Zooming out, Zooming in

Z

Note: My wife is always final commenter on the pieces I choose to post on my blog. When she looked at this one, she said it was too much like what so many others have been saying about our current state of affairs. At first, I agreed with her and put it aside in favor of the piece I posted last week, but it’s been nagging at me all week. I’ve finally decided that the way it reflected the current thinking of so many people I know was precisely where its possible value lay.

When I taught fifth and sixth grade, I loved engaging my students in conversations about dreams in preparation for having them write about their own dream experiences. What surprised me in these intense conversations was the palpable sense of relief students expressed when they realized that these “weird” nighttime experiences were not theirs alone, but were shared, albeit unspoken, by kids who normally limited themselves to commenting on the quality of the cafeteria food.       Perhaps this piece can offer similar relief to readers who share the feelings I’ve described but hadn’t yet put words to it.               

There’s another way to think about the microcosms I wrote about in an earlier entry. I will invoke the same daughter who started me down the path I was pursuing in that piece. In one of our cherished conversations between Chicago and Jerusalem, I asked her how she was doing. “On the micro level our lives are great. On the macro-level they’re terrible.” She was alluding of course to her distress over the actions of her government whose policies she feels are leading her country to the edge of the abyss. Whether you agree or disagree with her politics, the important thing is the unsettling sense of a disconnect between the personal and the public in her universe, one that saps much of the pleasure from all the personal accomplishments and gratifications, which leave you, in fact, feeling guilty for feeling good about your micro world, when the rest of the world is going to hell in the proverbial handbasket.

               This is exactly the disorienting imbalance so many of us have been feeling since Trump’s election. Many of us who are major benefactors of the cornucopia of privileges attached to our status in society – race, class, gender, sexual preference – are at the same time deeply committed to social justice and democracy. It is these values and beliefs that imbue our lives with meaning beyond the hedonistic and selfish aspects of what drives much of our micro worlds. It is these commitments that are being challenged by the actions of a dangerously demagogic administration. Every move by the White House is an insult to our devotion to kindness and justice, which in turn transform all the bright spots in our micro worlds to dark shadows across the larger universe we inhabit.

  After many years of struggle with a novel more difficult to wrestle to the ground than any of her previous books, my wife received an incredibly generous and admiring letter of acceptance from the editor of a press for which she has great respect. Of course, we celebrated, but we were never able to shake entirely the specter of the ominous events that were playing out on the public landscape. I suspect that the intrusion of this dark macro world is going to cast shadows on our tiny micro worlds as long as this government is in power.

So, what are we to do? The unacceptable choice is to retreat into that micro world, pulling up around us all those blankets of privilege which can protect us from the depredations of outside invaders. The other choice is to step outside our safe space and engage in combat with the dark forces, as powerful as they may be. Rereading this, I realize that it begins to sound like those famous Dead Sea Scrolls about the battles between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, a very apocalyptic view of what lies ahead. I vacillate between concern about being too hysterical about what we are facing and not being hysterical enough.

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Marv Hoffman

2 comments

  • Marv, I’m really appreciating your blog posts. This one in particular captures a moment and a feeling and a set of dilemmas that so many of us share. Thanks for giving them voice.

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