A friend texted me today. What she wrote encapsulated something I've been thinking about for a while.
After detailing her disgust at where the country stands with gun violence and political divisiveness, racist hate crimes and climate change disasters, she sent over a picture of her little girls playing on the beach.
She said, "It's a f*%#*ed up world and sometimes I worry it was selfish to have these little ones."
In a few words, she expressed the fresh and painful reality a lot of us feel: we're unhappy with the way things are and we're not sure they can get better.
But she goes the extra step to say this isn't just about us: we're bringing kids into a world, and more specifically a country, crawling with crises.
What grabs me is that our dilemma isn't new. The world has always been like this. Corruption, violence, division. As a human community, we have always fought for, or swallowed down, decades or centuries of oppression.
Then what is it about right now that feels different?
It's different because the U.S. in particular is going through a turning point so sharp and wide, it’s grinding us into a fine powder. So much that’s been boiling underneath us is, all at once, boiling over.
Of course the internet is the culprit and the way out. Because we expose ourselves to everything all the time online, we get mired in stuff that hurts us more than helps us. But we’re also more informed than we’ve ever been before. The issue is that what we want and what we actually do doesn’t make a ton of sense.
We look for hope AND dread. We look for good news AND bad news. We look for fluffy and filthy. Transcendence and gossip. Equality and power. We're complicated and predictable that way.
Other countries go through these kinds of upheavals and coups and have forever. (I'm not saying we should accept coups as normal, but they're nothing new.)
Since we're a young country, seeing these upheavals brings us a new kind of sadness.
But there’s no "heyday" of America when things were great or good or so much better. It depends on who you're talking with and about their baseline for when a time in our history was "good."
All we have is our own experience. We know when times have been better and we know when they've been worse. We live in gradations of light and darkness. Beyond our wildest imaginations, most of us not only survive but thrive in both light and shadow.
What my friend texted let me know that a lot of people are giving up. And while it comes from a good place (she wants better, she doesn’t see it happening any time soon) it’s also myopic. People make jokes about the world burning and how we should let it burn. How everything is so messed up, we should let it all go and stop trying.
To me that doomsday thinking is anti-creative. I get the sentiment but it’s one-dimensional. Life is all about making, creating, feeling, experimenting and seeing in new ways. Right now seems like the ideal time to do all that, especially young people (and I’ll include myself in that at almost 39).
So, standing in my kitchen about to head out the door to walk the dog, I made sure to immediately reply to my friend.
I wrote: "It’s not selfish at all [to have had your girls.] The world has always been scary and unpredictable and backwards. But it’s also always been insanely beautiful and fun and complicated and mesmerizing. It’s difficult now b/c we know more and knowing more is hard. Let yourself love the life you've built for yourself. Radical awe is a pacifist’s wildest dream. Fight for what you know is right, but also love as hard as you can - your daughters, spouse, neighbors, strangers. On the other side of this hellscape, if you see it that way, is a landscape of your design."