**This might seem overwhelming in its length at first, but please don’t allow that to stop you. You’re smarter than that. You can spare the extra 4-6 minutes to read a lengthier post. I worked very hard to ensure that this is worthwhile. Give it enough of a chance, please.**
I’m sorry I’ve been absent for quite a while. I got caught up in the usual human stuff, you know, school and eating and sleeping and friends and family and errands—life, really—which has that certain tendency of getting in the way of things. I’ve also been dealing with a class (or what we prefer to call a “workshop”) on public action that has been particularly draining on my creative resources, time, and thinking. But much more worrisome than any of that—what has been the most detrimental—is a certain deadness forming inside me because of that class. I made a promise to myself a while ago, when I first started facing the things that matter most, that I would never allow myself the luxury of becoming jaded. It is easy, I think, to be cynical in the face of it all. It is endlessly more difficult to retain a certain… youthful tenacity.
But I feel I have failed in some way. Somehow, I wound up wearied and depleted at the tender age of twenty. Because there is now a bitter taste in my mouth and tone every time I discuss an issue which used to impassion me. I’ve realized that so much of my ability to work creatively relies upon, among a couple other things (other things that I’m also not getting a lot of these days), a youthful hopefulness. To even get out of bed in the morning, I need something to hold on to, some spark of faith that assures me that—in spite of all this doubt—what I do, all this tireless, difficult, at times infuriating work I attempt, has a purpose. That I have sacrificed blissful ignorance, and not to mention ungodly amounts of money on an education for some form of a greater good. I must believe that my work will some day meet its mark, that I can get somewhere, that I can—if not save the world—make it the tiniest bit of a safer, more beautiful place to inhabit. And this class, entitled “Human Rights: Focus: Women and Girls” has put a pretty sizable chink in the armor that is my fragile reserve of optimism. And I need that armor. Desperately. I rely upon it to stay upright. Keeps me somewhat stable. Sane. It ensures I don’t spend days or weeks wasting away in my bed, paralyzed. It keeps me from turning that switch off, the switch that forces me to empathize, the switch that is so horrifyingly easy and dangerous to turn off. It keeps me working, it keeps me from turning my back on dreams that are much bigger than anything I ever dared to admit out loud.
It is important to feel the weight of the world on your shoulders if you have ever made claims to try and better it. It is important to grasp the inconceivable enormity of our planet’s problems. It is vital to feel almost in rapture of its totality, of the vast and complicated landscape that is human civilization, and what it means to truly move forward as a species and planet. It is vital to feel the immediacy of our problems—the sense that, in the not-so-distant future, we face a precipice that will require almost an unfeasible amount of radical change; a change that calls for a redefinition of what we think it means to be a person, what we think defines our humanity, and what it means to be an individual within this interconnected global body that is our world today.
When you start to really look at and understand the issues facing our world now, you begin to discern a certain pattern behind it all; some underlying connecting thread, a string that fastens all our disparate and separate materials into a unitary form. You begin to see all those various and different little problems we all insist on ascribing ourselves to (global warming, sexism, racism, poverty, war, education) as ways of describing the symptoms of one single, bigger, more all-encompassing cause we’ve never been able to give a name to. In reality, they’re all the same problem; we just can’t seem to communicate how.
But despite this inability, you can always feel the truth of it resonating inside you, every time you sense that an unmistakable commonality exists between us all, whenever you sense the universality of human struggle. It is indescribably frustrating to possess an internal understanding that might help propel the human population (and world) forward, and have it simply past your reach, permanently fixated at the edges of your peripherals, just outside the scope of your gaze. As a writer, trained in the art of exacting our world, of being able to organize it into clear, concise understandable words and sentences, it is nothing short of maddening for something so fundamental to escape you entirely. It feels like a personal failure, though I doubt it really is. Usually, in these moments where my technical limitations fail to express my assimilative understandings, I turn to Virginia Woolf. VW understood these moments of pure connectivity as “moments of being.” She asserted that, “Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.” As sacrilegious as it feels to say it, I think VW has failed here too. Even VW, my lord and savior, inadequately captures the totality of our world, the commonality in all existence. Not even VW can precisely name the connecting tissue that exists behind human life and strife. I believe when she identifies us all as works of art, she is describing that sense of tragedy, though. The strange but beautiful enigma that characterizes sentience.
