Small Wonders: Isn't that us in a nutshell?

It is 4 a.m. as I write this. Awakened by God knows what at 3:30 a.m. Such is my designated writing time now.

Coffee and keyboard before me, I scan the headlines in hopes of finding something with which to coerce 800 moderately engaging words from my misty brain. And here's what I see:

Racism, bigotry, social injustice. Economic instability and disparity. Vicious, spiteful political sniping and gamesmanship. Tanking moral values. Laziness. The rich and poor both taking advantage of “the system.” War. Famine. “Fill in the blank” addictions and disorders. Child and elder abuse. Divorce and horrific custody battles. Rage.

When I tell people I write a newspaper column, their first response is usually, “I've heard of newspapers, but I had no idea they still existed.”

Then they ask what I write about. I tell them I like to find a subject, any subject, and expose some shred of hope, some kernel of goodness in it. But this gets hard during campaign, war and pestilence seasons, which are year-round now.

There is something wrong with us, something deeper than what we are seeing on the surface. I've known addicts in my life, self-destructive souls who can't stop taking others down with them. And always, every single time, the addiction is just a symptom of something else; the sign of grease belying the grime creature behind the stove after so many years of neglect.

That’s what I see when I scan the news.

The ills of society, and add what you want to my list, are just a symptom, a tragic warning of something buried so much farther down in our collective and individual DNA. It’s a species-level anomaly that goes by many names: greed, avarice, covetousness, selfishness, self-centeredness, self-absorption.

In broad strokes, it is our inability to think of others before ourselves; our all-consuming craving to get what I want first and at all costs. All of the world's ills are driven by this.

Our lives are spent in constant battle. Day by day, the waves of self-satisfaction in us crash against the jetties that keep us from attaining our political, economic, societal, spiritual and corporeal desires. This is the human condition: fighting back that current of self-absorption that threatens to sweep us away with tsunami force.

Some of us fail miserably, leading lives so vacuumed within our own needs, wants, opinions and desires. Consumed with amassing more baubles and trinkets then are ever necessary; or, forever angling to avoid self-reliance.

A few others, rarer than the most precious stones, seem to have conquered our curse. I recently saw a video online about a man who spends his life caring for — feeding, clothing and bathing — the homeless, abused, psychologically ravaged beggars in the streets of Bangalore, India. There are no more destitute places and people on this rock. And he washes their feet.

But most of us live somewhere in between those extremes, struggling daily to gratify our desires while reluctantly acquiescing to those of others; wanting to live according to some nobler, humbler call, so long as we get ours first.

Lest you think I'm ranting from some plateau of moral superiority, trust me, I’m not. This is my confession, not my charge; my admission, not my admonition. I am as guilty as the next. We could add hypocrisy to my list, for I have this public forum in which to enlighten the masses, all eight of you, yet I fall short with glorious success at acting on my own advice.

If we could fix it, cure that human malady, everything else, all those greasy symptoms, would disappear.

It’s at this point that everyone, even my closest friends, throws up their hands. “Naïve.” “Ill-informed and childish,” they'll say.

They will mock and pity me my rosy worldview, my failure to understand the inner workings of the world as well as they do.

Let them. They may be right.

But they also prove my point.

Maybe the protesters have it right. They may be a band of scattered, misguided opportunists who lack focus and a cohesive message. But isn't that us in a nutshell?

Varying points of view occupying Wall Street, city hall, the Tundra and Main Street? They rally and rage against Big Business, millionaire CEOs, CFOs and LMAOs. But deeper still, I think, they rage against what drives us to be so self-serving before human-serving.

I would argue they are really protesting this thing in ourselves that deflects us from the greater good we are truly designed for.

While we occupy the streets, maybe we should try to occupy ourselves, too. Occupy that tiny part that knows we're greedy, selfish creatures, and fight against that.

Or maybe it's just me.

PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the book “Crooked Little Birdhouse.” Friend him on Facebook. Read more at Contact him at

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World