As a young person, my mindset was something like this: Once I get past this problem (a break in a friendship, a rough patch at work, the death of a grandparent) everything will be alright. That theory evolved into a mature recognition that trouble is never finished with us. When one situation is resolved, another is certain to come along. The blessing is that as we learn from each setback, we are increasingly able to cope.
But, in 2020, we’re seeing something never seen before. Problems keep coming, nothing is resolved. COVID-19, racial distress, fires and floods, climate change. I don’t know if the image is of a deeper and deeper pit or a pile growing higher and higher. Whatever the image is, the troubles are accumulating alarmingly. Old coping techniques are severely challenged.
Over it all, like a shroud, there is mounting concern over our current president. Just when we think we can’t be anymore outraged, there’s more. We are introduced to his income tax returns. We see his bizarre use of his bout with virus to prove his stamina. More concerning, we watch the panic he’s fabricating over the security of the election and his refusal to confirm there will be a peaceful transition should Joe Biden win.
The president’s attack on the election process brought me up short. If I were asked to define the essence of democracy, I would mention free and open elections as one of the key descriptors. Yet, that very process is under attack.
How’d we get to this place? How can this be? How can the unimaginable be where we are? Who’s in charge? Who can we trust?
The September 23, 2020 edition of Christian Century published a Pew Research Center study on “Trust in our Leaders.” It reported on its survey of American adults’ confidence in a number of leadership categories. People responded whether they had a “great deal, fair amount, not too much, or none at all” trust. The results for “great deal of trust” were: Medical Scientists 43%, Scientists 39%, Military 38%, Religious Leaders 17%, Journalists 9%, Business Leaders 5%, and Elected Officials 3%
It didn’t surprise me that medical scientists were highest ranked. I’m not the only one who names Dr. Anthony Fauci as a hero. However, part of the puzzlement today is the muzzling of his voice and the voices of other credible medical experts.
It wasn’t shocking to see the journalists and elected officials so far down the reliability list. Not shocking but discouraging. In these unnerving times, our elected officials should be carrying out critically important tasks and the journalists should be their accurate interpreters. Instead, we witness politicians refusing to act, or acting without conscience. The president’s constant haranguing about “fake news” muddies the words of the media.
I start my blog posts reflecting on the world around me, watching for what catches my interest and imagination. My first draft happens in my head—I’m good at “writing while walking.” The second draft of my 900-word pieces happens in some comfortable place (often my favorite bench at Zuanich Park). I write on paper, with a pencil! Once I open Word and start a new document, I’m pretty clear on what I’ll write. How the issue in my head will resolve may still be in question, but I’m settled on what I’ll explore.
Clarity isn’t coming this time, though. My mind is still wrestling with what in the world is happening here? How can I make sense of a reality that seems nonsensical?
Thus, here’s a blog post that confesses that, right now, the workings of my mind are a puzzlement.
In 1860, Anna Leonowens, a recent widow, headed from England to Siam. She was to be the teacher of the children of King Mongkut. Her experiences were captured in the biography Anna and the King of Siam, by Margaret Landon, a stage play, and the movie The King and I, starring Deborah Kerr and the incomparable Yul Brenner.
King Mongkut was a forceful, overbearing presence—he also wanted to do right by his people, even though his world was changing around him. In the film he is wracked with indecision. You can hear his confusion in this soliloquy.
It would be a stretch to compare the struggles facing the King with our current world affairs. His anguish speaks to me, though. His cry to Buddha does as well.
If my Lord in Heaven Buddha, show the way
Every day I try to live another day
If my Lord in Heaven Buddha, show the way
Every day I do my best for one more day
But is a puzzlement!
That’s our task, isn’t it? Our obligation is to do our best for one more day, whatever swirls around us. Amidst the trouble, it’s the only thing we can do.
But, is a puzzlement!
Best wishes, friend. Just do your best.