Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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My struggle to be more aware, to live each day fully, is no harder or easier no matter who’s in the White House. I’ll always be alienated from those in power; someone like Bill Clinton will always claim to speak for me. Still, I don’t want to be another discouraged radical wringing my hands. I look around: I see incredible beauty, incredible desolation. I need to remember that reality is bigger than anything I can say about it. When I try to pin a tail on the world, I always miss by a mile.
Peter Schweitzer of the international aid organization Plenty writes, “How easy to forget, while digesting the news from the latest Armageddon, that the world is filled with good people who are an absolute joy to be around. It is disheartening to see such people struggling just to survive and feed their families, swimming upstream against a system that seems designed to keep them down.”
If I were president, what would I do differently? My first thought: I’d resign. I wouldn’t want to be president. What does this tell me about the qualities that are necessary for a job like that?
The truth is I admire Bill Clinton’s vitality and intelligence. But, like all powerful men, he’s a huge city I’ll never understand, a city that seems to welcome me but will never let me learn its secrets, a city that is everything I can say about it, good and bad.
Of the world’s 5.8 billion people, one in ten experiences chronic hunger. What if I made a list of all the people I know — relatives, friends, co-workers, old school pals. What if I knew that one out of every ten people on that list was going to bed hungry tonight — hungrier than I’ve ever been, hungrier than I can possibly imagine?
Can the president save me from my sadness? From weighing myself every day?
Gore Vidal: “It is not wise ever to be optimistic when it comes to the human race. Prometheus stole fire from Heaven so that we could cook not only dinner but one another.”
When I sit down to eat, hunger sits down next to me. The same wink. The same dirty joke again.
For all my accomplishments, I still struggle to feel some tender regard for myself. What a scold I am! What a black-robed judge, handing down the mandatory sentence: One strike and I’m out. One mistake — the teaspoon of sugar; the lurid sexual fantasy; the extra dollar spent, not saved — and I’ve ruined everything. Then the thunder rumble of judgment: Bad boy! Unenlightened man!
If the hole in the ozone layer were caused by too much talking, would I talk less? What if it were caused by too much worrying?
Norman Mailer, in 1951: “Is there nothing to remind us that the writer does not need to be integrated into his society, and often works best in opposition to it? I would propose that the artist feels most alienated when he loses his sharp sense of what he is alienated from.”
No longer trying to impress beautiful young women with what a revolutionary hero I am. Social justice begins with governing myself.
I learn not to be insincere. I learn not to be a broken man who will not name his brokenness. If only my language were as raw as I sometimes feel. Not my best foot forward. Not a candlelit dinner, a perfectly intimate table for two. Not you and me, babe, my words never satisfied with seduction.
The prayer I’m afraid to utter. The sacrifice I’m too smart to make.
Jesus stands at the end of the sentence. He extends his hand. I make my offering: something I can easily afford.
Everything is connected, whether I acknowledge it or not, whether I live the connection consciously or pretend that the world is nothing but unconnected fragments, that we are scattered like rocks. But not even rocks are rocks — my idea of rock so unimaginative, rocklike.
What would it be like to pray, not just as a self-conscious act of devotion, but every moment, with every breath — and in the hollows of my sadness, and in the storms I still, foolishly, try to escape?
There is nothing to keep me from knowing You. Only the world. Only Time swaying in front of me, smiling.
Feeling good can be as big a distraction as feeling bad. But living at the core of life is something else: no self-congratulation and no blame, no illusory self holding the world at bay.
Waking up in the middle of the night, I remember: as dreaming is to waking awareness, so is waking awareness to being truly awake. Then I fall asleep again!