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Step lightly here

Sunday in the Park

By Teri Orr
Park Record columnist

It is about the landscape — the physical landscape, the political one and the emotional landscape — where we try to navigate all the change. It has been a noisy fall, as fall is wont to be. A riot of colors after a summer of so much green, replaced now, in our town, by the soft blanket of white, which will, for months, cover imperfections and quiet some of the noise.

I want to be informed. About world events. About scientific discoveries. About health cures and technology. I want to understand the challenges of education on every level. I want to know what is of concern to Native Americans and South Americans and African Americans.

And what I want more than ever, is to have a few places, just a few, where I can consistently find news honestly reported and clearly marked opinionated where opinions belong. I want to see a video that had an editor review it for bias before showing it. I want to think news stories had multiple sources confirming them.

I am old school. I started reporting news in 1979. And I worked very, very hard to verify my stories before I gave them to my editor who would fact check them before putting them in print. It was once an honorable profession, the Fourth Estate protected by the First Amendment.

I really, really, really don’t want anyone to quote to me as news something they read the headline of on facebook and have mistaken that as a news story… and as reading.

The gathering of news and delivery of news is changing rapidly. I get that and embrace it, mostly.

I was excited, in awe really, of watching the news unfold in real time in 2011 during the Arab spring from citizen journalists with hand-held devices recording the revolution with raw footage.

There are smart choices for news like NativeNews and Good and even careful recaps from Huff Puff, I F**king love science and the CBC online. Not so long ago folks bemoaned the death of magazines with the advent of more internet, and yet, there are more magazines than I can remember at any point in my long life. Niche publications about nature and technology and architecture and business and parenting and pets and so much travel and the gear to go with all that.

The information age means we never escape the noise that pretends to be information.
And we never really feel we are at end of the story; There is always another angle or shot from another viewpoint. That ability to keep researching can be addictive and before long you look up and discover you just spent four hours researching which song lyric came from which movie, which other roles the actor played in, who sang that song/spoke that line…All that led you to travel in that remote country you can explore on Google Earth.

The political landscape requires a vigilance to balance. To step out of comfortable echo chambers and question sources and motives. All politics are local first, and so the shouting noises from the national election can seem to drown out the issues at hand for months. We are now back here. And “here” needs our attention to transportation and air quality and affordable housing and equal education for all our students and fairness concerns for our neighbors and their families. We need to be good global and national citizens. We need to start by caring for each other here and our community. And we need to find kind ways to navigate the residual noise.

Yes, the holidays are here with shiny lights and gaily wrapped gifts and festive gatherings. Easy to be distracted by all that. Easy, too, to step aside for a few hours and serve. Food banks need helpers and so do shelters and in every neighborhood there is a single woman raising a family that could use a hand, a hug, and a warm beverage on a cold night.

When the white comes like this, all at once and quickly with deep drops in temperature, my inner bear wants to hibernate. Take long baths and listen to instrumental music and light candles and make soup. But the world moves too fast for those nurturing days and the electronics are too seductive and ever present. And all too often a day that might start out in music ends in noise.

Even in non-volatile election years, December is a difficult month. And though it flies against intuition, we are only days from the dark yielding to the light with the return of the Winter Solstice. The shortest day / longest night mark the incremental return to lightness. Imperceptible at first, but real — as real as the North Star in the dark sky. For those who suffer from seasonal depression (or depression of any duration), this month can be especially dark. Lonely. Sad. Scary.

Here’s what scares me: The level of anger I hear on social media that mistakes itself for civil discourse. The folks who isolate and in the dark listen to those angry voices they read or watch on endless opinion- based “news” cycles. Folks becoming increasingly agitated over those hypothetical, hyperbolic, hypotheses that bear little relation to fact.
The lack of listening, not to immediately formulate a response , but to understand.

Here’s the gift we can give right now: time. Just a little. Time to be fully present with someone. Time unplugged. Time enough for a story and a beverage. Time that comes wrapped in compassion and tied up with empathy. Time that could just be the difference between despair and hope. That time can appear any day, even Sunday in the Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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