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November 30, 2012
Side-By-Side: Seeking Simple Truth
Linda M. Downing
“Advent: A Time For Inner Peace”
Maybe these are the saddest words to hear: “You gave up too soon.” Maybe we don’t so much give up as lose sight of what we’re looking for.
In the Christian world Advent is here again, the four Sundays before Christmas given over to remembering Jesus’ birth and expecting his return. Even non-Christians sense something more is needed than another shopping trip.
Ignoring needs is dangerous. A recent Associated Press article declared an emergency situation with the U.S. infrastructure—our roads, bridges, airports, railways. Extreme weather may speed their collapse while we argue the politics of global warming. “The infrastructure of the nation is aging and it’s at risk,” warn the experts.
No matter how clever our answers, they are useless if they do not work. More of us imitate rather than originate. Koshik, a 22-year-old Asian elephant, made the papers in early November for his ability to imitate human speech. Like us, how much he understands is up for grabs. His trunk says “hello,” “sit down,” “no,” “lie down,” and “good.” We don’t know what his mind says. Most of us couldn’t understand anyway, since Koshik speaks Korean.
Scientists believe Koshik may try to mimic human sounds out of loneliness and adesire to please. We real humans do that too with predictable results. We mistake the need for solitude as loneliness; then we run from ourselves by being people-pleasers.
Writer Ernest Hemingway knew how to describe unspoken need. He explored the natural world more than most. Words from his short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” illustrate: “…a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high…said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai ‘Ngaje Ngai,’ the house of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” Solitude?
An Oprah magazine sidebar said that nearly half of all women experience increased stress during this season. That’s probably a conservative figure—for women and men. There’s always plenty of advice. It has become an industry unto itself, but one fact has not changed: Advice is eagerly sought but rarely heeded.
One bit shows up everywhere: Get alone with yourself to find out what you really need. Travel magazines extol the benefits of “digital detox”: Leave the gadgets to find peace and recover a sense of expectancy. That’s Advent. Even science confirms our need to have periods of “psychological detachment.” That’s Advent. Experts say lack of interruptions makes a marked difference in our health. That’s Advent.
Obsessive checking of our communication devices exposes our hope that something unordinary will appear. That’s what Charlie Brown searches for and finds each time he reads: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them…good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:9-10). That’s what’s up with another Advent.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.
Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.