The Magnifying Glass
I have this theory that the problems of our lives expand to fill our attention. Whatever the scale of the problem–how to pay the bills, or grade a pile of papers, or manage the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, or clear out a house to sell, or medicate a child’s fever–we focus our energies on that problem and try to solve it. The nitty-gritty problems of our lives fill up our concentration and our hours, like ants under the lens of a magnifying glass. They give us purpose, and make us feel competent when we solve them. When we can’t solve them, we feel troubled.
There’s danger in this for a writer like me who works at home, where the matter of daily life is A) what’s in my head, and B) what’s in my sightline. I need to leave my house sometimes to be part of the world, listen to NPR, read the headlines, and otherwise actively remind myself to engage. Otherwise, my life would be focused exclusively on the trivial and unimportant, but I would never know because those small worries would expand, masquerading as worthy. Thoreau would say such a narrow focus is valid; he devoted pages to the observation of ants and beans growing in a field. But is it enough for me?
Here’s what I’m focused on today: sick people in my family need tender care as they recover. I want to find new ways to demonstrate my love for my family without purchasing goods to prove it. I have a short but time-intensive writing piece nearly complete. I feel helpless to do anything useful for a friend of mine whose husband recently died. I’m grateful that I was invited to sing carols at a retirement home tonight.
It’s a narrow focus, but Thoreau was right. It is enough for now. I hope to expand it in the future.