This past week I was confronted in a very real way with a challenge that runs throughout my new book, Beyond the Comma: how to integrate deeply personal responsibilities with the broadly public obligations of good citizenship. For me, this dilemma arose in a way that will not shatter social norms, alter the course of history or make headlines in the media, but I share it as a reminder that we are all confronted, in ways great and small, with choices that shape our humanity, both as individuals and as a society.

Since June, I have written a weekly blog and posted it on my web site. My motivation has been to maintain relationships with friends and colleagues with whom I have been communicating through the years. As an aside, it has been a consistent source of unexpected joy to have a person with whom I haven’t been in touch for an extended time, tell me that they appreciated something I had recently posted. It has also been a delight to know that these posts are actually read and therefore may have a positive impact on people I care about and, in some small way, on the world we live in. Now that I am retired, accountability for this task is self-imposed, but I understand the importance of regular postings in order to nurture an audience in a sustained way. So, I undertake this discipline with great seriousness.

But last week was Thanksgiving and I had committed to being chief cook for my family, who would gather at our place for the holiday. There was not time to do both; I had to choose. I chose the turkey.

Preparing dinner was a true diversion and the meal was heartily received. It was a joy to be engaged with a task so completely different from my day-to-day routine. Meanwhile, headlines continued to assault us with ongoing chaos out of Washington, the horrific attack on a Sufi mosque in Egypt, and incidents of sexual misconduct ricocheting across the political and cultural landscape.

I wondered if my choice was correct–cooking for my family over maintaining my weekly schedule of posting messages that may, in some small way, bring a deeper sense of humanity to our beleaguered world. No doubt, this is a choice confronted by each of us, to a greater or lesser degree, every day. My conclusion, as witnessed in the wide eyes and grateful expressions of family members, suggested that I chose wisely.

The claim I make in my book is especially relevant in this Thanksgiving season: while it is important that we are actively engaged in easing systemic conditions that exclude the stranger, leave the lonely feeling abandoned and the marginalized without hope, it is also important to pause (comma) and focus on what is close. Only by balancing energy, imagination and love for both our private and public lives can we be truly human and truly whole. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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