How to be an Apocaloptimist

17 Mar

This morning, a friend sent the following entreaty to my work email address:

I have a random question for you. What do you do when you wind up connecting with something that is so dark, it’s kind of too dark for you? Over the weekend, someone started talking to me about a horrible trial that took place … It has been in the news. Whatever. Horrifying and tragic story. But now I can’t separate from it. It’s sitting in my mind. I can’t fix it. It literally cannot be fixed – it happened decades ago. It’s like a ghost of the past reached out and is following me around and has been for days. I feel like you did so much pro bono over the years that you know how to do this.

Although I was totally jammed, I knew exactly how to respond:

I ride my bike. If it’s a really f*cked up situation, I’ll ride for at least 4 hours. If it’s cataclysmically bad, I’ll make sure there’s a steep mountain in the middle. When I get home, I almost always find that peace has somehow replaced perturbation.

Before hitting “send,” however, I realized that this statement, while 100% true, had two major flaws:

  1. Only another cyclist would understand it.
  2. If I attempted to elucidate for my non-cyclist friend, well, … even then, only other cyclists could really understand.

So I deleted my response and continued to think about my friend’s closing statement all day: I feel like you did so much pro bono over the years that you know how to do this.

Yes. Yes, this is true. My deep dive into the deep dark soul of mankind took place well before I found salvation on two wheels. What did I do to quell the demons “back in the day”?

That Was Then

I remember very clearly a 2005 conversation with a former colleague, Chuck. He hadn’t seen me since I’d gotten back from Ukraine. He was totally caught up on all those stories thanks to the weekly “Dispatches” I’d sent during 2002-2004. But he had no idea what I was up to back at his/our “former” workplace. He didn’t even know that Manatt had created the Director of Pro Bono position and he was fascinated.

We were well into our second bottle of wine when I began deeply lamenting the monumental injustices I faced almost daily. I was daunted by the enormity of so many egregious acts and certain that my efforts would really do nothing to fix/solve/alleviate them. It was all so Sisyphean. I kept saying: “It’s like trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon.”  I went on and on and became more and more morose until eventually my friend set me straight…

This Is Now

Recently, I saw 12 Years a Slave. It DESTROYED me. I mean, really, really d-e-s-t-r-o-y-e-d me [I wish I could better illustrate how strung-out my feelings of agony and despair were]. Yes, I know, it touched a raw nerve with you, too. You were upset by the unvarnished violence and disturbed by the obvious depravity of the slave holders and their ilk. But I wager that you did not question your entire life’s purpose and wonder ad nauseam just whatthefuck the POINT of even attempting to live your misguided, Pollyannaish life might be… 

About 10 days after I saw the film, I had lunch with Q and I pretty much fell apart. I cursed him for having recommend the film to me in the first place and cursed him again for thereby placing me back into the Deep Dark Pit of Despair. This pit felt darker than ever before because I could not seem to find the light. I railed and wailed and lamented the UTTER POINTLESSNESS of attempting to do any sort of good for humanity because we are all doomed to face death, disaster, disease, disorder, destruction, depravity, and damnation. Besides which, I was just 1 tiny little semi-disabled tilting-at-windmills crusader in a world filled with ~7.1 billion people. Fuck this shit. I give up.

And then Q set me straight, too.

What Chuck, and Q, and Andy Knew and I Somehow Forgot, but Will Now Always Remember and I Hope You Will, too

So, I kept saying to Chuck: “It’s like trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon.”

And I kept asking Q: “What is the fucking point of trying for a better world?”

And they both basically said: You just gotta chip away at it. That’s how Andy got out of Shawshank.

And really, that’s not so different from: I ride my bike. If it’s a really f*cked up situation, I’ll ride for at least 4 hours. If it’s cataclysmically bad, I’ll make sure there’s a steep mountain in the middle. 

The world may, indeed, be going to shit, but if you are a good person and you believe in a brighter future (for yourself or for others) and you just keep chipping away at your goal, you’ll get there. Everything will be OK. It may suck the entire time that you’re out there slogging away, but keep the faith. Stay focused. Keep pedaling. Keep believing. Keep doing good. Keep moving forward. Keep chipping away. Keep pedaling.

Good can triumph over evil. 

Andy can make it to the Mexican Riviera.

You can make it to the top of that climb.

Your teaspoon CAN take down a mountain.

And if we all picked up our teaspoons … oh how much good could be moved!


Parting Thought: Don’t you know yet? It is Your Light that lights the world. ~Rumi.

2 Responses to “How to be an Apocaloptimist”

  1. Carissa Barker March 18, 2014 at 2:44 am #

    Good post. This one resonates.

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