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How Can I Keep Track of Ukraine When I Can’t Get Through Dickens?

December 10th, 2013 Posted by Susan's Musings 7 comments

It boggles my mind sometimes to think that Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense or Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison’s Federalist Papers were aimed at ordinary men and women. Do you know anyone who thinks their modern equivalents would achieve best-seller status if issued today, as they did in their time? I think it more likely that most Americans, longer schooled than the populace of colonial times, are incapable of understanding these writings.  The American Revolution and our system of government were not initiated by those who looked to late-night comedy shows for insight.

Nevertheless, that is today’s reality. I am not immune. I look at substantial books I once read, both fiction and non-fiction, and am somewhat in awe of my previous self. Too often, when looking for something to read, I reach for something light and distracting rather than weighty and valuable. I’m even nervous about watching classic movies I enjoyed years back for fear that I will find them ponderous and slow moving.

I sat at a Shabbat table this past weekend where the discussion centered on what was happening in Ukraine. While I quickly looked up the news after Shabbat was over, up until that point I didn’t know that anything was happening in Ukraine. (This was before Ukraine became front-page news on Sunday.) Admittedly, keeping track of crisis points in the world could be a full time job, but still, how could I be so out of the loop? At least if I watched late night comedy, I might know that there was something to research.

Like all of us, the more personally affected I am by a topic, the more I pay attention. In today’s world, however, almost anything, anywhere can get personal very quickly. I can’t be the only one who cringes when late night TV hosts send proxies to ask people on the street to name a Supreme Court justice and Judge Judy’s name is the answer. Part of the cringe factor, however, is self-directed. How much less do I know than I should, and to what in my life should I devote less attention so that I can spend more time keeping current? How much worse do things need to get before ignorance and misinformation lead to a reality that is too painful to ignore? At that point, how many of us won’t have the attention span necessary to make a difference?

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7 comments

James says:

Ms. Susan, your situation is revealing and prophetic. The media and change, as prophesied by Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toffler onward, have assumed frightening proportions. Our senses and our faculties are bombarded day and night, day in, day out with worldwide information that turns our world topsy-turvy in an instant. We are long past information overload, we are on caustic sensory overload. Our input mechanisms are thrashing, processing what situation to process next, which decision upon which to focus next.
No wonder we seek refuge in fancy, in trivial pursuits, in matters of levity. It is not because our faculties are dense or unwilling to be challenged, it is because they are numbed and deadened by too much, too fast, and constantly. The Rabbi would tell us: the more things change, the more we need to be grounded in that which does not change. Still, where do we go from here? I don’t know. Do you?

Susan, I know how you feel. I love the old books and movies because I long to grasp for the old days of people actually having a moral code in their lives. Now that our son is serving in Afghanistan life has become all to real and watching the news is something I end up watching more than I would like. I am so thankful we have a faith in the one true God to help us have hope in the face of our realities.

Peter B. says:

Hi Susan:
In the 1980 film The Dead Poet Society starring Robin Williams, his character Mr. Keating addresses his new English class at Welton Academy with the following admonition:
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may …
Carpe Diem
Seize the day boys
Make your lives extraordinary!”
The founding generation of America, I’m convinced, also had many a Mr. Keating.
We hear Tom Brokaw’s talk of “The Greatest Generation” referring to those who fought and won WWII. But what of the generation that fought and won the Revolutionary War? And let’s take it one step further back. What about the generation that reared, raised, and inspired the generation that fought and won the Revolutionary War? I nominate those who lived here between 1620 and 1720 as the true “Greatest Generation”. After all, their children, grandchildren, and or great grandchildren both conceived and then succeeded in bringing forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
A passage from Joshua reads as follows:
“And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of tribes of the children of Israel:
That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?
Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.”
Joshua 4:5-7 (King James “Authorized” Version)
I would submit that a great many members of that true Greatest Generation had set about to mark their passage into the new world of America by making themselves Stonesetters for those to follow. Perhaps their children and grandchildren needn’t have asked of them “What mean ye by these stones?” for their parents and grandparents had modeled both Biblical faith and a lifestyle of erudition. These values cannot be taught. They can only be caught.
How many have ever heard of Peter Jefferson, Thomas’ father? Certainly not the “Justice Judy” crowd. Nor most of us, I suspect. But I raise his memory only to suggest that even in his wildest dreams, Peter Jefferson couldn’t have imagined what his son Thomas along with his friend James Madison would have accomplished in their lives.
When you see a turtle on top of a fence post, we know one thing is for sure. It didn’t get there by itself.
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may …
Carpe Diem
Seize the day boys
Make your lives extraordinary!”
What timelessly wonderful advice.

Jana Botkin says:

Susan, this is the first time I’ve seen anyone admit the little nagging fear I carry around – that I am no longer capable of comprehending or enjoying books and movies I once read and saw! Les Miserables? Too many words, and yet I enjoyed it as a 17 year old. John Steinbeck? I loved his writing when I was younger, and now I think “Get to the point already”! Far from the Madding Crowd? What if I don’t like it anymore when it was one of the best movies I ever saw as a teenager?
Who can keep up with all the changing public and political figures, the changing boundaries and heads of state and wars, even the changing technology in our own hands?
On top of all that, we need to spend daily time with God, floss, call our mothers, write thank you notes, keep a gratitude journal, exercise, “give back” (What did I take??), volunteer, read and comment and guest post on other blogs, do Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and continue to build our platforms.
Think I’ll find some light reading and go lie down for a bit. 😎

Oh, Jana – I’m so glad you wrote. You gave me a needed chuckle – even if on a deeper level what we are both afraid of isn’t funny.

I have to add this- Les Miserables is exactly one of the books I have in mind. I also loved it at seventeen and didn’t get past the first chapter when I tried to read it again last year.

Jana Botkin says:

Thanks, Susan! You really have eased my mind on this. Happy to give you a chuckle – sometimes it is the only way to handle uncomfortable subjects.

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