Sunday in thePark
I’ve been thinking a lot about a prescription my friend was given a few years ago, right after September 11. I’ll call her Molly. She had been in New York, though not right at the Twin Towers, when the tragedy struck and she was paralyzed with had happened. While trapped extra days in New York, with no flights out, she watched the news incessantly. Repeatedly burned into her memory bank, those images of horror and stories of loss. When she finally returned home to Utah, she couldn’t sleep and her eating patterns were all out of whack. And she kept watching everything she could find on the horrific tragedy. So she went to a friend, who is also her therapist, and asked for help. The therapist listened for more than the allotted hour and then she wrote a prescription and folded it over. She told Molly to take this seriously.
Molly had been on meds before. She took her folded paper into the crowded pharmacy and stood in line until her turn to offer her prescription. The pharmacist grabbed it, still folded and headed to the back of his workspace. He returned shortly with just the opened prescription in his hand.
Did you read this? he questioned Molly. She confessed she had not. He handed it back to her to read. It said simply, stop watching CNN.
I gave the same advice to my elderly mother this fall, when day after day, hour after hour, she sat glued to the television as story, after sad story, unfolded about the disaster that destroyed what was her beloved New Orleans. She was so sad. Each day, the city she had visited and loved so from literature, was shown disappearing. And disappearing too, were the thousands of people who made the city’s heart beat.
There are cultures, mostly indigenous, here in North America and all over the world really, where taking a photograph is considered immoral because you are stealing a piece of someone’s soul. I have always been fascinated by that thought. Because what is that image left on the film or the digital chip? Does a small piece of us in time get captured? And if that is true of us and our loved ones, what does it mean to capture so many faces of sadness? And though there are thousands of studies about how we only use a small percentage of our vast brain capacity, if we are filling up our own memory chips with repeated sad, tragic images, how can we not be affected by their weight?
And this is where the socialist in me clashes with the recluse in me. I think we need to be made aware, constantly, of how small the world is and how related we are and how we can and must help one another. I remember when Bill Gates started to amass his wealth. He was greatly criticized for not sharing in a philanthropic way. Then he was greatly criticized for choosing his father to run the foundation he established. Then he was greatly criticized for giving almost exclusively to health issues — in foreign countries, no less.
When rock star, Bono, visited Africa in the mid-’90s he was treated as a celebrity seeking publicity, even though he and his wife traveled there on their own, stayed in villages and worked with children affected and infected by AIDS. Then he started returning to Africa with a passion and wrote his haunting song, "Where the streets have no names," about the sad migration of lost souls there. It is well documented now, his work with world leaders, from the Pope to George Bush, trying to reduce the debt in Third-World countries and to bring attention and money to fight poverty and disease.
This December, when Time magazine named Bill Gates, his wife Melinda and Bono as Persons of the Year, I felt so hopeful. If persons of great wealth and great influence are choosing to address social issues and cheerleading to find solutions, maybe the world is turning in a more hopeful direction than any time in recent memory.
And here’s the dilemma. I think to be of service, you need to also take very good care of yourself. You need to find time to unplug. At this point in the winter season in a resort community that has been successful for years now, I can actually feel a communal weariness set in. We have played host to our guests for months on end — skiing with clients and friends, dining out, attending films, working at our day and night jobs, very hard. The other day, after a business meeting, a group of us decided the next meeting should be after work, over adult beverages somewhere. We whipped out our collective scheduling devices to find a time that would work for all of us. The soonest we could all get together was the third week in March.
We become those things we fill our life with. Images, powerful and disturbing, are a limited but serious diet to our brain. So are days and nights filled with busy-ness — and purpose to be certain — but little time for reflection. So my prescription for my overworked, over-stimulated friends would be this, take a day this week. An entire day. And unplug, get still, erase most of the memory chip filled with stress and images of sadness (the faces this week of those who survived the disastrous mudslide in the Philippines, perhaps) and reflect upon, not how overwhelmed you feel, not how insignificant you feel, but how powerful your one voice could be, if you took all that time and energy spent watching the news and absorbing the news and instead spent the same time and energy in helping out, in some small way, someone on this planet who needs your help.
Because even here, in our amazing community, there are, sadly, dozens of organizations who deal with thousands of people in need. If the mid-winter blues and blahs and the yada yada yadas have got you down, then get up and out and be of service. Years ago, a dear elderly friend sent me a Christmas card he made by hand. It said, simply, what thing of beauty did you do today? It is a question I plan to ask myself far more often in the upcoming weeks, on any overwhelmed day, but certainly on Sundays in the Park&
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Sales-tax collections in Park City in July beat City Hall projections by a wide margin, providing a key data point that illustrates a nascent economic comeback of sorts from the spring business shutdowns.