One day, back when I worked as a nurse, we were perilously understaffed. Alone for a moment, aware of six things I needed to do right then—administer medication, change a dressing, hang an IV—I began to cry. Another nurse came into the room. I apologized for my tears. She said, "I think you're the only one responding appropriately."

I think of that often these days.

Between the daily reports of fresh terrorist attacks, the signs on school doors banning guns—schools where the students come up to our hip, the food we aren't sure is safe to eat, the planet we aren't sure we can save, and the unfulfilling hours we spend mired in Internet quicksand, it seems the world has stepped off a cliff. So many of us already suffer from deep sorrow, wrenching nerves, dark nights (and days) of the soul. The rest of it only makes things worse.

Then there are the subacute problems unique to the female sex that eat away from the inside: A new mother sits in a corporate bathroom stall pumping breast milk, longing for her fuzzy-haired baby. A woman stares at a magazine model, berating her own butt or belly or nose or hair with a vitriol she would never show anyone else. As enlightened as we strive to be, it seems nearly all of us are suckers for the widespread message that what makes us really beautiful—our intelligence, compassion, sense of humor, kindness—barely matters.

One wonders: Are those of us not already anxious or depressed headed that way as a result of living in this corrosive culture? And is the culture making it ever more difficult for the truly ill to heal? Maybe all of us are only behaving appropriately, getting sick when so much around us is toxic.

I have a little dream that one day we will decide this is not the way to be. That we will think about how we are a species with enviable minds and hearts more good than bad. That we will realize our lives are short at the longest, and that the big gifts are the sun and moon and the love we can give to as many as will accept it. That we have the raw materials to fix this mess.

Perhaps then we will live in a world that makes sense and feels good and makes us eager to get out of bed. And perhaps those who are depressed, anxious, and struggling won't be doubly handicapped by a culture asking what's wrong with them rather than asking that question of itself.


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