Monday, August 4, 2008

Population One

How many of your neighbors do you know? How about your myspace least the ones you list as your 'top friends?' If someone came along and asked you a bunch of personal questions about each of them would you be able to answer the most basic of them. How many children do they have? What do they do for fun? Who do they love? What is their opinion on the rain hunger...the x box?

Every single day, I walk or drive by literally hundreds and even thousands of perfect strangers. For the most part, I would assume that I can relate to them. After all, they look like me...unless they are female, long haired or crazy looking (wait...I'm a little crazing looking). They speak my language, eat where I eat (I'm getting suspicious about that), shop where I shop, and go to the same bars and movies that I do. Still, how much do I really have in common with these people who carry on about me in 'my' world like an army of movie extras in my own cinematic opus?

I go through the drive-thru and there is a girl mindlessly repeating her fast food niceties just like the kid at the bank or the guy tearing my ticket to see 'Jumper' on saturday night. 'Thank you...can I get you anything else?...have a good one.' My God. I say 'have a good one.' I have told people for years to 'have a good one.' Truth is, I don't have the faintest idea whether or not I am blessing them or cursing them. I just dont know what 'one' is. I could be telling them to have a good stroke, or have a good explosion or something. I don't ever really define what the 'one' thing is that I'm wanting people to have a good way.

And that's the problem.

When I tell people to 'have a good one' without thinking about what it is that is 'good' that I want them to have then I am just skating the impersonal world void that society has become. Gone are the days, especially in my generation, when people commonly take time to look after each other or to get to know each other as they cross paths.

When I was a kid, my grandfather took me on an adventure. I grew up in a small Texas town. There wasn't usually a whole lot to do besides ranch chores, running wild with the local kids, and watching one of three whole channels on television. Thus, my grandfather drove us to the local diner where he promptly offered me a Marathon candy bar. Oh no wasnt the new ones that are healthy for you; it was one of the chocolate and caramel variety...removed from the US shelves long ago and now only available in Great Britain as a Curly Wurly (I know...I was given a sack of them by an ex girlfriend). Sitting there in that diner, each of us eating candy bars, my grandfather, Pap as I called him, prepared us for something special that day.
He got me all excited...and then took me to watch a train roll by car.

There are a lot of things that I have done in this world. I've flown airplanes, hang glided, traveled the US in an RV, climbed to the top of a pyramid...and I dont remember all of it. Somehow, I do remember eating those candy bars with my Pap and watching that train go by.

I think that a lot of things in life are about focus. As busy as our lives are these days we can't help but focus on our careers, schedules, and the day to day obligations of friends and families. It seems like we are all losing the big picture all of the details. We're cutting down a lot of single trees, and one day that forest we're overlooking just wont be there. We need some perspective.

According to the world census there are around six or seven billion people on the planet right now with some three hundred million just right here in the US. Think about that for a second. Seems like a lot of people doesnt it? Keep in mind though that those numbers tell us that, unless we're miscounting the Milky Way, there are only six billion humans like ourselves in the whole...infinite...immeasurably immense, universe. That's not even a drop in the bucket.

Even so, managing my own life is quite enough thank you. I couldnt possibly keep up with the thrall of humanity at my very doorstep. Who is the guy or girl that delivers my mail I'm so fond of ignoring? Who cares? Who are those kids making all of that noise outside at seven in the AM? That...I'd like to know so I can call their parents and complain.

People are really good at having relationships with people that dont really exist, like movie characters or soap characters. They're great at reaching out to or letting in celebrities or entertainers. It's hard to comprehend the wave of national mourning brought about by the death of Princess Diana...or the massive media blitz surrounding Britney Spears lack of underwear or Paris's naughty midnight tapings. Have you seen my copy by the way?

People are extremely social...really touchy feely from their beginning. As babies they cling to their mothers and seek the warmth and companionship they need to be nurtured into adulthood. And here we are living in a world that is almost automated now where companies teach us all what to say, how and why to say it and what will come of it if we do or dont. It's getting a bit cold out there.

It's a small wonder then why a population that never personally met Princess Diana was so touched by her loss or why J-Los baby is the tabloid catch of the day. People who dont have time or who have been conditioned by this new automated society still have a basic human need to emotionally involve themselves...even if its with a character on a daytime soap opera.

We have begun to live our lives, and feel our feelings, without having to make real investments in real people in real time. Who has time for that...and with all of these strangers?

People like people they can identify with...or at least who they think they can identify with. I'm a Cowboys fan. Hmm...if you're wearing a star on your hat come game day...then i like you. If we went to the same university then I like you even more. It's funny, but it gets kind of specific. Really though, don't we all have something in common right away? We're or white, male or female. We all feel the same joys, love, pain and fear that the other does. We look up to the same sun and moon day after day...the same stars.

When I was a teenager, my teacher taught our class a story about a guy dying on a train and nobody noticing. The train just went on with its business. The universe, she said, was cold. Ce la goes on.

It certainly seems that way. The nazis managed to kill millions of people in death camps in the second world war. Who were those people? It doesnt matter who they were now right? It was horrible...but the train moved on.

The universe may be cold...indifferent. That's a matter to be debated by philosophers, scientists and religious leaders. Whatever the case may be, it can be certain that the human heart is not. Sociopathy is a illness of an individual to circumvent and bypass emotional attachment and compassion. That same kind of behavior on a cultural level is still, I argue, a disease. Normal, healthy people have feelings...they have hearts.

Compassion is almost lost on us now. War is the answer to everyone that opposes or frightens us. Fear turns to judgment of the inner self and those familiar selves sharing the planet with us. These days, we don't give others a break and we dont even give ourselves a break. No wonder everyone is going postal on the highways or in the schools. We would rather accent what is different about each other than what is the same. And most of it...including that fear of rejection or alienation, is the same.

Wil Smith was in a movie this year in which he portrayed the last man on earth. That's a lonely, awful place to be for someone as social as a man. We are so busy disconnecting and judging, however, that many of us might as well just be the last man or woman on earth.

How many neighbors do you know by name? Do you spend more time on your myspace or keeping in touch with your friends there? If you could personally relieve someone's debt or illness would you do it...if what it cost you was your time?

Here is a news flash. You cannot win...because life is not a game. You cannot survive life and neither can anyone else. Your enemies, if you have any, will all die. And you will too...taking nothing with you...especially the time you are squandering being too busy.

You're on the train, not just watching it. It is wise to appreciate the journey and all of the other passengers making it with you. I've never forgotten watching that train go by with my grandfather. But that is because I have never forgotten the time he spent that day with his grandson. I look back over my life and all of the best moments seem to have someone else there with me. When I was born, when I got here, they were all strangers.

I cannot promise anyone that the train wont just coldy move on when you die. But being here, being alive, is the warm center in that chilly space surrounding it...making it mean something. And knowing someone else is there, others are on the train too, should indeed make life warmer.

People rely on one another. Our mates, our families, our dentists for that matter! They matter!

Damn the heartless corporations. Damn the media for beating up on our flawed humanity. We are not machines. We are not symbols. We must not be determined by our jobs, routines and single minded programming.

We are life. We.

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