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Helplessly Hoping . . .
What Can I Do About It?
“Wordlessly watching, he waits by the window and wonders at the empty space inside. Heartlessly helping himself to her bad dreams, he worries . . .”
—Stephen Stills, “Helplessly Hoping”
As time becomes both more precious and more fatiguing as I age, I find myself wanting to waste less of it, yet inclined to do just that — to disengage, to watch more TV, to embrace chores as activities, to cultivate my indolence. In retirement I’ve so far kept my creative energy strong for art, music, and writing, but when it comes to activism, while I find myself listening to and reading the news incessantly, I’m always stuck with the question: What can I do about it?
What can I do about the fascistic mentality cultivated by rightwing media and fundamentalist clergy for the past several decades? What can I do about the already-disastrous, fast-changing climate? What can I do about the lack of class consciousness (ironically enough) on the left? What can I do about white ignorance about, and angry denial of, the reality of systemic racism? What can I do to awaken men to the humanity of women? What can I do about the growing violence of our political culture? What can I do about the obscene poverty-wealth gap?
And that’s just on the domestic American front.
Work harder, my activists friends urge. Keep fighting, keep hope alive. Light a candle against the darkness.
So here I am lighting 36 candles (44 if you count the shammes) over the course of eight days. We sit chatting and watching sleepily as they burn down. We go online to contribute each night to causes we believe in. But Khanike tells a miracle story, and miracle stories are cold comfort. Yes, the miracle is a metaphor for people pooling their resources to make the impossible possible. Still, the question persists: What can I, or even we, do about it? What should I do after the candles burn down? I just don’t know — and that phrase, “I just don’t know,” is a testament to how truncated our so-called democracy has always been.
If I were a young man, perhaps I’d tool up as a scientist, in hope of inventing a climate-saving technology; or as a corporate executive, so I could actually influence corporate policy AND have enough money to build an animal sanctuary; or perhaps as a filmmaker, because of all the media, movies probably have the most concentrated and widespread cultural impact; or perhaps as a lawyer, because our system is all about laws and lawsuits. But to try to cultivate new connections, a new career, now, as I enter my seventies? Easier to go rake the leaves.
I think my chief activist strength has been as a writer and image-maker. Over the years, I’ve been pretty good at creating funny and inspiring bits about how wonderful our world could be, if only . . . But if reestablishing myself as a writer requires, as it does, penetrating the jungle of social media blab — again, I think I’d rather go rake leaves.
In which case, I guess I should stop complaining and go rake my leaves. And send a few more contributions.
Here’s an original song that echoes my plaint: “If Only.”
—Lawrence Bush for ALTE: Getting Old Together