I’ve been chewing on a thought for a while, and trying to get it down just right onto the page. So, please indulge me, because here I go again…
“If you look deeply enough, you can see the world inside a single sheet of paper. You see the clouds in the page, for they carried the rain that made the tree grow. Without the rain, there would be no tree, and without the tree we would have no sheet of paper. The same could be said of the sun, or of the soil. The same could be said of the logger, who cut down the tree. And also the bread, that fed the logger who cut down the tree. And also the baker, who made the bread that fed the logger who cut down the tree. And as you look deeper, as you step further back and take a wider view, you can see the entire world in a single sheet of paper.”*
I encountered this concept from the Buddhist monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh years ago in college, and I’ve recently heard people I know talking about it. They reinforce Thich Nhat Hanh’s concept of interbeing – the interconnectivity of all things. They talk of harmony, of unity, of zen.
And while I also like the statement, I follow a different line of thinking regarding it.
I think of the times I’ve turned to others in need, and been turned away. I think about times I’ve been in pain, and no one has spoken up. I think about times I walked away, and no one chased after me. I read that concept, and think not of the interconnectivity of things, but of what happens when others ignore how connected everything really is. I think of severance, and abandonment. I think of responsibility.
I do not say these things to shame or harass anyone who had done such to me. In many cases, if not most, I know why others turned away. I know what they were struggling with. I know why they had no time for me. I saw their weariness. I know how toxic I was. I understand.
But the world is larger than my small perspective, and my choice to condemn or not condemn someone over this is a personal matter. The world is a much bigger place, and universal concepts must apply universally. And to that point, and with respect to the philosophy I brought up earlier, I make the following statement.
If there is a mess, and no one cleans it up, the mess does not go away. If anything, it grows larger.
So what does that mean? It means, to me, that if someone is in pain, and that pain is left untended, it magnifies rather than diminishes. It means that all the times we say we are too busy to help a friend in need…are times when we are betting that they can bear the pain on their own, or we are betting that someone else will appear to take care of them. We pass along the responsibility.
I believe that caring and loving people is something we must actively do. We cannot merely find time for people; we must make time for people. And in those times we don’t, in those times we walk away, I see as abandonment. I do not see people taking care of each other. I do not see them living a life that emphasizes the interconnectivity of everyone and everything. I see them as so caught up in their own life that they do not see the world around them.
And while it is not shameful to want to live your own life, The Golden Rule has always been to give to others as good as you wish they would give you.
Do we want others to treat us well only when it is convenient for them? Or do we want people to move mountains (or perhaps moving boxes) to help us in our times of need?
Do we want others there in our times of despair? Or do we want fair-weather friends who cannot, will not, and do not spend their time on those they deem “toxic”?
Do we want to feel the connectivity of the world, or do we want our own small islands of influence that we leave only when we can negotiate favorable trade agreements?
How do we live a good life? How do we live well? I freely admit – I do not succeed at this every day. Some days I do not even have it in me to try, and I drag myself through the mud with as much grace as I can muster. I try to do better the following day, and the one after that. Some days I succeed; others, I fail.
And so, I do no tell you all of this to shame you, dear reader. I do not say this to manipulate you. I say this because some words must be said. I say this because I have noticed those who walked away, who had no time, who had better things to do…
I say this because of all the stories I see and hear on the news, of the people for which others passed along the responsibility of care. I say this for all the tragedies that have occurred when the star called a human heart fell from the sky. I say this for futures we may yet avoid, for people we may yet save.
We are all connected. Just as the cloud, the rain, the sun, the soil, the logger, the bread, and the baker can be found in a single sheet of paper, I see all of you in me. I see myself in all of you. I see how helping myself can help you, and how helping you, ultimately, helps myself – and all of us.
*This concept was paraphrased, not quoted.