On the flight back from New York City, I watched a very smart lady give a very boring talk about how to feed the world. But one thought was interesting enough to stick with me: At no other time in history have so few been responsible for feeding so many.
On Sunday, my friend Andy said something else that’s stayed with me: Throughout most of human history people have spent most of their time putting food on the table, clothes on their back and a roof over their head.
While I was at the American Museum of Natural History last week, I saw a film about space. It was projected above us on a dome ceiling. The film began by talking about the earth and how the moon was created from a collision. Then the “camera” zoomed out slowly to show the vast sea of darkness our marble of a planet is floating in. It zoomed out farther and farther until the dots above us were no longer stars but entire galaxies the size of our own. Robert Redford’s voice told us how far our galaxy is from its nearest neighbor.
Small isn’t the word for how I felt. I felt insignificant. At the same time I felt afraid of God, of his magnitude, the scope of his knowledge, the size of his hands.
I imagined myself stepping out of a tent three thousand years ago to spend my day meeting three basic needs. My to-do list would have been succinct: Get food, find shelter, make clothes. I wonder if spending every day standing between my family and death would have made me stand a little taller – though still humbly – under the sky each night, knowing that I’d played an important part in the day’s creation.
Then there’s me.
At no other time in history have so few been responsible for feeding so many. Someone else made the tools that someone else used to plant the seeds that someone else harvested and someone else took to market and someone else purchased and processed and someone else packaged and someone else put on the shelf for me to simply choose and pay for. I feed my entire family by driving to a store. And I only do this once a week. I prepare that food for them by pushing a handful of buttons on a stove or microwave and waiting a few minutes.
Buying clothes is even easier. Again, someone did all the work: harvested the materials, processed them into textiles and thread, sewed them together and put them on a rounder at the mall. Or, in a warehouse somewhere that I “shop” by clicking a mouse. I could clothe my entire family without leaving my laptop. And, if I wanted to, I could do this only once a year or even more seldom.
And shelter? More expensive than food and clothing, sure, but just as easy to “make.” I can put a roof over my family, and walls around them too, in a few minutes to a few days. Motels, hotels, RVs, mobile homes, apartments, condos, houses – there’s no shortage of shelter readymade for us to choose from.
Amazingly, I woke up this morning with every one of these basic needs totally met: food, clothing, roof. Before the day even began I was already unnecessary to its completion. No wonder the sky scares me. It’s a reminder of how pointless we really are these days.
Don’t feel that way? I dare you to face Robert Redford and his little film while holding your to do list. Stare up at the cosmos and shout out the goals of your day with all the enthusiasm you think they deserve: Pick up dry cleaning! Buy cat food and bread! Call mom! Turn in TPS report! Softball practice!… and feel the stars’ laughter.
At no other time in history have other people been so capable of meeting my needs for me. Strangers are doing all my life-alteringly significant chores and leaving me with nothing to do but wake up every day and simply ask “What do I want to do?”
You and I have more time than anyone has ever had. More education. More money too. So now what? What will today be about? And how will it make us feel when we stand under the stars?