When I was a boy, my family had "car driving songs". These songs, common to many families, were old traditionals meant to be sung with children. We implored Daisy to give her answer true, promising her instead of a bridal carriage a sweet ride on a bicycle built for two. A simple rowing expedition revealed that life was but a dream. We had banjos on our knees, amid curious contradictory weather patterns. I remember the news interrupted life in those days to tell us about assasinations. Two Kennedys and Martin Luther King were killed during the years before I reached twenty. Assassins were not politically correct, either--George Wallace and Larry Flynt each was seriously wounded by an assasin's bullet. Although a certain nostalgia exists for a quiet, peaceful time, this time has not existed in my lifetime.
In a time of genocide, despair seems as natural as breathing. Each stolen moment is one moment in which one's avoidance of misfortune is merely a happenstance of privileged circumstance. I listened to my radio today as it described the slaughter of dozens in a bomb blast, from a dispute which apparently has its origins in religious division.
I think tonight of the contrast which life affords. I think of people who live by a lake not thirty minutes from my home, which locals compare to a kind of impoverished Appalachia. Fifteen minutes from that poor area very rich people live on multi-acre horse runs in huge brick homes.
When I was in high school, I thought of myself as impressively detached. I could feel entirely removed from all the things around me. Then I saw this as stoic and mildly courageous. Now I see this as applying a crude scab to the wounds of adolescence.
I like to read the works of eastern faiths, although, as with so many things in my life, I take my favorite sayings out of context, for what they mean to me. I spend some time in my reading trying to reach an understanding as to context, but no time actually applying it. Hence, I imagine to myself that "all wisdom is clouded by desire", but in this context, I mean it to serve as a metaphor for the danger of attachment. The question, I suppose, is how to detach oneself enough from the sheer horror of things, without quite becoming that frightened adolescent trying to avoid feeling at all. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I "should" cry when a fellow kills his entire family, in the acting out of some inner demon. On the other hand, I could spend a life in tears.
I think there is a virtue in finding joy in even this horrid world. I do not pretend to have a recipe for joy which works like a Food Channel admixture. But I have to think that somehow childrens' songs about tandem bicycles and Brother John, who is sleeping, have a place.
I thought of my many dissatisfactions with paths our current federal government is taking. I thought of the weariness I feel when I hear one more story of a senseless killing within a family. I thought of the weariness I feel when an abusive priest is left in a cellblock with a man who pursues an agenda to kill him. I thought of the weariness I feel when money and power dominate too much of public life.
I do not have some comprehensive dogma for how to cope with so much godawful stuff. But I must tell you that I have a feeling about it all. My feeling is that while in the long-run, action will be required to bring things into better order, that the first step begins with, of all things, an optimistic attitude.
I hate the idea that on some level my credo equates with a Norman Rockwell painting view of life. But it's so much the done thing to be simply filled with despair. Perhaps they have it right--that suffering is the only constant.
But I need not explain it, and I need not understand it. I need not make great metaphysical claims for it.
I only need realize that if I lose my hope, I have surrendered. I don't know what it is I think I can achieve. But I decline to surrender to despair.
Pardon me if I find my hope in lullabys sung to children, in volunteers at the library, and in fervent letters e mailed to Congresspeople who merely tabulate them for spin. Pardon me if I believe that it's only at the grassroots that change will come, at the individual level first. I read my history of past reforms and past changes, and find much of it got done by determined nobodys that were considered kooks in their time. Sure, they bonded with others and formed movements. But so many reforms and possibilities came from people who were considered powerless or marginalized when they began their work.
I have not done much to help anybody. But I somehow have an optimism that I can. I hope this turns from daydreams into action, because I am tired of the nightmares on the news.