My wife and I were having one of our occasional “how are things going” conversations, where we look beyond “how was your day” to the deeper currents that run through our lives. She’d felt out of sorts for a while, and gradually one of the reasons emerged: the political and social firestorm that has raged in the U.S. since the presidential election of 2016.
For the first time in our lives, the national situation was making a direct impact on our emotional makeup.
Certain people, I imagine, would have a sardonic laugh at that statement: a dissident in China, a Rohingya refugee, a shopkeeper in Kabul. Their national situation has impacted their lives—in every dimension—for years, in ways far more direct and intense than what I feel. My distress is valid but nothing like theirs.
These simple facts have me rethinking the way I approach my own distress, and the lessons I’m learning along the way.
Up till now, for the past three years, I’ve sought ways to “resolve” my psychic disturbance, or at least manage it. I’ve been on news blackouts and brownouts. I’ve limited my social media intake. I’ve devised criteria for what I should read and when.
All these strategies have helped somewhat. None have made the distress go away. But my very use of them—and the assumption they could “resolve” my situation—seem peculiarly American. Under normal circumstances, I can observe issues in my country, feel distress or not, then go back unfettered to my normal life.
Billions of people, in dozens of countries, never get that privilege. Now, apparently, I don’t either (albeit, again, under milder conditions). So maybe I have to do what those billions have to do: live with the chronic distress, day by day, and observe it as part of my life.
That may do me some good. It may open me to a part of “real life” I’ve never experienced. Maybe the deeper I drink of the experience of being human—all of it, pleasant and distressing and indifferent—the more human I become, and the more skillfully I can bear other’s burdens as they bear mine. Maybe it makes me readier to join in the struggle for justice. My God, I hope so.
Or maybe I’m trying to take lemons and make lemonade. As I said in recent posts, this thinking is embryonic, so your insights are welcome. If you want to think with me, write a comment below, or ping me on Facebook.