When the wildly popular British band Pink Floyd released its single entitled “On the Turning Away,” their intention, according to most sources of information, was to call attention to the plight of the poor and the underprivileged and how much of the world had “turned away” from their sufferings. There is no doubt that the band’s intent was admirable, and it would be interesting to know if their lyrics ever managed to inspire some of their fans to turn back to the problem and to try to resolve it.
As far back as the Old Testament, specifically in Deuteronomy 15:11, the eternal quality of poverty is mentioned, and reiterated later by at least two of the Gospel writers. As much as we can turn toward them and try to alleviate some of their suffering, as many as we can help to rise above their own indigence, there will always be many more poor people behind them waiting in line to support those Biblical references. Does that mean that poverty is an insoluble issue and that we should stop trying to eradicate it? That’s for each of us to decide for ourselves, along with how deeply we want to be involved in that process, and how comfortable we are with turning away from it if we choose not to.
Beyond that, there is another sort of “turning away” with which I, and I suspect others, are quite familiar with, one which involves not merely a rejection of any specific socio-economic group but of a society that tolerates certain realities and that has gone far beyond making sense anymore. I’m talking about those of us who don’t just turn away but who drop out and who choose a narrow niche in which to live our lives and from which to view a world that has gone beyond our ability to comprehend it.
The trend nowadays is toward socialization, and at my age, I hear that word bandied about a lot, along with all the slogans that declare that we are all social creatures, and by virtue of that, we absolutely should try to interact as much as possible with other fellow humans. Socialization is good for me, I’m told. It keeps me active and involved and it also prolongs the life of the gray matter that sits just above and behind my eyes encased in a solid mass of bone and cartilage that my mother often called my “thick skull.” While that’s all well and good, I still prefer to draw a few lines of demarcation in the sand between myself and my peers and from within whose boundaries I can continue to operate according to my own personal set of rules, my own particular philosophy, if you will. And lately, I’ve found that I can do that and still maintain in large part my autonomy against a world whose values try my patience to the point of breaking even on the best days.
Interacting with those of my generation, however, can indeed be a comfort at times, because it provides me with the opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals who actually know what I’m talking about when I mention something that happened before 1955. The sense of kinship is intense, as we all pretty much feel the same away about most social issues, despite the fact that our opinion is a now a quickly evaporating drop in the bucket.
In addition to that, though, the one other thing that has been my saving grace all these years as I’ve made the slow but perceptible shift away from modern life is none other than Nature. I won’t list all the things about the world today or about having to live in it that seriously cause me concern, as it would take up too much space and use up too much time, which is now to me a very precious commodity. Suffice it to say that I would much rather focus on a butterfly hovering among the roses outside my window or the shafts of setting sunlight outside my living room window than on what new sin our current presidential candidates committed in a past life and that could impact his or her performance as this country’s top CEO.
I also have the added advantage now of being able to say without a hitch that “I don’t care!” Now, if I’d said that 30 years ago, I would have come off as a sad and apathetic member of society who wasn’t fit to talk to. Now, people, most of whom are younger than myself, look at me and say, “Oh, she’s just old, and old people say stupid things.”
I don’t care. If it doesn’t directly concern me, I don’t care. Among the few things that I do still care about, what I will always care about, is the sweet dusty scent the earth gives off after a quick shower, the cardinal that chose to honor my bird feeder with its presence, and the baby raccoons that scamper across the lawn just before dawn. I’ll care when I see a hawk glide down and make off with a chipmunk, because that is the way of things in nature; and I’ll be very interested when a moth emerges from beneath a basil leaf in my kitchen.
I’ll care when a new flower opens, and I’ll look as deeply into it as I can, because therein lives all the magic this world holds, and then some. And when I walk in the woods again, I’ll have not a care in the world and will feel that I am right where I belong. What’s different about all this is that nature is something I understand! No one has to explain anything to me about it, because there is nothing to explain. Even without knowing any of the details, it’s still possible to be enthralled and comforted all at the same time, because there is no beginning, no middle, and no end to it. It just is, and THAT I understand, something that I just cannot say with any honesty about the rest of the world anymore, if I ever could.