There Is Big And There Is Small


Here's the big:

On Wednesday morning at 2:12 a.m. a light was detected by NASA's Swift satellite orbiting the earth. An aging star, in a previously unknown galaxy, exploded in a gamma ray burst 7.5 billion light years away. "The burst -- which occurred when the universe was about half its current age -- was bright enough to be seen without a telescope." This quote is scary. One light year is 5.9 trillion miles. It has taken half the universe's life for that light to reach a tiny planet in The Milky Way -- Us.

Just how big is the universe, anyway? And how old? And is it really expanding ever more and more rapidly? Is it within the human brain's power to comprehend? History's greatest minds have struggled with the question.

Here's something very small:

On this tiny planet in a rather insignificant galaxy in the vast universe, there is a history of small-minded humans who assume their vast importance and defend to the death their version of reality. These individuals generally form into groups of like-minded others in order to give a stamp of approval to their thoughts and actions. The whole becomes far greater than the value of the individual parts, just as a ball of twine grows increasingly larger as individual strands are added. Sometimes the group has ties of blood. Sometimes only fierce emotion links the mob together. The consistent ingredients are a willing suspension of reason, logic, and compassion combined with a stubborn refusal to consider any point of view that challenges those they desperately hold.

Some rather legendary and memorable instances:

Remember the Montagues and the Capulets? Each of these strong-minded families set in motion a set of circumstances that resulted in one of histories most tragic outcomes, at least as portrayed in fiction by William Shakespeare.

You want real?

How about the Hatfield and McCoy feud deep in the West Virginia and Kentucky mountains around the turn of the century? There was a lot of killing. One assumes that eventually the blood lust was satisfied. To what great benefit to society, one wonders?

Ever hear of the Pleasant Valley War back in the late 1800s here in Arizona? Two families were completely wiped out for the most part. No doubt there was some satisfaction in the last dying breath of a Tewksbury or a Graham when there were simply no more left to kill. No national holidays, though, or monuments carved into the sides of a mountain.

It would be fine if we could simply stand back and allow these little dust devils to play out their brief moment of self-consumption. We don't, of course. Like voyeurs at a NASCAR race, we hope for the crashes and cheer them. The smaller our lives, the more we draw upon vicarious infusions of excitement.

Why is this on my mind? Because in my brief few years living here in the small town of Payson, I have been amazed and saddened to observe that the "dust devil" effect is alive and well even here. In only my four years here, I have seen divisions so strong that an entire community decided to go its own way, and others are considering it. I don't think it has been to their benefit, at least as yet, but I have no doubt as to the satisfaction among the rebels.

I have seen the rise and fall of a progressive-minded mayor who paid the price for pushing progress over personalities. I have heard the strong grumbling from some now stripped of opportunity to serve in order to make way for "new blood." I hear the gloating, the animosity, the chest beating and self-congratulations of the "victors." I hear these things couched in visceral personal vindications.

What I don't hear and haven't heard is a rational, thoughtful examination of what is truly needed to rally and unify this small town to achieve what can be a grand destiny. I hear no unified vision, see no real master plan, no popular initiative. Bits and pieces come forth and fight their lonely battles as independent units. To date there has not been an individual or group strong or charismatic enough to mold a consensus and lead a great crusade.

I truly wish the new mayor and city council members well. "The people" have spoken. Perhaps a new wave of civic pride will emerge. There is no place for second guessing or recrimination. There is only a choice: the people who live in our small town can choose to make history or succumb to it. We can kill each other off or find some common ground and leave a great legacy to our heirs.

We can be big or small. It's our choice and the future will note how we chose.

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