We die. I don’t suppose I need to tell you that. We’re gifted an indefinite amount of time as living, growing, sentient beings. Then, one day … poof. Either gracefully or willingly, unwittingly or unwillingly. Gone. Memories wiped. Legacies to be determined.
In between, we’re expressions of varying degrees of injustice, unfairness and inhumanity. We make choices — some kind, some deft, some incorrigibly stupid. From those choices, results spit out in a random assortment of quality and quantity. Those figures compound over time. Inequities soften, harden or widen. Disaster looms lest we avert it. One thing is clear: we die.
I’m often marked for being a pessimist. Yet I cannot help but embrace three inescapable truths:
- I will run out of time.
- The odds of the world righting itself while I breathe are long.
- I doubt I’ll atone, acquit or redeem my own self in that span, either.
Yet I think the acknowledgment of those three truths that apply to me specifically does not make me a pessimist, but a realist. I think belief in any alternate thesis of how the course of my life will unfold is delusional.
Still, I don’t say those things to lament, to judge, to scorn nor to wallow. I say those things to imagine, instill urgency, inspire radical action and shape the choices I make from here on. My three goals: to make the most of my time, to aid in righting what I can, to redeem myself at the margins where possible.
The human collective is a single organism. It is not a series of individuals. The health of the whole is inextricable. We sicken when are brethren suffer. We suffer when our brethren fall ill. The whole as less than the sum of its parts. It is the sum of its most downcast and browbeaten. We are how we treat our collective and our grandest illness is in attempting to distance ourselves from it.
The further we try to place ourselves outside the whole — wealth accumulation, self-promotion, caste, zealotry, othering — the greater the burden on all of us. The plight of the underclass is the indictment of the overclass. The higher we climb as individuals, the lower we push the others in the schema of the finite.
We are but instruments and tentacles of the whole and it is that whole which is precisely sick due to our failure to see ourselves as mere fractalized expressions of that very whole. We cannot rise alone. We cannot own, nor rule, nor conquer, for we are only dropping anchor and further rotting our core when we do. A whole that refuses to acknowledge its wholeness will always be incomplete.
As for this extension of the human fabric typing to you — this symptom of the human disease, of the fractured republic, of the legacy and manifestation of collective barbarism — I doubt I’ll make up for my past, in this lifetime or in the lifetimes before me. My life is penance for choices I’ve made and lifetimes lived before me. I am standing on the shoulders of a sinking ship.
I am born cursed and born prisoner, continuing to build sandcastles from the eroded mass of those who built before me. I am taking the pieces offered and trying to rearrange them the best way I know available. This is often done poorly, naively and with less thought and care than I’d wish.
I’ve lived some 14,000 days and risen each morning to the sight of the sun and the crackle and yawn of the world Out There, and yet by merely existing in this expression I alter it fundamentally. Energy is neither created, nor destroyed, and I am a conduit and vessel for it. That energy can be channeled and harnessed and ultimately changed, yet I cannot create what has not been given, nor destroy what cannot be destroyed. Not as the whole. The whole is infinite and I am a fraction of everything. I die, but the whole is forever.
We are meant to steward. To caretake. To preserve. To persevere. To cultivate ease and endurance among and within ourselves. To find joy in small pockets between tragedy, to fly true toward a distant star.
If we are to run out of time, then we must take pleasure in what little we have. If the work remains unfinished when we do, then we must work like hell to make easier work for those who follow. If we cannot redeem ourselves, we must refocus upon redeeming the whole. These are the measures of us.
The belief that we can live joyfully, rightly, and dutifully is the essence of optimism. Succinctly put: optimism is a healthy sense of our own agency within the vast expanse of cosmic and cultural determinism. It is our confidence within ourselves that we can further shift the state of play toward something less brutal, less joyless, and less inequitable.
We cannot eliminate suffering, but we can ameliorate it. We cannot carpet-bomb injustice, but we can poke holes in it. We cannot redeem pasts, but we can reimagine our futures.
Maybe this is as good as it can get: measurably better than before. All the while, we will still feel a range of emotions, slights, and guilts. Radicalism of few diluted among the inertia of many levels off into the incrementalism of the universe. That’s not the entire game, just the course of our at-bats. We are but one hitter with one chance to swing away, our team’s fortunes hang in the balance.
I find myself behind in the count. The next pitch awaits. One thing’s for certain — walk, strikeout, hit, homerun — my turn at the plate will end and the outcome of the game will remain forever in doubt. The interest compounds. The breath escapes.
When we die, we won’t remember us … but they will, and our legacy will be the choices we allowed them to make, the wrongs left to make right, the redemption that they seek. Do they have it easier than us? Do they have it better? Were they free to swing away? I’d like to dream they answer yes. That’s optimism. I suppose it beats knowing the end.