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  • Writer's pictureJeff South


Missouri Route 53 is a two-lane state highway that connects to the southeast corner of Poplar Bluff and winds through some cotton and rice fields, over the St. Francis River, and eventually leads you to Holcomb, where you can enjoy some fine barbecue at Strawberry's. The land there is flat. Mostly farms that raise cattle or grow cotton, rice, and beans. It's also great for a quick road trip. You can pick up some of that barbecue I mentioned along the way or maybe grab some peaches in Campbell. You can also process life.

Today is my 53rd birthday. Ten years ago, I posted my very first blog entry to commemorate turning 43 and these annual birthday posts have become a tradition for me. I like to take a moment on each birthday and reflect back on another trip around the sun and assess where I've been, where I'm at, and where I'm going. Today would be a perfect day to drive highway 53 and reflect, have lunch at Strawberry's, and grab some fresh peaches for a birthday pie. Also, since I'm turning 53, it would be appropriate to drive Herbie the Love Bug on this existential road trip.

The last year hasn't brought more changes and life developments, at least personally. As I type this, I'm watching my grandson August, who will be 19 months tomorrow (yes, I used months so get over it) play with anything he can find while the rest of the house sleeps in on a stormy Thursday. My daughter is expecting our second grandchild, due close to Christmas. Sandy and I celebrated 30 years of marriage last November and will mark 31 this fall. My son got engaged to a wonderful young woman and they are set to wed next March. We are all healthy and happy which is about all anyone can ask for these days.

So much anger and fear hangs over America today. The chasm between us all is deep and wide and has been forged mostly by politics. We've arrived at a moment in time when even buying something like a can of beans becomes a political or social statement. You'd think a pandemic would bring us together and show us at our collective best, but no. How to keep people healthy and safe is a national controversy rooted in whether someone hangs out on the left or right. People have decided that any yahoo with a webcam and YouTube channel speaks more truth about any given subject than individual experts who have devoted the majority of their adult lives to that topic. I find that sad, frankly. We have eschewed intellect, study, and research for a quick hit videos that are debunked. I think as a nation we are choosing to be illiterate. Not that we can't read, but that we don't. Not really. We don't seek out information so that we may be educated or enlightened. We only want the comfort of confirmation bias. Tell me what I want to hear and I'll label you a truthsayer and a wise man. That's where we are now.

If I had to use one word to define how I'm feeling at 53, I'd choose weary. No other word adequately captures the deep fatigue that has settled deep into bones and soul. Yes, my back and knees ache a little more when I get out of bed and my ankles do this funny thing where it acts like it wants to give out when I walk down stairs, but I don't feel old. I don't see myself as old. I am aging, but I'm not old. But, I am tired in that way one gets when their fed up with everything and want it to stop. The last five years have tested me and I've wondered daily what event would finally break me. The response to this pandemic wins. This is the one. Watching people act like spoiled children over masks has done me in. The litany of conspiracy theories about chips, vaccines, and cashless society pushed me over the edge. And there's no rational conversation to be had here.

I saw a few Facebook posts recently that said "if you don't believe America is the greatest country on Earth, then leave." I think that's a lousy thing to say. We're not the greatest country. I can take pride in the United States while remaining objective about our significant shortcomings. Honestly, I think we've collectively become arrogant, hateful, and narcissistic. We lack empathy, compassion, and a basic desire to see lend a hand to our fellow man. We do not wish to be our brother's keeper. Not only are we not in this together, we don't want to be. I know that's a pessimistic and cynical view of American humanity, but I base it off what I observe. We are lost and we possess a very poor attitude.

And, to quote that famous line from Remember the Titans, attitude reflects leadership.

This is how I find myself at 53. Weary of the shitty attitude. I don't want to be. I much prefer the belief in humanity I tend to cling to. The last four months have shredded it, though. I'm tired of the nonsense, so I have to find some way to fight that and restore some positivity in my life. This week while on vacation I've been watching episodes of the Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, where Phil Rosenthal (creator of Everybody Loves Raymond) travels the world and shares meals with people from different cultures and learns about their food. There is a wholesomeness to that show that soothes my weary soul and serves as a healing salve to all the negativity and toxicity out there. I want to embrace that in my own life.

The first step for me is to take a month-long sabbatical from Facebook and Twitter. I'll stay on Instagram because I can look at food pics and watch rugby videos without getting sucked into the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and confirmation bias that dominates the other two platforms. The time I usually spend browsing I will devote to reading, writing, and finding some peace. Besides, I am trying to finish a novel, so Facebook and Twitter slow that process waaaay down. I'll get back on, but I need the break so that I can find the beauty again.

At 53, life is getting way too short and precious to spend wallowing in anything else.

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