Thursday, July 31, 2014

Junk Food

"A Thing of Beauty"
-in my garden-

On September 11, 2001 I sat in front of my TV set and watched in horror as the Twin Towers collapsed to the ground. Throughout that day and for much of the following week the media coverage was incessant - an endless barrage of pictures, stories and interviews on the TV, the newspapers, the radio, death and destruction, fear of the terror that may lie ahead, and in our house we tuned into it all. The TV was on all day long and so was the radio. We read all the stories and listened intently to all the interviews, it was almost as if we couldn't get enough information to help us process the meaning of this new era of terror that seemed to have dawned.

A few days into our constant diet of 9/11 coverage, my wife became ill - severe headaches, stomach and skin problems, and so she went to see her doctor. After running some standard tests, the doctor asked about how much TV she had been watching over the past few days, whereupon upon he  immediately diagnosed her condition: "You have been eating too much junk food, it's poisoning your system."  He wasn't talking about too many Big Macs or Pop Tarts, he was referring to the constant and almost addictive consumption of words and pictures of terror that had flooded the media. Our doctor went on to say that he had seen these same symptoms in a number of his patients over the past week and so he prescribed "taking a break from all the 9/11 stories, turn off the TV for a few days, listen to some soothing music or read a good book." My wife followed the "doctor's orders" and she felt a lot better.

Yesterday as I did my normal treadmill exercise at the local gym, I was watching a 24 hour news station- children blown up in Gaza, families waling in distress, followed by a story about decaying bodies still remaining on a field in Ukraine where the airline had been shot down, followed by a story about the Ebola virus in Africa and the likelihood of its spread to America.  And then, after these stories were told, they were told again and then again- more pictures, more interviews, more commentary.

As I walked on the treadmill and watched the news, I noticed I wasn't actually feeling so great, maybe too much exercise, and it was at that moment that I recalled what our doctor told my wife a few years back: "You have been eating too much junk food, it's poisoning  your system." I had been watching that TV for almost an hour, consuming horrific images and terrifying stories - 24 hours of news always available.  It was poisoning my spirit, even making me physically ill, so I pulled the plug on CNN.

I certainly don't plan on getting rid of my TV, no plans for turning off the evening news or canceling my subscription to the New York Times, but my junk food experience yesterday did give me pause about the kinds of words, images and sounds that I consume every day. Of course I want to be informed, to be aware of what is happening in the world, but I don't need to feed myself with the constant diet of junk food and terror that is so often and so readily offered up and laid on the plate of my everyday life.

When I came home from the gym yesterday, I felt like I needed to eat some healthier "soul food." So I tuned in some soothing music on my iPad, sat in my garden and drank in the simple beauty of a single flower, remembering what Keats famously said:

A thing of beauty lasts forever;
its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.

As I see it, a lot of us probably need to watch what we eat nowadays, making sure that "things of beauty" are always on the menu.


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