While I'm standing in the Kroger checkout line, the magazine headlines bring me up to date on the issues of the day: "Jessica and Justin's Marriage Crumbling!"; "OJ's Life in Danger!"; "50 Hot Sex Moves You Must Learn!"; and "Get a Great Beach Body in 30 Days!"
We are, all of us, assaulted by messaging during most of our waking hours — via billboards, radio and television, the internet, and newspapers and magazines. Most of it is trivial, mental chaff, designed to catch our attention and sell us something. And millions of people fall for it. They are sucked into caring about the problems of the rich and famous, about the quality of their "beach bodies," or about learning the mysterious sex moves that will bring them the person of their dreams.
It's difficult to separate the incessant white noise from what really matters. It's easy to get distracted, to let little things consume us. The garbage disposal backs up; the cat pees on the rug; that stupid guy in the comment thread just keeps arguing; your teenager "borrows" your phone charger. You get angry, or at least irritated. You stomp around for a few minutes, then, if you're lucky, you take a deep breath and chill. You deal with the problem. You get some perspective: Life is short. Get over it. Move on.
Two men in Florida get in an argument over texting during the previews of a movie. Popcorn gets thrown. One of the men is a "good guy with a gun," a 71-year-old Viet Nam vet, packing, no doubt, so he could help prevent a mass shooting in the theater. Unfortunately, this good guy loses his temper, pulls out his good gun, and kills the other man who, by all accounts, wasn't a bad guy, just rude.
Of course, this happened in Florida, and the victim wasn't wearing a hoodie, so the good guy could spend the rest of his days in prison — because he got irritated about someone texting in a movie theater — unless it's ruled he was merely "standing his ground." It was in Florida, after all.
I have a friend who got a diagnosis of stage-four cancer during the holidays. Her future is uncertain. She lives in another city and is keeping an online journal chronicling her days — the tests, the biopsies, the pain, the doctors, the hospital culture, and the fear of not seeing her children grow up. I read it, breathe deep, and take some time to send her good thoughts.
And I thank her for reminding me how important it is to pay attention to what matters — and to let the chaff blow away.
In the 14 years I've been the Flyer editor, I've gotten lots of hate mail. It mostly used to come in envelopes filled with pages of scrawled handwriting. I read them and put them in the wastebasket, chalking it up as a natural by-product of writing for a liberal paper in the conservative South. Lately, the angry folks have switched to email, and it comes in waves ...