Are you keeping up with all the things?

You know, The Things. The presidential debate… The Supreme Court rulings… The release of Julian Assange… The crisis at the border… The Russia/Ukraine war… The Israel/Hamas war… Biden’s senior moments… Trump’s court cases… The rise of AI… Bird Flu…

These are just a few of the things that we, as “informed citizens,” are supposed to know about, right?

PUH-LEEZE. Who can possibly keep up? Especially since it’s not just facts we’re expected to collect. Ideally, we need to know what to make of those facts. How to interpret them. We need context. Understanding.

With a growing proliferation of pundits happy to media’splain through our various screens, with their various (conflicting) agendas and corporate sponsors, to whom does one turn?

My mom and I used to talk about The Things every week during our epic Sunday Wine Chat. Current events, politics, etc. etc. For decades, I’d call her in Alabama around 5 pm, and we’d catch up on the past week’s news and views. Together, we’d solve all the world’s problems in about an hour and a half, over roughly two glasses of wine a piece.

These days, we’ve all but given up on The Things. Oh, we still have our wine chats, but we no longer entertain notions of solving the world’s problems – or even defining them with any degree of accuracy. We often find ourselves trying to “go deep” on one tidbit or another – something one of us read earlier in the week – only to end up saying, “Never mind, I’ve had too much wine.”

In reality, I think it typically has less to do with “too much wine” and more to do with “too much information.” We’ve both had too much information. We’re damn near drunk on it.

So lately, we mainly talk about hymns. That’s right, hymns.

Remember, these calls happen on Sunday evening. Mom tells me what they sang that morning at her Episcopal church in Alabama  – the one she only attends online now – and I tell her what we sang at First Presbyterian, here in Beaufort, where I’m in the choir.

“This morning, we sang A Mighty Fortress for the first time in AGES,” I told Mom last Sunday. “I was weeping – WEEPING – by the final stanza. ‘His kingdom is forever.’ How can you not weep over that?! It’s magnificent!”

“Oh, I just love that hymn,” Mom replied. “And it has the most beautiful alto part.” Mom’s always been an alto, even back in the day, when she was a Methodist instead of an Episcopalian.

“I also love Holy, Holy, Holy,” she continued, to which I responded, “Oh, me too! It has THE most amazing descant.” I’ve always been a soprano. Even back in the day, when I was a Methodist instead of a Presbyterian.

“All those old hymns have wonderful descants,” Mom replied. “Oh course, I can’t sing them.” Bless her alto heart.

“I wish we sang the old hymns more often,” I said. “But I guess if we did, they might not be as special.”

“Oh, you know they have to push the new ones,” Mom sighed. “Gotta break those in.”

(Episcopalians and Presbyterians have this in common. As “mainline protestants,” we are always up on the latest in hymnody. Just don’t call it “praise music” – that’s an Evangelical thing, and often requires electric guitars. We mainliners do NOT rock.)

“But the old hymns are obviously the best,” Mom declared.

“Obviously,” I agreed.

My mom is 85 and I’m pushing 60, just a coupla old ladies sipping chardonnay and yakking about Mighty Fortresses. Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

(That’s an old lady reference, too, kids.)

Seriously, though, I’m not sure our ditching world events for otherworldly music during our weekly chats is entirely down to our advanced age. I mean, sure, that’s part of it. We both love discussing ideas, but neither of us can hold as many in her head as she once did. And people naturally focus more on spiritual things as they age.

But there’s something else going on, too, I think. Despite advancing decrepitude, Mom and I are both still pretty sharp – sharp enough to know when we’ve been beat. And I think we’ve been beat – and beat over the head – by too much information. There are just too many things we’re supposed to know and understand . . . but can’t possibly.

Maybe we’re turning toward spiritual topics because the material world has become too damn confusing.

That reminds me of the existential crisis I’ve been suffering over this column, which has become increasingly difficult to write. I believe I’ve mentioned it before, and yes, I’m aware that “existential crisis” is far too grandiose a term for such a petty problem. I was just being funny. (Did you laugh?)

But I’m not kidding when I say it’s tough to write an opinion column – about anything  – when you’re consistently confused about everything.

I sometimes listen to a podcast called The Sacred, hosted by a British woman named Elizabeth Oldfield. She interviews an array of guests – writers, actors, politicians, etc. – and they talk about the things they hold sacred, among other subjects.

This week, Elizabeth hosted Peter Hitchens, brother of the late public intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, and a longtime opinion columnist at the Daily Mail.

Elizabeth asked Peter how he views his role as a columnist. I awaited his answer with bated breath, hoping for some inspiring words about our noble calling that would reinvigorate me, set me back on the path.

“People read columnists, I think, to be reaffirmed in their own positions,” he responded.

Simple as that. Not because they want to learn something new or think about something from a different perspective. They just want reassurance that the opinion they already hold is correct.

So said Peter Hitchens, anyway. Elizabeth Oldfield wasn’t totally buying it. “I do that sometimes,” she said. “But sometimes what I’m looking for is a mind at work. Sometimes, I want to be surprised.”

As a column reader, I think I’m more like Elizabeth. Sometimes I want to be affirmed, but often I want to be surprised… even challenged.

I fear that most readers are more like Peter’s, though. And if that’s true, I’m not sure what I have to offer as a columnist anymore. If I’m unsure of my own position, how can I offer anybody confirmation of theirs?

Perhaps there’s a contingent of readers out there who just want to be affirmed in their consistent confusion – who want reassurance that consistent confusion is normal, and that not keeping up with all The Things is okay.

If you’re one of those readers, I’m your columnist.