Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 30, 2003
God sees the little sparrow fall
But our society gleefully blinds itself with wanton greed
By SUZANNE ELSTON
In order to pay for my annoying writing habit, I have a real job that takes me into Toronto four days a week. I ride the GO Train like a responsible environmentalist/commuter into Union Station. From there, I take a brisk walk up Bay Street to the office where I work behind the Eaton Centre.
Thanks to the recent warm weather, the sidewalks were particularly crowded on Monday morning so I decided to take a shortcut up and over a small grassed area in front of Old City Hall. The area is elevated about a foot or so above the sidewalk and it's surrounded by a knee-high stone wall.
I jumped up to clear the wall, and in the process lost my footing and went sprawling face first onto the grass. My briefcase tumbled in one direction; my coffee cup went in another, while the contents of my purse rolled out onto the grass like dice in a craps game.
As I tumbled toward embarrassment, a strange sound went up from the several hundred pedestrians walking on the sidewalk beside me. Like spectators at a championship golf game watching a long putt miss the pocket, an audible "Aw," rippled through the crowd.
What was so fascinating about this reaction is that no one stopped (or even slowed down) to see if I was all right. Like a school of fish, they shifted their position in the morning sun and continued swimming along the sidewalk.
Unhurt, I was shaking my head in amazement when I heard a woman's voice behind me ask, "Are you okay?" I looked over my shoulder to see a homeless woman, still wrapped in newspapers and old blankets from the night before. Her genuine concern brought the tears to my eyes that the fall could not.
The more that I thought about it, the more saddened I became. In a world of such affluence and comfort, only a person without either of these things could show any compassion. The rest are so wrapped up in their comfort that pain, like the bums that they walk over on their way to work, becomes invisible.
And it's not just the pain of others that they cannot see. Most of us are so driven to avoid our own pain and discomfort that we're literally destroying the planet. If global warming makes us uncomfortable, we just crank up the air conditioner. If we cannot stand the silence of our own company, we buy bigger and better sound systems for our homes and our cars.
If we cannot stand the mediocrity of our own lives, we buy DVD players so we can watch the imaginary lives of others and live out our fantasies through the glory of Reality TV. If we feel vulnerable on our overcrowded highways and by-ways, we simply buy a bigger, tougher car. What else could possibly explain why urban dwellers are investing in Hummers and luxury pick-up trucks?
We live in a world where the one with the most toys at the end wins, and the price for all those toys is far too high. A mere 20 per cent of the world's population consumes 86 per cent of the world's resources, and even that's not enough to make us happy.
We are working longer, harder and smarter to accomplish more and more each day, and yet this doesn't bring us anything more than second mortgages and credit card debt.
We are victims, too: victims of our own desire.
Recommended website: Humble pie is a great way to get a little perspective on life. Try viewing the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth and then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Fla. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons. Humbling, to say the least. Go to http://micro.magnet.fsu.edu/primer/java/scienceopticsu/powersof10/.
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