What Can You Do About…the Way the World Is Changing?
It’s not that I don’t see the genius click bait laid out for me. I understand, dear marketers, that you’re revealing “a top secret trick,” that “I won’t be able to believe” what happened next, and that your story will “make me cry.”
Regretfully, however, I just don’t have time for side-clicking on each of the 11 things I must know about walnuts.
You see, my own little life is a messy, beautiful handful in and of itself. I have these kids I’m trying to keep alive. A real, adult job (with a paycheck and everything). Emails to answer. And super important posts of people’s kittens to like.
So, no offense, sweet reporters. Your news-ish headlines can do all the backbends and triple axles they want. I’m a scroll and roll girl.
There was this one time, in 2011, when I got royally stuck on a passing news story.
Not just stuck on it. Derailed by it. Diverted down a slippery internet wormhole, stumbling from one post to the next in search of All the Information.
Two hours later, I emerged from the Google void just a tiny bit embarrassed by the level of expertise I’d acquired about the life and death of an obscure stranger from Sydney, Australia.
The woman’s name was Natalie. She was born in 1924. And as a child, she’d grown up on 139 Kippax Street along with her brother and their parents, Phyllis and Herbert. After a short-lived marriage to a seaman, Natalie’d returned to this house. And this is the house where she was still living on the day she died.
But this is where the story gets fuzzy.
In July of 2011, police officers were sent to 139 Kippax Street to conduct a welfare check at the request of a distant relative. When no one came to the door, they let themselves into the fully furnished older home. As the officers moved about in silence, it seemed obvious the place was empty. Dusty. Decaying. Maybe mostly abandoned by an elderly resident who’d gone to live with relatives?
That’s when an officer’s eye caught sight of something peculiar lying on the floor by a bed. It was Natalie’s skeleton. Along with her dentures.
An investigation followed.
It was determined that although Natalie’s body was discovered a month before her 87th birthday, she had actually been dead for nearly eight years.
There were clues everywhere. The food in Natalie’s kitchen was all long since expired. The last confirmed banking transaction she made was in December of 2003. The city water department hadn’t been paid, nor had anyone withdrawn Natalie’s pension in years. A tree branch was even expanding into one of the upstairs bedrooms.
But the clues weren’t enough. Natalie’s body lay there undiscovered so long that animals had even gnawed on her bones.
Lord have mercy.
My reaction to Natalie’s story, of course, produced a healthy mix of spine shivers and goose bumps. Hairs stood on end for days in a row. My mind reeled, not even sure which reaction to feel first.
What’s so troubling? That this dear soul expired alone? Well, yes, that’s part of it. But it’s not all of it, is it? The real lead weight is that even though Natalie lived in the same neighborhood for decades, not a single person noticed or came looking for her when she died.
As I tried to rationalize this feeling away, I of course nobly rushed to judgment. Those Australians. So callous. So caught up in themselves. No time for MY new dear friend, Natalie.
Until I googled a bit more and discovered that this sort of thing happens fairly often. London. France. Oh and in my home state of Michigan. You can even read some click bait headlines about it.
As I took all this in on that day in 2011, though, I couldn’t say it was entirely surprising.
We all know the world is changing, that community life plays out differently now than it did a generation ago.
That people don’t spend as much time sitting on their front porches. That kids spend more time inside playing video games. That big box stores with 329 brands of toothpaste beat out the little corner stores owned by locals. That most people on the elevator nowadays look down at their smart phones instead of chatting about the weather.
Just the year before I discovered Natalie’s story, the Pew Research Center found 28% of Americans didn’t know any of their neighbors by name.
But despite our misgivings about today’s world, our concerns are usually eventually drowned out by the demands of daily life. We’ve got multi-tasking to get on with and to-do lists to check off. We’re scrolling and rolling.
Sure, we have these moments of micro-awareness now and then. Fleeting suspicion that we might not be living life fully; that maybe we’ve lost something of quality along the way; that connectedness might be slipping through our texting, tweeting fingers.
Are new advancements/social norms serving us well? Are we really more connected with all this technology or are we somehow less connected? What good have we sacrificed? What price are we paying? If we don’t like the ride we’re on, how do we get off?
But most of the time, if you’re anything like me, these questions die off just as quickly as they arose. They hold our attention, inspire a moment of two of worry before we fall asleep perhaps. But inevitably they get swallowed up by the next day’s obligations–folding clothes, getting hair cuts, filling up the car, pulling weeds or shoveling snow.
Then a story like Natalie’s comes along that, at least for me, creates a disruption.
Therapists call events like this pattern interruptions–events that are so good or bad they shock us out of our routines. They cause us to re-evaluate the way we’re living.
A Natalie story–or an equally disturbing story about terrorism, mass shootings, police abuse, or sexual assault–has a way of re-focusing us onto what matters.
I don’t know about you, but lately, it seems like I’m seeing more and more of these sorts of stories.
An opioid epidemic. Refugee bans. Polarization over kneeling during the national anthem. Supremacists marching on Charlottesville. The LasVegas concert massacre. The Texas church shooting. A president taunting a North Korean dictator about who has the bigger nuclear button.
And with each story, we ask ourselves: Did we, somewhere along the way, venture off course? What can we do to steer a new path? How can we foster (and maybe recover) a more connected way of living?
Today, I’m re-opening this blog to, among other things, celebrate pattern interruption. To find hope and gratitude in the opportunity to learn from these jarring stories that demand our attention…and to keep raising important, course-altering questions. I want to underline that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. And I want to use these jarring stories as fuel to bring about a better world.
One of the recurring themes on this site, then, will be to dig into these sorts of soul-sifting news stories–the kind we want to ignore because they’re so bound up with scary truth. And to be thoughtful about what we might do, individually and together, to steer a new course. I hope you’ll join me in the journey.