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I am fortunate to have spent my life in a very large world. I have been in every continent except Antarctica, and either lived in or visited more than sixty nations. I have had friends worldwide who continually reminded me that more was going on outside the borders of the United States than we might have realized. In the last couple of years, however, this physical world has been dramatically reduced. Not only have I been on my last international trip, but also any travel in the United States is probably over. Telling my daughter, Beth, that we have canceled our projected trip to her home in New Orleans has been painful.

My mobility within this reduced physical space is now limited to driving a friend around the golf course in an electric cart. But that golf cart is the only powered vehicle I can now handle. I have not driven my car for six months — and that has dramatically limited my mobility to move around even in this community. So how large now is my world now?

It is still much larger than that of 95 percent of those who have inhabited this planet. Even today most people have never been ten miles from the place of their birth. When I was working with minority college students in Chicago, there were those who had never physically seen Lake Michigan. Some, primarily African American young people, just knew that anyone who looked like they should not cross State Street. They assumed there was an unwritten law.

My world is now as large as my imagination, my vision, my hopes. These days I have the whole world available on the desk from which I am composing this column. The world is still as wide as my heart and just as high as the reach of my soul. The whole world and any information about it are just a few keystrokes away. What has now changed is only the limitation of my capacity to physically be there.

"The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky, 
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through."    
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
 
I am fortunate to be living in a community of friends and neighbors whose world and world-view is also as wide as their hearts that are wide indeed. This despite our physical limitations and means of travel summed up by the ubiquitous presence of wheel-chairs and walkers. Perhaps I may never have lived in a world this wide.

When colleagues talk openly about how they are shutting out their world, I wince — no newspapers, news magazines, e-mails, radios. TVs, or even conversations. How sad.  And then there is Audrey about whom I wrote several weeks ago. Audrey lives in a very small room she can no longer leave. But what a room! No, what a woman!        

"And now good-morrow to our waking souls, 
Which watch not one another out of fear; 
For love, all love of other sights controls, 
And makes one little room an everywhere."
— John Donne

My question, whoever you are: How wide is your world?

Charles Bayer

Charles Bayer is a somewhat retired theological professor and congregational pastor. 

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