Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Comfort of Common Sense

I may have to revert back to my old practice of not reading the news. The headlines add up and overwhelm me these days, and while I remind myself that the media sensationalizes, the basic facts of poverty, disaster and political foolishness remain. Obsessive red tape and policy shroud our lives to such a degree that we stop functioning like human(itarian) beings. I see this increasingly at my workplace, as well as in the operations of government, where humans in crisis take place below political posturing and ego.

I had an instance today that sent me home for lunch in tears of frustration. How could something so simple be made to be so complicated? There are days when I can feel a chain of frustration, weariness and anger being forged one link at a time. Each link is a discomfited employee, and today felt heavy with the weight of all of them. Call it an administration out of touch with employees, an organization struggling to modernize practices... as much as the employees would like to sort things out in a reasonable way, we end up being a terrible burden to each other as we manage the daily confusion and fallout from administrative decisions. Days like this make a lunch break a time of readjustment.

I go home for lunch when I can, and I always have a book waiting for me, if not a sunny stoop and some good leftovers. Today I continued the Essays of E.B. White. White is the author of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, The Trumpeter Swan, not to mention the revisionist of The Elements of Style (Strunk & White), and a superb essayist. The book of essays I'm reading range from the 50's to the 70's. While I may take a hiatus from the news, I'm certainly don't want to bury my head in the sand. I'd rather spend my time reading the well voiced, reasonable and quiet outrage of White as he writes about exactly the issues we struggle with fifty years later. Polluted soil and polluted food, the death of passenger trains, disarmament, the ways of politicians... White comforts me with common sense, even as he writes about his prescient frustrations with the world. His reflections are sometimes laments, sometimes acceptance, often nostalgic, always wry - a combination that soothes my wounded spirit, makes me feel a sense of companionship in this world. I find myself thinking of his gift with words throughout the day, and it braces me. Like a good friend who sympathizes without sacrificing honesty, he does not patronize, is not over familiar, and shares enough of himself to establish trust and empathy.

Charlotte's Web was always my favorite book as a child, and I am thrilled to have rediscovered this author that so engaged me so many years ago. Once this book of essays is read, I have two more like it on my shelf... and I certainly won't hesitate to add his children's books to my reading list to further my free therapy. His contexts are just as captivating as his subjects, fictional or otherwise. You read it in his sketches of New York City, and the animal doings on his farm in Maine. As much as White wonders about the state of things, he is also full of wonderment.

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