My, how things have changed

There was a smattering of snow overnight and it still lingers in the shadows, though the day started sunny and remains so. This is a good thing because I am recovering from a stomach flu and need all the cheerfulness I can find. I am not the only one sick. Ray is still wrapped in misery with a down comforter to cheer him, and my neighbor (also recovering) reports that it's been sweeping through families all over town. Maybe that explains the empty supermarket this morning.

From my prone position on the couch I've spent the last few days perusing various news sites on my iPad, and visiting Facebook and Twitter, hoping for sparkling wit or encompassing wisdom—or anything that would lift the cloud of illness, however briefly.

I studied photographs of #thedress and decided I saw it as white. I read far too many reports of our Congress as it made a fool of itself (again) over funding the Office of Homeland Security. I mulled the use of "homeland" and wondered (again) why Bush and his minions thought using an old Nazi catchword was a good idea. I played Sudoku and Words with Friends. I watched cat videos, read about Netanyahu's speech and other nonsense, and wondered if Boris Nemtsov's murder in Moscow would be honestly investigated.

At the end of it, bored and troubled, I rose from my couch and went to the bookshelf where I took down a book of essays by E. B. White. I read two. One written in 1941 and one during the election of 1956. White's clear prose has always inspired me, and his humanity suffuses every phrase. But I knew that when I picked the book from the shelf. What surprised me was how greatly, how utterly, how completely our culture and our country have changed. If I hadn't been alive myself in 1956 I could almost have thought he was writing about a fictional country.

The dramatic contrast between too many hours of vapid web surfing and White's thoughtful essay about politics left me feel queasy. Don't get me wrong. I love our modern lifestyle with its easy accessibility and over-indulgent conveniences. As far as I'm concerned cell phones are the greatest invention ever.

But what we've lost feels far more important, and White's essays forced me to admit that politeness, compromise, and consideration for others have been replaced by deliberately divisive speech, extreme partisanship, an inability to compromise over the most basic questions. Shallowness, greed and narcissism dominate our media, while listening is spurned. Sadly, racism and misogyny have always been with us.

I won't belabor this. We can't go back to the slow-paced fifties and I, nor anyone with sense, want that. But if our rude, shallow, over-connected world is getting you down—or if you just need to escape the flu—E. B. White is a great tonic.