"Where has the starlight gone, dark is the day- how can I find my way home?"- Simba, "The Lion King" (Elton John and Tim Rice)
One of the great unanswered riddles of the universe goes like this: "Is the world getting worse, or are we just more aware of it?" Usually I think about this kind of thing when I'm watching the news, and especially, in ultra high definition, at Christmas. During the dark days of the winter solstice.
I suspect it's no accident that the holidays fall this time of year. Early in humanity's childhood, our neanderthal and homo sapiens ancestors probably wondered if the waning sun would disappear for good as the days got shorter and shorter. And rather than passively accept this state of affairs, I imagine they did what we do- they partied. And headed for home
Home is safety. Home is belonging. Home is where, if you're lucky, you mean something to somebody. It's the idea of warmth and light that draws us to airports, where we wait for days in snowstorms, hoping to retrace at warp speed the miles we've put between ourselves and this very same place that we once wanted so badly to leave behind.
Home is about the gifts we received and the gifts we didn't get. Many of us, the lucky ones, received the gift of a safe childhood that gave us the strength to engage the troubling world brought to us when we watch the news- at least, to engage it in small doses. Our memories of childhood help us create homes that feel safe, the imagined sanctuaries from which we gaze out at the world during the holidays and reflect on questions like "is the world always getting worse, or are we just more aware of it?"
By any estimate, there are currently thousands of Chicagoans, so many of them children, who can't find their way home because they have no home to find. Between "us" and "them" stands....very little. A job loss, a catastrophic illness, a flood, a fire...an anything. At this time of year, we drop coins in salvation army buckets, buy Streetwise, work in soup kitchens- and sigh in relief that we're not them, the embodiment of our worst fears. Having a home means one isn't homeless, out there in the middle of the night all alone.
As the world turns and the days slowly lengthen, we return to the business of survival and procreation that we share with all the human and non-human beings that inhabit this planet. But from time to time, in little moments throughout the year, we may remember how it feels to be out there in the dark all alone, feeling scared and helpless. Where many of us remain, literally, figuratively, or both. All alone, in the dark, belonging no where. And that's when we do some of the horrible things to each other that make the news so unbearable.
So perhaps one way to answer the "is the world getting worse?" riddle is like this: No, it isn't. Our quest to connect, and our increasing capacity to do so, floods us with the recognition that many of us are still out there in the dark. Maybe the bad news is good news, in that it forces us to know it and see it. Now -we've just got to find a way to bring the rest of us home.