“You know, I TRY,” I said to Scott yesterday. “I really try. But I’m finding it increasingly difficult to not hate everyone and everything.” He nodded in sympathy, because he’s been at this point since he was 25, having been born with curmudgeonly tendencies. And because he knows that has not, traditionally, been my disposition toward the world.
For most of my life, I have believed in the basic goodness of humanity overall. There were exceptions to the rule, of course, but I still believed, perhaps too naively for someone my age, that the majority of people were decent, good, and trying their best.
And I just don’t believe that anymore.
I woke up yesterday to find on my Facebook feed a picture of little rescued cat who’d been thrown at a dumpster from a moving vehicle, breaking his sweet little face. They don’t know if he’ll keep his eye, or if he’s brain damaged permanently. And then there was the news of the shooting at the church in South Carolina.
And that wasn’t even the worst news I received all day.
For a long time, I’ve been battling this feeling of hopelessness and pointlessness, or maybe not pointlessness, but a lack of feeling any efficacy as a single human being, which amounts to the same thing in the end. I called it a midlife crisis to my bandmate awhile back, sharing with him how disappointed I was in people and the institutions we create. But I think it’s an existential crisis. Sometimes it’s mild disappointment at unnecessary incompetence and microaggressions by the thoughtless and the selfish. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking disappointment that we’re not doing better by one another when we so obviously could, or shocked, mind-numbing disappointment at untrammeled evil casually having its way. A lot of the time, I feel this space right behind my sternum that holds this scream: WE ARE DOING IT WRONG! WE CAN BE BETTER THAN THIS! And then I swallow and stifle it because the dark noise I’m reacting against is just too loud and overwhelming. I shake my head a lot.
That’s not even counting the bad things that happen that are no one’s fault, like ourselves or our loved ones getting sick or dying. And as my years pass, that happens a lot more often, and there is no remedy for that relentless reality. I start every single day in pain, and the amount that mitigates once I get moving varies. I start every single day worrying about friends near and far who are seriously ill; and I wonder who’s next.
Sometimes I ponder philosophy, and think about “everything happens for a reason,” and “but think of all the good things!” and “we have to have the bad to appreciate the good.” I tend to call bullshit on all of those, but that last one especially sticks in my craw. If I wake up on a Thursday morning to a maliciously damaged kitty and 9 innocent people dead in their church and dogs being burned alive in China, just for starters, how many good things have to happen in my day to counterbalance that? And does anyone have that many good things happen in a single day? I can’t think of the last day I had that could even out that brutal ledger, if there ever was one.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is not to harden and despair as we grow older, as the awful headlines and inevitable bad experiences of life mount. Personally, I’m failing. I feel it happening, and I mourn the loss of the young woman who had infinite hope and expansive openness in her soul that life and the world are killing a little bit at a time.
I’ve considered just opting out as much as possible. I don’t watch or read the news anymore, but I still get plenty of it through Facebook and The Daily Show. I’ve considered opting out of that, too, but if I can’t stay in touch with the people I care about, then there really is no point to all this. Plus, it seems irresponsible as a human being on this Earth to say, “You know, I get that y’all are suffering through some real, valid, hateful shit, and I hate that for you in principle, but I don’t have to deal with it myself, so I’m out.” Even if I were willing to take that route, I’m not even sure it’s feasible. It’s not 1880 and I’m not living out on the frontier alone, away from all news and doings. The very fact that this stuff breaks my heart so regularly indicates I’m not cut out for that.
And yet when I think about how hard and cold I would have to be for none of this to get to me, I don’t understand how anyone finds their way there. How can you be human, and not give a shit about other humans? But those people exist. I didn’t think they did, not deep down, but I know now they do. And I think that’s terrifying. It chips away at what little hope I have that we can evolve, together, before it’s too late and we destroy ourselves, if not physically, then emotionally and spiritually.
On the other hand, this world, this life, seems to demand human sacrifice in the form of my bleeding heart or my being constantly consumed in the fire of anger, and I can’t live that way, either. It’s not good for me, or anyone else, to be filled with sorrow and rage all the time, despite there being ample opportunity every single day for both.
How does the human soul remain open, yielding, receptive, understanding, and generous without being destroyed? That is the essential question I’ve been struggling with of late. How do I keep witnessing the very worst we have to offer each other, the very worst life in this mortal world can deal us, without locking all my doors, my windows, and my heart in self-defense, becoming exactly the kind of person I despise? The kind that looks out for only them and theirs, to the exclusion and detriment of everyone else? That’s not the kind of person I want to be. That’s not the kind of person I’ve ever been, which is why I’m so concerned at the slow transformation in that direction I feel happening. I refuse to believe it’s inevitable; but I don’t know what to do to prevent it.
I’m 43 years old, and I’m already well worn out by bad human behavior and the caprice of biology, and am actively, desperately, in search of a strategy to ward off utter surrender to despair in a world where the bad seems to outweigh the good tenfold. I have asked myself, “Am I depressed?” I’ve been depressed before; this isn’t what it felt like. Depression to me felt like being constantly on the edge of tears and feeling hopeless all the time for no good reason. This feels like anger, and exhaustion, and colossal disappointment at the failure of my fellow humans, and being wounded by a barrage of genuine horror stories every single day of my life. There are plenty of good reasons to feel bad in this world. When you reach midlife, you’ve already amassed a huge stockpile of sad stories, your own and others’. How do you keep going, steadily, kindly, encouraged, knowing that the years ahead will only make the pile higher? When you are no longer naive enough to believe people will eventually stop throwing cats out of cars and shooting people because of their skin color and your loved ones aren’t going to die far too young just because you love them? What is the tricky alchemy, the delicate compartmentalization, that allows you to live fully and unshielded in a world that’s doing its level best to break you?
I’m asking. If you’ve got an answer, or even a part of an answer, I’d be much obliged to hear it.