One commodity reused in Tucson on a scale probably unparalleled anywhere else in the world is books. There are dozens of second-hand bookstores in our city, big ones like Bookmans, lots of smaller ones like the Book Stop on 4th. There’s the Friends of the Pima County Library, who resell books from library surplus as well as private donations at their warehouse on Country Club and Lowell. And there are the sales at the libraries themselves, at one of which I happened upon the Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White.
“Maggie”, as she was called by her friends, rose to eminence covering the Great Depression. The very first issue of Life Magazine featured her work on the cover. She became the first female American war photojournalist during World War II. She photographed just about all the Great people of her era and countless of the smaller ones.
Among the latter is a 1936 picture of a Tennessee farmer plowing a steep hillside. He is quoted as saying : “There’s lots of things easier to do, and pay more money, but plowing the land and harvesting the crops gives a man something that satisfies him as long as he lives“.
This kind of deep contentment with life has become rather rare. The circle has been broken indeed. It has become a line hurrying away from the past toward the horizon, beyond which we expect our reward. We defer happiness to a time in which we do not have to obey the summons of the alarm clock. The farmer’s plot is now plowed and harvested by immense machines that can do more work in an hour than 10 men in a day. Machines that know not of satisfaction. And the lone driver clocks out at five, another day closer to retirement, and knows not of it either.
Life in an industrial society splits us up into how we wish to be and how we actually are and so prevents us from feeling whole, like that Tennessee farmer. We try to fill the gap with passing enjoyments, around which enormous industries have developed, but the distraction is temporary and the nagging feeling of not being quite oneself returns as soon as it is over. The obvious course then is to seek more distractions, which is why those industries could become so big and are getting bigger still.
There is a line in that ancient book of wisdom, the I Ching, which states that when plowing, the farmer does not think of the harvest. In other words, his thoughts do not wander beyond what he is in fact doing. We, on the other hand, always keep our eye on the clock, biding the moment we can leave the cubicle.
We are always thinking of the next thing, writing little scenarios in our minds on how it is going to be instead of minding what is. This is, for example, why we leave the faucet running while we brush our teeth. This is not a trivial example; the one gallon you waste while thinking about the job interview is multiplied by the thousands doing the same thing at the same time. A lot of little things add up to a lot.
But minding the faucet during the morning ablutions is not just a way to save some water. It is an effective cure for the inner division that has taken the place of inner satisfaction. It is a way to learn to shift the mind away from expectations of the future and regrets of the past, from fears, hopes, ambitions, all the things that are in effect not real, not true. The only truth is the present.
Be. Here. Now.
The Weekly Green airs on Monday 5:55 PM, Tuesday 4:55 AM, Wednesday 9:55 AM & 5:55 PM, Thursday 7:55 PM and Saturday 9:55 AM. First airing is usually at 10 am on Wednesday.