviction — we must stay the course. It reminded me that we can’t worry about the metaverse while our universe is, in such a precarious way, right here, right now. We can and should focus on the here and now and our ability to affect our world in a positive way. This is a job for all of us to do. We can all connect with other human beings. We can all make an effort to listen to one another and work together to make our neighborhoods and our communities better.
We can't get discouraged by Washington. We can’t get carried away by the metaverse (whatever that even is). We must focus on what’s in front of us IRL. That’s where the hope lies. It lies in you and me and our ability to push back against the machines that don’t care about us. Let's push back against the negative forces, and instead lean in and honor the people who do care about us.
Today, I hope you take a moment to be present in the here and now. Allow yourself to feel the joys and fears that are part of real life. Reach out to someone you love or care about and let them know how you are feeling. Let them know that you need them and are here for them. It's up to each of us to reach across the divide—that's something the machines will not do.
Let's never allow the scary to trump our real-life joy.
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, allow me to be grateful for the good in this life. Don't let me get discouraged by what may be unfolding around me. Instead, help me see the potential of what can be, right here, right now. Amen.
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