Saturday, December 29, 2007


Maybe I’m easily annoyed (okay, I know I’m easily annoyed). But, in the sea of pet peeves, I think a new one has finally taken sole control of number 1: people talking on their cell phones in public places.

Like, oh, trains. Let me contextualize it for you. The woman ahead of me is talking on her phone, and not only does she seem oblivious to other people sitting next to her (and, thus, she’s talking as if her talking partner is deaf), but she is apparently catching up on conversation she’s neglected to have for several years. This person is someone in her family, someone she will see in less than an hour when she gets off the train (I know this because of the aforementioned decibel level of her voice). But, thank God for cellphones, because now she can talk to her heart’s content. I mean, I figured since we were in the nowhere border land between Arkansas and Texas, there would be no cell phone service. No such luck.

I don’t think I can imagine something more insensitive and rude than this recent pastime. Cell phones are beautiful pieces of technology (for the most part), connecting us to others instantly in ways never before imagined. It’s not enough, however, that we can talk to virtually anybody, but we must do so at any time we damn well please. On the bus, in the car, in the waiting room, wherever. Whenever. It doesn’t matter who is around us, or how loud we are, or how long we talk. The world is our phone booth.

There are calls we must take, I understand. And I love how my cell phone can connect me to so many people. But sometimes I long for the time when people had to be in a phone booth or specific room in their house in order to talk on the phone – probably with a door that closes, since many cellphone-istas seem to not care at all about privacy, and talk as if nobody can hear them.

I can hear you. And it’s annoying.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Subtle Beauty of the Positive

The amazing popularity of the “health and wealth” gospel, evidenced by the continuing appearance of books on the shelf by mega-church preachers (like Joel Osteen), is troubling, to say the least. This perverted good news is that good things will come to us, if only we have enough faith. The more we trust in God and have faith, then the more we will do well in this life. It's as simple as that. Perhaps the most heretical aspect of this sort of God-talk is that the assumption that the reverse is also true – the rich and successful people in the world are that way because God has specifically blessed them, and, thus, poor people are poor for the exact same reason.

No, I’m not a fan of the “prosperity” gospel. But, I want to give a shoutout to the people who are positive in this life. Currently, I am typing this as my train speeds through the snow-covered countryside of northwestern Illinois. The sun just set, and that glow of red is reminding us of its recent departure. I’m at a table with a huge window overlooking it all. It’s beautiful.

You wouldn’t have guessed that, however, if you were listening to the conversations of people around me. The people sitting across from me have begun the popular ritual of strangers on trains – complaining. At least, this is how it seems to me. For the past hour, they have connected on a human level by pointing out all the ways in which this train is horrible, train travel in general is horrible, the snow sucks, their life sucks, and how much it will suck when they arrive at their station late (a common feature of riding on Amtrak in the US). Now, I could easily relate to some of their complaints (especially the snow one), but I just don’t have the energy. I’m finding positivism to be much more life-giving.

A recent report in Newsweek commented on the overwhelming optimism of people in Afghanistan, six years after their country was bombed mercilessly in payment for 3,000 lives on 9/11. A recent poll found that close to 80% of people are “optimistic about their future.” Eighty percent. If that was a report of the USA, the most obscenely rich superpower in human history, I would assume it was a joke article in The Onion. There’s no way we’d be that optimistic. But here’s Afghanistan, where life has probably not gotten that much better, especially with the resurgence of the Taliban, and its people continue to believe in a better future. That is nothing short of inspiring. And it makes the grumbling I hear next to me all the more annoying.

Of course, it’s easy to go to the other end, and be naïve and blind-eyed optimists. That’s not a solution in our broken world, either. At least these people are being honest. And, I recognize my own extremely limited patience with the people next to me. I am, conveniently, complaining about people who complain. I need to practice what I preach.

But, still. Get over it, people. Let’s work on finding the good in situations, and maybe more good will come of it. It’s worth a try.