Today (now yesterday) I am feeling despondent over the future of the world and the planet. Kavanaugh was confirmed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their Fifth Assessment report and unless we do an about-face NOW, we are screwed. (**Checks who is in power** Yeah, we’re screwed.) Brazil is yet another country flirting with populism and inching towards brutal authoritarianism.
So today to ease my brain, instead of listening to my Bang Bang girl-power station while I lift, I decided to listen to classical music. No vocals. Just the lushness of Debussy. The depth of Bach. The rich complexity of Liszt. The clarity of Haydn. And some contemporary composers, just for funsies. (The divine emotiveness of Ennio Morricone is everything.) It was very helpful, soothing, and strangely motivating during the hardest part of my workout. Who knew you could lunge to Clair de Lune and have it feel so badass?
While the music helped, it is certainly a temporary measure. I really don’t want to live in despondency. I think I’m spending too much time thinking about the fate of our country and world. It is clear that corruption and greed are winning and I, myself, can’t really do anything to stop it. All my work and efforts are drops in the ocean or have turned to dust in my hands. I don’t think I’m focusing enough on what I can do to mitigate suffering in my more immediate community. There are certainly things I can do here that help. Even if that help is very small, it is still something.
I can be a good person. I can be kind. Strong. Accepting, gracious, consistent, and just. I can focus on discovering the right response to every situation as it arises, all with the goal of reducing suffering. I can donate to homeless shelters. Put thoughtful, truth-filled, loving words out into the world. Pay for someone’s groceries. Help a friend move. Listen to what others are going through.
And I can vote. Vote like the country and the world are depending on it, are depending on a new chapter of ethical, compassionate, science- and women-accepting leadership. Stay enough abreast of the issues to vote intelligently and compassionately. Understand my role and place in this world by making sure I’m not out of touch with the world outside my sphere.
I worry about withdrawing a bit from a country or global focus, because this risks me withdrawing from acknowledging, and doing something (whatever is available) to reduce, the suffering of the marginalized and oppressed in my country, in the world. It also risks me withdrawing into privilege. Because withdrawing is, itself, a privilege. Not everyone can choose to avoid thinking about the injustices of the country — they are suffering those very injustices I feel powerless to fix. Their despair is far greater than mine. How can I choose to avoid thinking of them, even for a time, and not live in privileged denial? Is that harmful? If not always, then when does it become harmful? What responsibility to I have for my own mental well-being, and when is it preempted by the suffering of others?
Another thing — focusing on our immediate communities is hard. It means being more intentional about loving and serving those around us, choosing to see and approach those in our communities as people whom we can love and serve. Unfortunately, people we know are HARD to serve. They are hard to love. It’s easy to love and think warm thoughts about the suffering Syrian immigrants in Europe. They are not robust people to us; they are sympathetic images and representations of a moral injustice. But those around us are flesh and blood, imperfections and annoyances, hurtful words mixed with comforting hugs. They are complex and their rough edges bump up against our rough edges just as much as their virtues provide a balm to our souls. It is far easier to love and think warm thoughts towards the broken, hurting, selfish people whose brokenness, hurt, and selfishness are not causing us to suffer. It is another thing entirely to love and think warm thoughts towards the broken, hurting, selfish people whose brokenness, hurt, and selfishness are causing us to suffer. (And I just happen to be surrounded by far more of those people right now than ever before. Even my therapist was like “Most people would have abandoned ship by now, holy cow.”)
I don’t really have a concluding thought. I just know that it is hard to love all the immediate people around me, just as it is hard to confront my powerlessness in the face of national and global emergencies. But though it is hard, I can still choose to love and serve those in my community, and can live out that choice immediately, so that seems like a pretty good place to start.