“He not busy being born, is busy dying” – Bob Dylan on “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”
– 1 –
November 9, 2016 it’s midnight or 2am or something: My apartment is lit by flickering candles. Dylan’s album “Bringing It All Back Home” is playing. Though I rarely drink, I’m pouring myself a stiff scotch.
The past 10 days have tested the limits of my resilience. I’m as lonely and afraid as I ever get.
Last Friday, I broke up with a woman I had been with for a few months. It felt like it took everything I had to look her in the eye and tell her that my feelings have changed.
Then someone I love was diagnosed with brain cancer. My hand shook as I picked up the phone to ask, “Did she survive the operation?”
And just now, my country has elected a President who may want to watch the world burn. Getting out of bed the next morning seemed nearly impossible.
– 2 –
All of this? It reminds me of something that we never talk about. It’s simple and universal, but also difficult and frightening. At times, being a human feels hopeless and defeating.
Still, there’s a magic in talking about it. Talking about it connects us. It reminds us that even in our darkest moments, there is something that is worthy of love and light in us. It makes it clear that we’re all in this together, and if we keep fighting, we can create better lives and a better planet.
It reminds us that we are worthy.
– 3 –
Every day, people are tricked into believing that they are unworthy. They bring their dreams to the pyre and light the match themselves. This frees them from some of the pain of existence, but it blunts their vivacity and vision.
These same people used to talk with a feverish energy about social justice, travel, life, death, sex, music, dreams of making a million dollars, art, and love.
Now they talk about TPS reports, Nordstrom Rack, their mortgage, celebrity gossip, and whether or not they can digest gluten.
It’s tempting to write these people off as foolish, naïve, weak, and inauthentic, but that would be cowardly. A very real part of me yearns to be one of these people and feels betrayed by my need for excitement and calculated risk.
A very real part of me worries that all this love will be in vain.
Sometimes I want to lay down my weapons and stop fighting.
– 4 –
And I toy with the idea of giving up.
Maybe I’ll marry the next girl with kind eyes, a nice smile, and a passable reason to love me. Even if we’re not perfect, I’m sure we could figure it out. I think that’s how most people do it anyways.
Maybe I’ll trade my downtown apartment for a sensible home outside the city. Instead of sprinting from CrossFit, to dinner, to wherever my friends are meeting up, I’ll spend my weekends running errands and working on little projects around the house. I’ll be in bed by 11.
Maybe I’ll get a real job. The offers come across my desk often enough. I bet it’s nice to have a 401k match, a boss who makes the hard decisions, and a predictable income.
Maybe I’ll pretend that the world isn’t filled with needless suffering. It wouldn’t take much. All I need to do is get in the habit of averting my eyes and guarding my heart.
Part of me wants to numb myself against the raw exposure of being alive and to throw in the towel.
– 5 –
I can’t bring myself to do it.
A much bigger part of me knows something simple: complacency is the enemy. I am – and always will be – a work in progress.
So are you.
So is our world.
It’s tempting to cling to something that has already passed or to long for something resting in the future. However, in doing so, we subtly deny our ability (and responsibility) to work within this moment.
All we can do is allow ourselves to evolve with as much compassion and authenticity as we can muster.
We must resign to keep fighting the fights we believe in, even when we have nothing left to gain.
– 6 –
It’s hard to admit that I’m not the man I used to be and that we don’t live in the world I thought we did.
– 7 –
When I think about it all, I come to the conclusion that every now and then, the world will break you. It’s not about shielding yourself from the pain; it’s about finding the spark that enables you to pick yourself back up.
It’s about living as vivaciously as you can, even when you feel like there’s no point.
It’s about allowing space for the inevitable evolution of a life and a community.
It’s about being gentle, catching your breath, and surrendering to joy when you can.
It’s about remembering that no matter how bad it seems, love runs much deeper than hate.
Because at the end of the day, the real goal is simply this: live so passionately that when death finally comes, she hesitates for a moment before striking you down.