Thursday, October 3, 2013

How Much

How Many, How Much

How many slams in an old screen door?
            Depends on how loud you shut it.
How many slices in a bread?
            Depends on how thin you cut it.
How much good inside a day?
            Depends on how good you live ‘em.
How much love inside a friend?
            Depends on how much you give ‘em.
—Shel Silverstein

We love to measure things. Thermometers, stopwatches, report cards, tax returns, performance reviews, ratings for creative works, speedometers, pedometers, quarts, pecks, gallons, love, liters, populations, miles, casualties, parts per million of carbon, miles per gallon of gas, brutality of storms, land acreage, rain acidity, salinity, snowfall, personal carbon footprints, light-years, and on and on.

As if, if we can quantify something, we can know the fullness of our lives.

I try to not do this obsessive measuring of myself against the world. But, like everyone, sometimes, I fail. I’ve spent the last few days with the vague dark feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m not doing enough.  This discontent, this slow panic keeps me awake at night and leaves me feeling grumpy and like I’m forgetting something important during the day.

And here it is: the world is still in shambles, and all my little acts and all my great hopes haven’t yet put it back together again. The ice is still melting, the temperature is still rising, the government is still corrupted by maniacal corporations and on and on. All the big things that I want to change are still big, and seem to grow bigger every day, while I struggle remain the same size, but often feel I'm shrinking. 

It always comes back to weighing out possibilities, to measuring our lives with coffee spoons. How small am I in proportion to the troubles of the world? How big do I need to be to combat those sad and terrible threats to everything we all love, we all need? How much effort will be enough?

I feel miniscule and overwhelmed, nowhere near enough and too lost to look for a map towards where enough might be found.

However, as I say probably once a day, I am friends with the greatest people on earth. They are artists and teachers and bakers and builders and athletes and students and explorers and nurses and craftspeople and doctors and poets and performers and parents and writers and musicians and farmers and pretty much everyone I know and love is doing their thing because they think it will make the world a better place. I am humbled beyond belief when I think of how kind and wise and accomplished and successful at living good—not perfect—lives my friends are. And that so many of them do such diverse and wonderful things. They are, individually and collectively, my heroes. I love them for their unique examples of how to live, their actions and attitudes. And yet, I know we all wonder, we all doubt, we all have the dark times of “is this what I’m supposed to be doing, am I good enough, am I doing enough?” (This is too good not to share, vis-à-vis self-doubt.) Because, alone, we know our own flaws and doubts and imperfections and suspect our deeper, cavernous, capabilities and so nothing we do ever seems like enough. 

And it isn’t. One person, in one way—even if it is their truest, deepest, rightest (leftist?), best and most beautifully articulated combination of passion, talent, and will—cannot be enough, alone.

It’s like that medieval, quantifiable silliness of how many angels fit on the point of a needle. How many people, doing how many things, will it take to build a better world?


(Illustration is Evening (Fall of Day) by William Rimmer. It's one of my favorite things at the Museum of Fine Arts: 

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