Treading Lightly and Changing the World

Treading Lightly and Changing the World

I have been having an internal debate lately. Here are the two arguments:

  1. Treading lightly: I love the idea of not taking up unnecessary space. Of letting nature be. Of not filling even the virtual world with my picture duplicates and papers from college. Of giving people the room to think and ask questions and feel comfortable and dance. Of treading lightly on this earthly journey of mine, and not disturbing what is already so good.
  2. Making a difference: Both in the world and in Christian tradition, we want to leave our mark. Most people would say that they want to be remembered. In the Church, we want to bring light to the darkness. We are co-creators. We take trees and we build houses, stone and we build cathedrals, gametes and we build persons. We want to change the world for the better.

As I write this, I realize that the two thoughts are not necessarily contradictory. I grew up in a family of boy scouts and one thing that really stuck with me is “leaving no trace”: every place you visit in nature should appear untouched upon your departure, or even better than it was when you first arrived. We made sure to pick up after ourselves and after those who came before us. When I first thought of that lesson, I thought it fell under the “tread lightly” camp. But we don’t just “leave no trace” of our presence, we pick up the litter of others as well. And so, we do leave a trace, in a way, by making it better.

The problem arises because we all disagree on what is better. Would it have been better for Europeans to have stayed in Europe and not colonized the Americas, unknowingly wreaking havoc through the spread of disease, and sometimes intentionally destroying through slavery, violence, and racism? Or is it good that many local traditions were fairly supplanted by the newcomers own culture, language and religion? Should we have fewer children and instead adopt those who need loving homes? Or is each person such a wonderful, marvelous entity that an attitude of “the more, the merrier” is appropriate? I’m not here to debate. In fact, I am very over that. But do enjoy a good ponder, and a healthy dose self-reflection.

I appreciate the trend of minimalism, as I strive to practice it. Living clutter-free, or as close to clutter-free as possible in America with a toddler and an infant, helps keep me sane. I remember as a kid trying to get my mom to sit down with us and just watch a movie, as she repeatedly got up to clean something, and I am now that mom. It isn’t because we are masochists, but because, as moms, our home is our kingdom. We are in charge. And when that which you care for is in dissaray, it is hard to think about anything else! The adage is true that an exterior orderliness reflects an interior orderliness – and, for me, and exterior chaos creates an internal chaos! So I keep our home simple. I started with clothes – keeping what we wear, what we love, and what we need, and getting rid of the rest. I’ve Marie Kondo-ed my kitchen cabinets, our medicine cabinet, our linens, and our sports equipment. I am an adrenaline junkie and this is my high: having space to not be distracted, to sit and relax or to dance to the Moana soundtrack for the 10,000th time. I have started to try to carry this clutter-free environment with me wherever I go. I keep in my car only what I use. I’ve deleted old files on my computer, unstarred what I thought at the time were important emails I will never look at again. And in my activities, I like to just be. I don’t want to do crafts that I will make and not use. I cook. I garden. I read. I watch my children grow and explore. I hold my husband’s hand. I’m seeking the best of both worlds: appreciating and respecting and transforming to help something become more of what it is, and what it can and ought to be.

I don’t want to make the world a messier place, but I also don’t want to think that it’s all on me to perfect the world, either. I want to tread lightly, and I want to bring light to the darkness. I want to harvest a dirty, gnarled root and turn it into a beautiful, delicious meal to nourish the bodies and spirits of those I love. I want to be changed by the beauty around me. I want to soak it in.  And I want to cooperate with that which is good around me to bring out the best in everyone and everything.

I want to be salt. Too much salt kills a dish. Too little does nothing. The right amount allows the flavor of the food to shine forth, while it steps silently into the background.

Beauty Will Save the World

Beauty Will Save the World

Reading this article by Humane Pursuits, and recent conversations with my self-employed motion designer husband have emboldened me to call myself and others to action: As Catholics, I firmly believe that we have to step up our game in the realm of beauty.

I know that I personally overvalue efficiency – why would I spend more on something when I can get something that works just as well for less? Because beauty will save the world. My husband works in beauty, in creating. My dependence on the success of his business has opened my eyes to the negative effects of my own short-term, function-oriented vision. If someone is willing to do a job he is trying to get for half the price and half the quality, many clients go with the cheaper. And who suffers, besides my family obviously? I would argue: everyone. Their company suffers, because even if they can’t really tell the difference between the two styles of product, the audience will notice that one has the it factor, and the other doesn’t. And the world suffers. It tells artists to stop making beautiful work because it is not wanted. No one shares crappy commercials on Facebook. But some of the most watched videos on YouTube are commercials that touch our hearts, inspire something within us, call us to something greater. Obviously, we need to be practical and prudent, but I would argue that beauty is a factor as important in our decision-making as function and cost. Otherwise, we begin to use and abuse things without orienting them to God, and we are tempted to begin to use people as well.