Big History

If you took any history classes in high school or college, especially if you are of a certain age, those classes most likely revolved around human history, or even more arrogantly, white upper class male human history. You couldn’t be blamed for thinking that nothing existed outside of the salons of Europe until we “discovered” America.

Yeah, if you’re like me, you had a brief obsession with dinosaurs. But you probably didn’t consider that history. You thought of it more as paleontology. You certainly didn’t classify the big bang as history. That was astronomy.

Yes, we are taught to put everything neatly in their own little boxes. Geology, archaeology, biology, chemistry, physics, genetics, environmental studies, psychology… each has its niche, and never the twain shall meet.

But you know, that’s kind of like studying individual trees without examining the forest. It’s like focusing on one book without ever looking up at the wonder of the library. How short sighted of us.

Thank goodness there is now an academic discipline that looks at the big picture. It’s called Big History, and instead of focusing on the 10,000 years humans have been around, it looks at time from the Big Bang to the present.

Granted, biting off a 13.8 billion year chunk of time and trying to swallow it whole is no mean feat, but in a lot of ways, it makes a great deal of sense. An interdisciplinary approach is much more three dimensional. How could one possibly study the fossil record, for example, without understanding geology? How can we ever have a grasp of the cosmos and our place within it without looking at the many causes and effects that intertwine with one another?

You can’t understand human migration without a grasp of climatology. You can’t comprehend the elements that make up life on this planet without having a sense of chemistry. It’s macrohistory, not microhistory. It looks for common themes across a variety of disciplines.

Oh, to be young and have the time and the energy and the wide-eyed innocence to be willing to rack up debt and go back to college! It’s such an amazing time to be learning. Rock on, big historians!

big-history-timeline

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The Web of Good Deeds

Recently, I was talking to someone I hadn’t talked to in ages. She is the cousin of a dear friend. She lives here in the Seattle area. When I was moving 3100 miles, I was really stressed out about my housing situation, because I was bringing my two dogs and all my stuff with me, so if I didn’t have a house lined up before I got here, I’d have been in a real fix. I couldn’t afford to fly out in advance and set this all up, so I had no idea what I was going to do.

I did find a house on line, and my friend called his cousin, and, without knowing me at all, she took the time out of her busy schedule to go and check out the house for me and take pictures, so I was comfortable enough to put down a deposit sight unseen. I couldn’t have done it without her. The whole relocation thing would have crumbled like a house of cards.

That means that all that came afterwards, my great job, my financial security for the first time in my life, my husband, my happiness… none of that would have happened were it not for her kindness to a stranger. Needless to say, I thanked her profusely. But I’m sure she doesn’t get what a significant thing that was for me.

If you look at the big picture, our entire existence can be attributed in some way to the kindness of others. I’ve had so many people throughout my life who have given me a leg up. Scholarships. Crowdfunding. Letters of recommendation. Most of the clothing I’ve worn throughout my life has been from thrift stores, made affordable only through donations by others. Most of the furniture I’ve owned has come from the side of the road. People have given me advice. Others have stood between me and violence. Untold numbers have helped me find my way when I was lost.

We all walk upon a web of good deeds that is so densely woven that it has become a tapestry. I feel certain that much of the goodness is behind the scenes. We are able to stand tall for reasons unknown and often unappreciated. This decency forms the very fabric of society.

Even in these times of great division and conflict, I genuinely believe that most of us are fundamentally good. It’s important to remember that. It’s important to appreciate it, and never forget its value.

So, thanks again Sarah, and thanks to all the others who have come before you in my life, and all the ones who will surely come after you.

Tapestry

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Keep Your Eye on the Shovel

I don’t think it’s any secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve been feeling extremely overwhelmed of late. To the point where I’ve practically been paralyzed, and am only one day ahead on this blog, which adds to my stress and… well, it has a snowball effect for sure.

I think a great deal of my problem is that I tend to be someone who looks at the big picture. You’ve heard the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Well, I am so focused on the forest that the individual trees tend to get neglected.

A friend of mine likes to say, “Keep your eye on the shovel.” Meaning, if you have an enormous mound of sh** to shift in your life, if you look up at the mound you’ll freak out because it just seems like an impossible task. So you keep your eye on the shovel. One shovel at a time, and before you know it, you look up and realize you’ve cut that mound down to a manageable size.

So my homework, against all logic and instinct, is to narrow my focus, cut down on my peripheral vision, and take things one step at a time. Therein lies sanity.

shovel