The Fungus Among Us

To date, two massive phallic morels have been the sum of my spring mushroom haul. I've come across a number of dryad saddles, but left them as I don't trust my skills at identification enough to ingest much more than morels, chickens, and bear's heads. Scanning the forest floor is soothing and demands quiet attention, relaxing my eyes and brain enough to take in the space until the shape of a mushroom forms out of the matted leaves and rotting bark. I recognize I might have better luck if I were actively looking.

When we ask children to write their stories, sometimes they refuse. Sometimes they refuse because they're tired and they've been in school all day. Sometimes they refuse because they think people will laugh at them. Sometimes they refuse because they are worried that they'll invest in their stories and people won't hear them or won't appreciate them or won't respond to them with respect and kindness. Laughter and disregard are responses they receive all too often. When we ask children to write their stories and they do, we may not like what we read. We may read that they are unhappy, poor, neglected, afraid, lonely, hungry, grieving, in need of basic comfort, in need of loving support. We may want to correct their experiences, prove that we're not like the other adults in their lives, or to ask them to tell other stories — stories that are softer for us to chew. We must resist those urges. We must hear. And then we must thank them for their stories. It may be tempting to think of the hearing and the thanking as a gift, but we must never consider them so. The hearing and the thanking are the barest possible assumption of duty. They are maybe not even more than the least we can do.

I don't think I'll ever really know if people are crueler to one another than at any other time in my life or if I've somehow just recently lost my callouses and am left only with the soft, pink, fresh, hyperconductive cells underneath. I sincerely can't decide if empathy and kindness are waning or if I am looking too hard, and going in with too many expectations. Life as a human interacting with other humans sometimes seems to be death by a thousand cuts. 

A friend once told me of his extended stay in Hawaii, about the unhurried pace and the pristine beauty. I asked him what brought him home and he said that he was close to staying but felt a gnawing urge that "the fight was going on somewhere else." To stay in paradise was to accept that he was satisfied to not lend his energy and his resources to progress. It is very, very easy to not attempt to alleviate suffering.

The fight is always going on in homes and businesses and schools and anyplace there are humans. There is struggle and suffering, some of which we must let each other sort out for ourselves and some of which can only be sorted out with support and advocates. We so often hurt each other when it wouldn't be too much harder to help each other, and even less taxing to simply do no harm. Why am I feeling it so precisely right now?

I am less and less trusting of anyone who feels certainty or speaks in absolutes. We are feeding our anger a steady diet of righteous indignation and it is growing large enough to devour us. The disparity between privilege and poverty is so vast I fear it will soon drag us in and never will a single particle of light escape it. I'm trying to always choose kindness and ascribe good intentions — trying to allow that people have suffering that's less visible to the naked eye and that it clouds their ability to alleviate the suffering of others — but it's exacting work, and slippery. Just now my kid and I watched a video called Why Dachshunds Are Awesome and a reel of Chris Pratt's bloopers and we pet the dogs and laughed a lot and then they went off to bed after a trying day of being almost 17, and I'm relieved that some parts of the world make sense again for a little while. We can be better to each other. I have to believe we might.