Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Cancer of Hopelessness: How one crazy dude and two rock bands whacked me from despair

I’ve been rather low these past few days with this feeling of “why bother?” I can work hard my whole life and will it really make a difference? Am I just a dreamer who has lost touch with reality? Who cares about my selfish little dreams when there are people on the planet who are starving, being beaten and mutilated, and who don’t have the freedom to speak their minds? Shouldn’t I just shut up and be thankful for all that I have?

Well, no. First of all I know that all that talk is just my fear and my shame around asking and receiving what I want. Those voices provide a strong argument for me to NOT do the scary, hard work of being an advocate for the dreamers and the optimists and for the people who believe that if I touch just one life today, even anonymously, then that will be “enough.”

Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. Will social progress come along for the ride and bring issues like gender equality, global poverty, religious freedom and environmental conservation to light? To my surprise (and despair) an overwhelming number of people I know do not think so.

There seems to be an all-pervading cancer of hopelessness that is seeping into our culture and keeps us from living our natural state of joy, grace, pleasure and abundance. It disguises itself in many forms. There are those who sit back and say “There’s never gonna be peace anyway, so might as well let the bastards blow each other up.” Another group may say, “That’s happening over there. It doesn’t affect me. I’ve got my own to take care of.” And then there are others who are aware of what’s happening but get stuck in their anger, righteous indignation, and separation from humanity. “How dare THOSE people shit all over the planet and ruin it for the rest of us.”

We’re all stuck. For every tweet that goes out to topple the repressive regime in one country, there is another self-serving group waiting to grab power. For every step forward, it feels like we end up twenty steps back from where we started. We are all living life as fast as we can in the hopes to die number 1.

And yet…I can’t help but return full of hope. There is something in me that won’t let me quit. Call is purpose. Call it orgasm. Call it the silly dreamer sickness. Yes, we are bombarded with images of despair now more than ever. But that is in fact exactly what we need to take the first steps towards healing. GLOBAL AWARENESS. 100 years ago, someone in a third world country would not have even known that riches exist for someone like him. Now he knows it’s possible. A woman who is forced to hide her sexuality in an extremely oppressive society now knows that somewhere in the world exists a place where she could express herself. A gay kid trapped in the reddest of red states now knows that somewhere is a place where his love will be legally honored. And we can no longer turn our eyes away from the truth that another person’s pain is our own. We can now put a face to the “global issue.”

Awareness leads to possibility which leads to hope. And hope is what keeps us alive in the darkest hours. Yes. It’s gonna get messy at first. Anytime you start airing out dirty laundry, the resentments will spill out all over yourself and others. In fear we try to hold onto them and cast them onto others in blame. It may feel safe and comfortable in the moment, but that’s the easy way out. The path sustainable change is to recognize those resentments as unexpressed desires, take responsibility for them and ask for forgiveness from those we have hurt along the way. Only as the old energy passes through us are we able to clear a space for the frozen pain to melt and the wounds to heal.

A final story: I walking home this afternoon. I had my ipod on. Beautiful day. I was just starting to emerge from the feeling of hopelessness that had being weighing me down when out of nowhere: WHACK! This homeless-looking man passes me and (intentionally) hits me hard on my upper arm. I stand there. Shocked. People are staring at me with looks of confusion and concern. One girl asks “Are you OK?” I touch my arm to check for bruising or blood and nervously laugh. “I’m fine,” I say. I turn to look at my attacker and he is mocking me. The way I touch my arm. The way I am laughing. As if I am some stupid bitch. Again, I am shocked. I can see this man is clearly unstable. I drop into him and feel not anger, but a deep sadness at how far gone he is. What amounts of pain must he have experienced that he must completely check out of life in order to cope? I turned away and kept walking. One man looked at me and in solidarity said, “What a douche.” But I didn’t feel like dismissing the attacker. He was alive and real, just like me. I softly said, “He’s obviously not in his right mind.”

