In between columns about birds and butterflies, I actually think about my role as a columnist. Perhaps it is because I am a preacher by profession and recognize there is a vast difference between what I do in the pulpit and what I am invited to do here.
In a 2017 blog for the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, humor columnist Gina Barreca was quoted giving her peers this advice: “You occupy the role and your voice might be heard because it’s sharper, funnier, quicker or more recognizable, but the point is to help others find their own voices and versions of events. You’re not there to have the last word or the best solution; you’re there to open up the conversation.”
I confess that as a columnist, and as a preacher, there is an embedded desire to be an influencer. Yet if I am driven primarily by that desire it will bleed through my work and most people will immediately shy away. It is a matter of trust. Can the reader trust that a columnist is first and foremost guided by the desire to serve the reader with an insight, idea, query, or wonderment that might nurture or empower their own journey of thought? Or does it feel like there is a barb of shame if what the writer proclaims is rejected?
These are fraught and disorienting times. Polarization and the intense 24/7 mirror held up to our faces each day, infuses everything with an urgent warning. Actual life is slower and more plodding than the news cycle leads us to perceive. Maybe that’s why I often take my cue from the non-human world. For example, the problematic wood chuck and voles that are wreaking havoc in our garden didn’t appear all of a sudden and the solution (short of shooting them) will unfold slowly as well. In the process of observing these vermin and our own reactions to them, there is something to be learned about each.
If my reflecting on an experience with the natural world causes you to reflect on your own experience, then that is a success. If inviting you to reflect on your experiences with an open heart and mind, provokes you to be surprised that something you had presumed actually turns out not to be true, then that is also a success. Many of us are knee-jerk Liberals or Conservatives, and we come at the world with a lot of mental default settings that may no longer be helpful or true. Engaging in thoughtful reflection on personal and shared experience, may soften our polarization.
My sharing a reflection with you may invite your own, and who knows where that will lead? An open heart and mind is risky business but anything else is just plain hazardous.
By the way, I have been observing squirrels in our yard this past week. All around Solar Village actually. This is new because Solar Village is new. All the trees are young or even seedlings. The most mature gardens are only two years old. Previously the squirrels stayed over on the other side of the tracks where there is a lush canopy of trees. What brings them over into an open area where the neighborhood hawk might grab them? I don’t know the answer yet but they are a clue that something in our environment is changing. I’ll be watching.