Monday, August 23, 2010

These Allegories Are Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

Norah: There's this part of Judaism I like. Tikun Olam. It said that the world is broken into pieces and everyone has to find them and put them back together.
: Maybe we don't have to find it. Maybe we are the pieces.
-Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

I've avoided writing about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque so far, firstly because Tim King dealt with it elegantly over on his blog, and secondly because it makes me so spewing mad that I wasn't sure I could write anything coherent about it. (My opinion, just so we're clear: Awesome idea? No. Is it right for the United States government to sanction religious intolerance? Absolutely not.) I'm not going to write about it now, either, because while I am pissed about this, what's worse is that every time I calm down from being angry at somebody (BP, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the woman with a sticker that said "Guts, Guns and God Made America Free" on the back of her truck) the despair in my gut gapes a little wider. And despair is a dangerous, dangerous thing.

Despair is worse than fear. Fear gets people moving, fear accomplishes things--for good or bad. If you still have the energy to be afraid for your country (or planet, for that matter) it means you haven't given up on it. Fear yells in your ear; but Despair comes creeping in quietly, a little bit at a time--hand in hand with its old pal Apathy--and whispers "It's out of your hands. You think what you do matters? Lie down. Forget it. Watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Just go to the mall. Forget about all this mess." Despair is one sneaky son of a bitch.

I hate most of these mainstream flavor of the month metaphysical bullshit artists that are popular with the Oprah's book club set lately, and I probably sound like one of them now, but the best thing you can do to fight despair is make your own small corner of the world a little bit more okay. (That doesn't quite fit on a bumper sticker, but I'm working on it.) Personally I like feeding people--whether it's cooking a big meal for my friends, a weeknight dinner for my family, or pancakes for my boyfriend, it makes me feel just a tiny bit better about pretty much everything. I can't fix the oil spill. I can't stop homophobes or racists from yapping their hateful nonsense all over cable news. I can't feed everybody in the world (I warned you this was going to get a little Oprah) but sometimes, I feed this one handful of people that are most important to me and for a little while everything doesn't suck.

There are still things in the world that are just plain old beautiful. For instance, yesterday I was standing on a beach on the Cape thinking about corn. Ethanol, high fructose corn syrup, the corn lobby, the Midwest vote. How these things that are bad for us are going to continually going to get passed into law if Congress is just concerned with getting votes. How government subsidized high fructose corn syrup is one of the major contributors to the obesity epidemic, which the government says it's trying to combat, but if that were true wouldn't they stop paying farmers to grow more of the thing that's making us sick? Then a baby smiled at me and I smiled back and for a minute things just weren't so bad. I remembered I was on a beach, and that there was a baby over there who was just learning to walk, and I told Despair to go get eaten by a Great White.

I hate the notion that we're powerless against the bad stuff in the world; because we're not. But most of us don't have a lot of control over the wider world, either. The best thing we can do is to do our damndest with whatever it is we do have control over. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have, as Teddy Roosevelt said. Take care of the people around you. Take care of yourself. Be the best at something. Grow the best tomatoes or make the most delicious pancakes ever, or be that one person who always remembers to send birthday cards, or the person who makes spectacular cocktails or can always entertain kids or gracefully diffuse an awkward situation. Lie in the sun. Eat a really good peach. Over-tip your waitress. Be nice to the checkout girl, especially if you're having a terrible no good very bad day. Because for now, all that stuff is still firmly in our hands. And that's the kind of thing that throws Despair to the sharks.

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