I continue on and notice a deep welling in my throat. Hmmm…hope. Is there any hope of help for him? And if not, what about the millions of others around the world? If hopelessness is right here in my neighborhood, how the hell can I even think to be of service to those around the planet? I feel the despair creep back in.

And that’s when the universe steps in. At that moment Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” starts to play on my ipod. OK, I know. It feels like a moment out of cheesy movie. But as I turned the corner onto empty Newtown Rd, the tears began to pour out of me. I suddenly had this rush of gratitude. Of remembrance. Oh yes, belief and hope are who I am and I am here to walk through the shadows to help others see what is possible. That there is life on the other side. That dreamers are not unrealistic fools. The crying overpowered me. My heart cracked open in the middle of the street. And then (just when I thought it was over), Ben Harper starts up next with, “When She Believes.” Now if that ain’t a sign from beyond, I don’t know what is. The tears start up all over again. Cleansing, sweet, open, grateful. I am finally in communion with that part of me that knows I am exactly where I need to be in this moment.

Next time I see that guy, I am going to say, “Thank you for waking me up! May your journey bring you freedom. There is hope yet.”

Photo of artist Aaron Bohrod's painting Dreams. Courtesy of SIUC Museum.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I experience this all the time. Minus the tears, which I envy, as I tend to hold them in (unless I'm alone and the right triggers are in place).

    First, let me say that when I read this I was in the middle of watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In fact, right at the point you were talking about the music that came over your Ipod, my favorite musical moment happened in the movie. If you don't know it, it's the scene where Hermione is in tears that Ron is now snogging Lavender. The camera pans around the castle and we see Malfoy in the clock tower.

    What is significant about this music is the nature of it. It may be hard for me to explain in short form here, but suffice to say that the moment of orchestral climax in that scene were the two chords that -short of my full text on the subject here - exemplify heroism and hope only understood when preceded by despair and hopelessness - and they were orchestrated with darker colors in this moment - these things aren't always extremes.

    This felt, suddenly, exactly like what you were describing, the push and pull of hope and despair. My feeling is that hopefulness has to first start with an idea of what one would like to see happen. For example, I am hopeful that I find myself in a loving relationship with a wonderful woman. When I consistently experience failures and mis-connections a sense of despair and hopelessness is takes over and the questions of "what's the point?" surface again, as well as the old friend/foe - self-deprecation. At the same time, I remind myself that tomorrow can change everything that is wrong today. It can also change everything that is right. Yet at this moment I am aware of both possibilities and realize that I am in harmony with both my hope and my despair. I know there is no formula for success in any realm of life, and I don't even know if I will recognize it when I finally have it - I hope I do - I try to stay awake. Or maybe I will never. But that isn't the point now is it... along the way, each 'failure to achieve objective' still yields certain moments of growth and self-awareness, and on those extremely rare occasions where there was a potential connection...well...a taste of what I am in fact hoping for.

    My feeling, therefore, is that we are no longer children riding on one side of the see-saw and relying on the person across from us, some external force, to keep it moving when we're stuck. Rather, we are now unruly adolescents walking across the see-saw, exploring our power to make it go up, down, finding the balance, realizing that even the most perfectly balanced moment is but a fleeting one... the wind will blow us one way or the other. We have power over, and are also at the mercy of...everything. Hope and despair are but a single ride. That communion of which you speak.

    When you consider that every atom of the universe belongs here...the universe is a single thing. We refer to it in the singular. The Universe. A single entity. We are all parts of it. Everything effects everything else. Undeniably so. Thoughts, realities, feelings...and touch, positive or negative, it's all one thing. Being hit by a homeless man not in his right mind can be flipped over to say that at this precise moment you were not in your right mind and needed a shove back into it to find your way home. Yin/Yang. Equal and Opposite reactions, which go far beyond the obvious and into the realm of our inner selves as well. The man who perceives a douche, therefore, needed to see that for some other reason personal to him.

    In my opinion.