Keeping On Keeping On And On
This morning I was struggling as usual with seasonal blues and political angst when my almost-four year old granddaughter arrived a few hours before her usual time. Seven hours later, my mood has shifted into the green, out of the pit and back to the world of living, growing people. Back to replenishment and renewal. Truth be told, seven hour stints with a kidlet or two more commonly leave me feeling frazzled, but today, youth worked its healing magic on the grumpy old granny. Hallmark moment? Not exactly, but there’s no denying that a dip into the realm of enchantment is, well, enchanting. It probably helped that we were one-on-one for most of the day, and that she can immerse herself in imaginative play for long stretches.
Her gentle burble formed a cheerful background to our projects, which ranged from knitting a ridiculous scarf of incredibly soft, incredibly tacky pale pink, fluffy yarn (me) to baking bread (us) and decorating our little fake tree with (unbreakable) glittery ornaments (her). Before long, she got caught up in making nests of tinsel garlands for the bird ornaments, who then got into complicated games with the knitted gnomes and trolls. The argumentative ones got won over by the promise of treats for good behavior and they ended up having a big picnic with a fleet of unicorn and dragons. Now they’re all nesting in the little tree, waiting hopefully for the return of a playful child.
There’s Hope & There’s Hope
A friend recently spoke about two kinds of hope; one is the anticipatory hope of looking forward to an awaited, presumably joyful event. That tickle of coming pleasure is as tasty as sugar, sweetening our days and soothing our nights. The other kind of hope is more like salt mixed with pepper, bringing us out of the daily trance with a jolt. This hope is not a soporific but a wake up call. Red alert! It’s an imperative cry for action, a klieg light shining in the dimness of dailiness, revealing what’s been disguised, overlooked, or ignored. This kind of hope inspires a willingness to live a changed life, leaving unquestioning comfort behind. We may not immediately recognize the impulse as hopeful but it is. When despair drags us down into the dark, hope pushes us up to the light, where we can see what’s happening and decide what we’re going to do about it.
That’s the part that has me wondering lately; what am I going to do about the it of the day? I’m very happy with my scaled down life, exchanging a very large house on acreage for a very modest renovated mobile home. I’m thrilled with our relatively small power bills, delighted to be driving an average of 12 miles a week instead of closer to 100. We can and do walk to most of our usual haunts. We don’t have bucket lists and we don’t travel anymore (something we’ve both been very glad to let go of, so no big merit points here). We’re largely ovo-lacto vegetarians with some fish and fowl (ok, and maybe a pound of bacon and a few pepperoni pizzas a year). All these reductions and changes have been voluntary and are practically and philosophically pleasing to us both.
That’s Nice, But
So where’s the effort, the hardship, the extra mile? I definitely don’t want to be one of the tediously moral high ground claiming people who make everyone else feel like crap, but should doing my bit really be this easy? Why am I so awkwardly aware that virtue signaling is a reflexive white privilege response to the universal challenge to “get active”? Who, me? How can I possibly do more than I do when I’m already being so GOOD? Personally, I’m finding clearer direction, inspiration and hope from teens all over the world.
The most obvious are stellar girls like Greta Thunberg, and Autumn Peltier, a 13 year old water protector from the Wikwemikong First Nation in northern Ontario who called out world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in March. Her big question was the same as mine: what are you going to do about it? Pretty sure she was talking to me as well as to the international delegates. Closer to home, Kai Joseph, a Kitsap seventh-grader, collected bins of shoes for kids in foster care because the foster care kids her family cares for arrived with funky hand-me-downs that didn’t fit. I do walk local beaches, picking up trash every few weeks; could do that more often. I’m happy to donate shoes to foster kids and knit warm scarves and hats and fingerless gloves for homeless kids. Could do that more as well. I guess my real question is, how much is enough? Do we give until it hurts?
Hurting Doesn’t Help
Is giving supposed to hurt? Is it more virtuous if it hurts? I’m thinking no. I’ve been noticing how horrible I feel after reading or listening to the news, how helpless and depressed I am when those narratives run my life. There’s just so much gut wrenching news blasting at us every single day. I’m certainly not the only one who get overwhelmed and flees to the garden, or starts knitting hats and scarves, or makes too much bread and soup. It’s interesting that when I do retreat from the barrage for long enough to regain my balance, that’s when an activating hope bubbles up. That’s when I get renewed, energized, hopeful.
So of course we keep on voting, and exercising our rights as citizens by requiring our elected officials to act in our names and according to our will: Abolish ICE! Set the captive immigrant families free! Reunite those families and make reparation! Get the unfairly imprisoned out of jail-for-profit institutions and help them find their feet. Stop the increasing ecological abuses of all kinds NOW! We can call again and again and we must, for only by letting our representatives hear from us daily, over and over and over, can we expect them to act in our interests, not corporate interests.
Now For The Hard Part
And above all, we can all be kind, generous, quick to offer a hand when a need is made known. Stress can make us crabby, that’s for damn sure, but let’s make a pact to stay kind. And happy. I used to think that the pursuit of happiness was selfish, shallow, and frivolous. The older I get, the greater the value I see in happiness for everyone. For one thing, happy people don’t covet other people’s land. Happy people don’t need to fill an inner black hole with stuff. Happy people don’t create competitive hierarchies or play win-lose games with people, places, or things. Happy people don’t make war, don’t steal (legally or otherwise), don’t develop addictions. As the Buddha famously pointed out, happy people don’t need anything and they like to help. So now, I’m trying my best to be a happy person. It’s definitely NOT the easiest work I’ve ever done. Wait, what? So maybe this IS the hard part? Hmmm….