“You name it, the world is aflame,” a former national security aide recently told The New York Times. Calling the world “a very tangled mess,” Gary Samore said it’s more than your garden-variety complicated place for U.S. foreign policy. “What’s unusual is there’s this outbreak of violence and instability everywhere.”
Let us count the ways, shall we? Israel and Gaza nonstop shelling each other, a passenger plane blown out of the sky over Ukraine, the Ebola virus going nuclear in Africa, Boko Haram kidnapping school girls in Nigeria and ISIS making Al Qaeda look like nice guys by being as evil as any James Bond nemesis …
Actually let’s stop counting. It’s too depressing and downright scary. This has been the worst news summer I can remember. If I want this much political drama I’ll re-watch “Homeland.”
It’s oddly disconcerting that while the world is aflame with so much death, disease and destruction, summer in this cozy corner of the world has been unusually beautiful. I don’t know about where you live, but West Michigan has seen a succession of splendid days, a bit on the cool side but conspicuously absent the shirt-soaking, soul-killing heat. It has been a summer that pulls you outside, to pull weeds, take walks, pump your bicycle or drive to the lake.
It is with a whiff of residual Catholic guilt still echoing from my mother’s upbringing that I enjoy these blessed days. Forgive me father, for I have sinned the sin of indulging my senses in the world’s beauty while many elsewhere suffer and die. I should do something about the suffering and dying, yet I take a bike ride through the woods and over the river. It is the sin of shutting out pain and evil.
My world is aflame with flowers, glittering lakes and stunning sunsets.
I see its splendor by riding a mere few miles from my home down the Kent Trails bike path, which takes me to Millennium Park. It is flecked with wildflowers and kissed with sparkling water. Herons feed on it, children splash in it and boaters paddle through it. The park is a modest piece of Eden, affording blessed moments of quiet when you stop the bike and listen to … barely anything.
To immerse myself in this rare beauty takes an effort of will. I must block out the flaming world and let my eyes focus on the quiet world. I must set aside the anxieties of what to do and let myself feel who and where I am. It is a kind of pedaling meditation.
The flaming world returns soon enough. Perhaps a blessed bike ride helps me deal with it when I get back. Whether it does or not, it is one indulgence I must make. For the days pass quickly, and you only get so many glimpses of Eden.