“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
I think of that, hoping for the kernels of goodness in all our hearts to flourish, and I read and re-read Jill McDonough’s poem “Accident, Mass. Ave.”, where I recall again and again that underneath anger is fear. I do not believe we can address violent anger unless we address the causes of fear at the roots. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King’s words that “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”And then I wake up and read that more American black men have been killed by police, that police have been killed by snipers, that no country welcomes refugees with open hearts, that LGBTQ+ friends no longer feel safe, that fear and hate and ignorance are louder than love and patience and wonder, that rather than unifying, everything seems to be fracturing.
I have spent the last fifteen months crawling out of grief, my understanding of the world irrevocably shaken by the loss of my dad. It boggles my heart than so many people are dealing with the shattering logistics of fresh losses—the families of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and the Dallas officers, along with the Orlando victims and so many others, must face the somnambulant hours of determining what to do with their loved ones’ bodies, what sort of service their loved one would have wanted and when and where to have such a thing, what to do with the coffins or ashes that were the hands and eyes and voices of their dear ones, which of the deads’ clothes to save and which to give away, and then how to go forward into the world without someone who they love, who has always been there.
Of course it matters how all these people died—these were violent and sudden deaths, explosions in a bitter thicket of entrenched hatred and racism and lax gun laws—but in another way, what really matters, is that they are gone today, and did not have to be. Lawmakers who do not work for gun control, individuals and institutions that perpetuate racism…I imagine many have lost family and friends, have had to call mortuaries and write obituaries, scatter ashes and pray graveside, have had to wake up every morning and freshly recall their cast of characters is altered. I can think of no reasons but laziness and greed that personal grief does not translate into wiser actions to prevent unnecessary deaths by violence and desperation. And neither of those reasons are good enough for me.
I want to believe in everything that I have ever believed in—that love is stronger than hate, that the beauty of the world outweighs, outlasts, the pain we cause it and each other, that so much does depend on red wheelbarrows and slants of sunlight on oceans and mountains and lovers’ faces, that the Zen monk who is chased off the cliff by a tiger can still savor a strawberry he plucks while falling, that all of the passion and love and effort and determination to be kind and foster joy that virtually everyone I know pours into the world every damn day in a thousand ways and scopes really will make the planet better and more habitable for all people. I want to believe this, and suspect that underneath the shock and sorrow and tears, I always will, but the evidence of the world does not easily point that way.
Maybe it’s faith to keep going on this hope in the face of devastating news, maybe it’s stupidly, willfully naïve. And maybe it's all of that, and the best thing we've got.
To run away, to turn off the news, move to an island or deep into the woods, to live in beautiful isolated simplicity, this is tempting. However, the selfishness of the action galls me. So does taking the long view, and forgetting that each statistic is a person, with a network of loved ones. Somewhere between getting your heart broken by following every horrible event to the hilt and fleeing to the comfortable cocoon of divorcing the unpleasant, there must be a shambling balance in how to go forward.
Because, going forward, being mundane with flashes of the normal brilliance of being a human, having the ordinary ups and downs of daily life—this is the stuff of life. This is what the dead are missing. This is what we need to be doing—going on with our lives the way we want the world to be, come hell and high water and both will come. Some of going forward is staring at the sunset and falling in love with the world, and some of going forward is facing the harsh truths and remaining in love with the world.
And yet, I don’t feel better writing this. Maybe because I am still hollow-eyed and teary from recent days events which are rushing in like a too fast tide, maybe because I don’t quite see how pounding out some words fixes any of the holes in the world or my soul, maybe because I’m doubting my faith in humanity and that gives me a pain in my chest because if that goes, I'll be lost. Regardless, I still believe we have to gone on trying, straining, striving, failing, falling short, and howling into the abyss because, goddammit, people and the world deserve the best we can muster together.