Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Visions despite a tarnished future

In 24 hours, the whole world has experienced an extraordinary series of emotions. First, there was promise, then anxiety and nail-biting, soon resolution. For some, that led to an even more pronounced set of feelings - fear, worry, depression. But somewhere in there, I feel I may have found a degree of hope.

This morning I woke to news that requires no restating. I no doubt believe it is an historic occasion, though its portrayal in the history books of tomorrow remains to be seen.

I processed the stages of grief - through denial to anger to bargaining to depression, but acceptance seemed an improbability if not an absolute impossibility. Instead, I opted for distraction.

Hours and hours and a hot chocolate later, I've had a peace wash over me with an origin that is two-fold and (I believe) key to moving forward in the face of this incredibly inauspicious moment in history:

1. In the hours following the definitive conclusion of the past many months, I watched as my community of friends and family wrote to each other with visions of solidarity, love, and compassion in the face of fear. Amidst the pain of a tarnished future, they spoke words of love and shared ambitions to become more active for causes in which they believe.

2. I re-read an essay that opened my eyes to the fact that even the most automatic destructive feelings can be combatted with education and compassion.

This is Water, a very beloved commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College by the inimitable late David Foster Wallace details the nature of automatic thoughts and how conscious thinking can challenge even the most inherent negative feelings.

His speech (worth taking several minutes to read through) reminded me of a moment I had less than a week ago in a train station. As I stood at a ticket counter putting away my wallet, a man behind me muttered in automatic anger, "hurry up." I was immediately filled with the expected self-consciousness of bothering him, followed by indignation at his rudeness. What I did not expect was to feel compassion for him just a few moments later.

I've been in his place. I've stood in a line, in a hurry and wanting things to move just a few ticks faster. I might have even muttered under my breath under those circumstances. And I recognized that he likely acted not out of a conscious desire to be cruel or hurtful, but out of an automatic feeling of self-centeredness that is present in us all.

In moments like what we have witnessed today, it is the easy answer to submit to automatic feelings. Resentment begets vitriol which creates a cycle of negativity. This is the rhetoric that got us to this point in the first place. In the words of Wallace, "...the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self." If we choose that path, we find ourselves as flaming meteors barreling towards the Earth, the very destruction that we claim to despise.

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day."

Wallace spoke of this kind of compassionate form of living years ago, yet it is so very apropos to the events we have witnessed today. It is a universal truth. The active decision to breed grace is the antidote to the automatic desire toward animosity.

In such a short time, I have witnessed so much love on the internet and in my social circles. I hope for your sake that you did too. The forthcoming days, months, and years may continue to challenge us. Yet, the hope that we claimed to possess eight years ago has not worn thin. This is but a blip on our timeline, and if we just keep our hearts linked and keep pushing forward toward empathy, then I believe it possible for good to always trump bad.

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