Break down, it’s all right

1 08 2017

When I was 22 I gave up hope.

It was necessary, a way to keep myself alive, but I don’t know that it was a conscious decision so much as a fait accompli.

Almost 30 years late, and I’m still snagged on that word, hope: hope you’re feeling better; hope it goes well; etc. I didn’t use it at all, for years, but sometimes there’s no good way to avoid the word without drawing attention to its avoidance. So, I use it, sparingly, and always with a mental reservation.

I gave it up because I was broken, as a person. I may or may not still be broken, and perhaps I won’t ever get past those breaks without at least a handshake with hope, but I have managed to put together a life without it.

It’s hard, and I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to anyone, but if you have to abandon hope, you can, and live.

The loss of hope is, or can be, less a tossing-away than an uncovering: you’ll see things, in this hope-less life, that you wouldn’t otherwise. I can’t say if this new sight is worth it, relatively speaking, but, again, there is a kind of clarity, here.

This is how I’m coming to see my response to the 2016 elections. Something broke inside of me, and I couldn’t get a handle on it. Now, I’m thinking that I had a kind of hope in American politics, a hope I never really considered, never really recognized, and that now that’s gone.

Again, a hard thing, but not the worst thing. Again, I gain a sight, a sense of the meanness of this country, which, however maddening, is useful to have.

The differences between the personal and the political hope-loss are that I didn’t know I had any left to lose, and that I thought I already knew how the US could be; that’s what made election night so unbelievably painful.

A more significant difference is that I ended up in a place where there are already a hell of a lot of people—mostly, people of color—who had discarded hope long ago. They haven’t given up; they just don’t expect that everything will somehow turn out right. No, there is work to be done.

This work would be easier, I’d think, if there were hope; or maybe it would just be easier to avoid the work. (I have evidence from my personal life to support both possibilities.) Regardless, there is work to be done.

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Ring the bells that can still ring

24 12 2012

Merry happy peaceful, by way of Leonard Cohen:

Anthem

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring …

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the light gets in.





You should wear with pride the scars on your skin

19 12 2011

Christopher Hitchens and Vaclav Havel died this past weekend.

Both men were writers deeply engaged in the politics of our time; one was more in love with words than ideas, the other, the other way around.

One man engaged in politics, the other, engaged in the engagement; both are worthy pursuits, but they are not equal to each other.

One man knew that, the other didn’t.

One was a hell of a s/wordsman, and I would have loved to have had the chance to have lost (as I would have) an argument to him. Fight above your weight class, I say, and Hitchens was certainly far above mine; losing to him would have been instructive, and if I could never have hoped to have bested him in argument, I could have applied the lessons of those beatings elsewhere.

But if I wanted to learn more than verbal fisticuffs, I would rather have sat down in a smoky pub with Havel. If Hitchens had great verbal reflexes, Havel was the far better reflector. He questioned, he doubted, he admitted the possibility of error in his steadfast search for moral clarity. He lived an absurd life, and was imprisoned by an absurd regime for pointing out its absurdity.

His stint as leader of Czechoslovakia, and later, as president of the Czech Republic, was not an unqualified success, and some of us were disappointed by his support for the Iraq war. He based that support on the grounds of the threat Saddam Hussein held for the Iraqis, not the Americans, and even that support was qualified, arguing that  “the international community has the right to intervene when human rights are liquidated in such a brutal way.”

I have some sympathy for liberal interventionism—the legacy of inaction in Rwanda—but even more suspicion; still, I can extend that sympathy to someone whose country was ripped apart by Hitler, then stomped on by the Soviets in 1968. Havel’s idealism got him through prison terms and decades of oppression, and if that same idealism led him to underestimate the Hobbesian in politics, well, I can still appreciate his admonition that Truth and love must triumph over lies and hatred.

Hitchens was a champion hater and, to be honest, I can take altogether too much comfort in my own contempts. I enjoy the fight, enjoy the hardness of verbal combat and in slamming back a volley aimed at my own head. I like to win—ohhhh, do I like to win.

But winning is not enough; what is the win for?

What is needed is something different, something larger. Man’s attitude toward the world must be radically changed. We have to abandon the arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be fed into a computer in the hope that sooner or later it will spit out a universal solution.

. . . We must see the pluralism of the world, and not bind it by seeking common denominators or reducing everything to a single common equation. We must try harder to understand rather than to explain. . . . In short, human uniqueness, human action, and the human spirit must be rehabilitated.

From a speech before the World Economic Forum, 1992

I do not share Havel’s moral idealism, Havel’s hope, but I don’t think he’s wrong to tell us to look past ourselves, our interests and our fears, and to live in the full possibility of this human world.

I might have had fun hanging out with Hitchens, and been discomfitted by Havel, but I think the discomfitting is more fitting: unease propels me more than certainty ever will.





Wishing like a mountain and thinking like the sea

6 10 2011

I have no hope.

The reasons for this are entirely personal, and entirely related to events in and leading to a couple of stays in a psych ward way back yonder. It was a relief to shed all hope, and gave me some much needed breathing room, and I can’t say that I miss it.

Still, that hope is gone for me has created some awkward moments: I hesitate to use the term hope in even the most banal of circumstances (hope you feel better!) and I don’t always know how to respond to people who do hope. I don’t think they’re wrong to hope—that hopeless-ness is better than hopeful-ness—but I what does someone for whom hope was a burden say to those for whom it’s a blessing?

It’s also an impediment to political action. Most political action is a bother, requires enormous effort for incremental payoffs, and often takes place in inconvenient or uncomfortable locations, so if you’re going to get off your ass to do anything, it helps to have hope that you can, indeed, make a difference. I have rallied and knocked and doors and waved signs since I ditched hope, but more out of a sense of grim absurdity (why the hell not?) than anything else.

And so it was when I joined the Occupy Wall Street rally-and-march today. I no longer have the heart for direct political action, but my head is able to direct me toward action: given my political beliefs, does it not make sense act as if things could change? Shorter version: quitcherbitchin’ and get moving!

It was a big—tens of thousands, I’d guess—and included a nice cross-section of New York City. I marched under the banner of the PSC (the CUNY union) and fell in with a math professor from another campus. We talked of our reluctance to be there, and why we came anyway. We talked about what these protests meant, and what they could mean. We talked about marches in other cities, in other states, and why this movement, that of the 99 percent, contains possibilities not found in the Tea Party.

Possibility, yes, I still hold to that. I may have no hope that anything may change, but the possibility, well, that’s still there.