Brilliant Unconcern

Dearest Rachel –

Well, it’s on. I feel like I was keeping you out of the loop, dwelling on my own problems yesterday, rather than focusing on the big picture as tanks roll into Ukraine and explosions rock the country from Kharkov to Kiev, and so many unpronounceable places in between. Of course, in terms of the real ‘big picture,’ what does any of this matter to you?

From where he stood
he saw the moon
above the caliboose
Looking down
in brilliant unconcern
as all hell was breaking loose

Epitaph of “Little Joe” Blackburn (d. 1871), killed in a prison riot somewhere in Kansas

My grandmother had a book of weird epitaphs that she kept in their basement, and this was one of them. I always liked the expression ‘brilliant unconcern,’ because of course it makes no difference to the moon as to what kind of chaos is going on across that wet ball of mud it’s stuck circling for eternity. Even if it were sentient, it’s understanding of what’s going on ‘down there’ would be equivalent to our reaction upon kicking an anthill and watching its denizens scurry about.

It’s at these times I wonder, what do you and those around you make of this? Can you see what’s going on? Does it even concern you? It’s suggested to us (from the parable of Lazarus and the rich man) that you can see across the gulf, from one side of eternity to the other; do you notice as more and more camouflaged soldiers arrive on the other side? Not that I assume that all soldiers go to hell; my assumption is more based on the fact that national religions (they literally call themselves ‘Russian Orthodox’ and ‘Ukrainian Orthodox’ – when the differences between churches are based on nationality rather than doctrine, you’ve clearly lost the plot) tend to have rather, shall we say, nominal followers.

Given the lunar attitude toward our petty struggles, I would imagine the average Ukrainian – if he’s even aware of it – would be wanting to sign up for Project Artemis, or even Elon Musk’s Martian venture. Anything looks better than what’s happening on this planet, так?

And yet, if you spin the globe a few times, you’ll find plenty of us – including myself – who are relatively untouched by the events unfolding ‘over there’ (while, on the other hand, there may very well be dozens of border disputes completely unrelated to this one where people are killing and dying that we don’t even know about, because our betters have determined that they are unimportant, and thus not worthy of mention to us. Which may well be, but it begs the question as to why this one is so much more of a big deal than those others; a death is a death, no matter where, right?) Some of us are only affected insofar as prices are spiking and portfolios are dropping. There’s one morning show talking head whose sole concern toward the situation appears to be the fact that this is going to continue to cause problems for her plans to visit Italy – first the pandemic, and now this? Of course, this is the same woman who, barely a week ago, pledged to wear her mask indefinitely (despite the changes in the CDC recommendations, and while she was sitting, maskless, barely three feet from her colleagues on the show) and was spotted that same evening in a fancy restaurant without any mask. You’d think her salary was based on the number of rage tweets her words and actions generate; if so, I’d wager the network thinks she’s worth every penny they pay her.

But this time around, I wouldn’t be so hard on her. It’s hard to maintain perspective, and decide whether to be (and how much to be) concerned about something like this or not.

The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

Rick (Humphrey Bogart) to Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Casablanca, 1942

But this is our hill. And these are our beans!

Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen), The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, 1988

I don’t deny that at all sounds pretty goofy, but it’s kind of my point. No matter how wide your perspective is, at some point it still boils down to being self-centered. We can’t help it; the only perspective we have is the one with us in the center. We literally can’t see from other people’s point of view, no matter how hard we try. We can see other hills from our own, and we can assume there are so many more hills outside of our line of sight, but we only really know what’s going on atop our puny hill of beans.

My own personal concerns are certainly of no consequence in comparison to what’s going on in the Ukraine. But in a larger sense, what difference does it make in the grand sweep of history, in the entire cosmic sense, in the perspective of God and heaven, as to whether Vladimir Putin puts what he think to be ‘his’ country back together, kicking and screaming? It’s all little more than an exercise in futility, but clearly, it’s important to him. But in the end, it’s nothing more than his hill of beans.

The only problem is, he has to kick over a whole bunch of other people’s hills in order to build his own. All this, while the moon looks down, and doesn’t even shake its full round head at the triviality of the ants infesting its neighbor.

I wonder, if Artemis succeeds, whether it will start to worry.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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