Haven’t we all felt it, though, those unshakable “moments of being?” I’m almost sure you must have at least once in your life. It is a creeping sensation, like a shadow that consumes. It takes you when you least expect it, at the strangest moments, when you could very well have been laughing or smiling only seconds before—even while in the throws of human company—and then something halting takes you, something quick to pounce. Life, beauty, struggle—they overcome you. That all-consuming shadow makes your lips go numb, your chest grow tight, as you experience a sense of sadness (but also exhilaration and clarity) and allness so complete that it seems to devour you from the inside out, rattling your soul. It is that sense that our world is dying. That people need your help. That beauty ends. That all of it is too big for such a small body to even merit its consideration. It is those moments when you feel our world—strange and enchanting as it is—entirely past repair. When all you can smell is a certain stench of evil emanating from any congregation of human beings that is larger than twenty-five members. It is the realization that we have been wasting these enormous gifts of logic and consciousness; that we spat on their sanctity, or destroyed them by perpetually running in circles. And now we are paying for it, now we have come to a stop.
I see our doom spelled out in that total incapacity to realize beauty which is outside ourselves. It is that human tendency to feel superior to all else, self-reliant, self-contained, singular, bigger, more important than any other one or any other thing—including the very planet that keeps us upright. It is the feeling that somehow, we are all separate, though we sense that to be a lie in our heart of hearts, though every single piece of evidence or truth we’ve ever managed to scrounge up in the two dozen or so centuries of our history proves that reality to be a false one. Our failure lies in the certainty that we can afford apathy at a time like this. It lies somewhere in the belief that the safety of other inhabitants of this earth, those that make up the whole of this thing (what we call the universe) that we are but one small part of, doesn’t concern us personally. That we somehow live outside the existence of everything. We must move far away from the idea that this is all a matter of emotion. Quite clearly, this has been an utter failure of human logic. Because this is a matter of survival. You must abandon the notion that concerning yourself with both people and their future can be left up to the “dreamers” the “do-gooders” the “activists.” Because even the few people who do feel even a lick of this basic empathy and responsibility have all been spread out so wide and thin across different, conflicting interest groups that they might as well have done nothing at all.
We have failed, we are doomed. We are all islands entire of ourselves. We have failed to achieve the dream of a unified country in time. These are the certainties that don’t let me sleep at night or get out of bed in the morning. It is the sneaking suspicion that the dream of a human family seems incompatible with human nature
…And yet, in spite of those seeming certainties… Here I am. Writing this post. Spending hours on its perfection. Here I am, still able to hold on to something–albeit intangible and complicated–that helps keep me straight-backed, switched on. Here I am. Because, really, even if we can’t ever put a name to the overarching cause that we sense in pain and sadness and injustice, the nature of the solution seems quite simple. We must understand that we are all, every single one of us, responsible for each other. Not one of us exempt. When any one or any animal or any thing that contributes to this global, earth-wide ecosystem is devalued, exploited, or uncared for, it is a personal loss and our own failure. We can no longer afford our childish games, of forcing eyelids shut tight, hands clamped over ears, screaming at the top of our lungs about our own suffering in order to drown out everyone else’s screams—screams which are all saying the same exact thing: “I need your help. I feel unsafe.” At this moment, we have expended the luxury of avoiding one another. Because a fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl named Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head by the Taleban for going to school; shot in broad daylight, on a bus full of witnesses, after the Taleban explicitly informed the world of exactly what they planned to do. And her blood is on all our hands.
But there are some ways in which we can, to some degree, reconcile that blood and the enormity of both our task and Malala’s sacrifice, by refusing to let any of it go unrecognized. The solution to our world’s biggest problems rests somewhere in the laughably base realization (so base that somehow we missed understanding it entirely) that we alone do not move the universe. It is such a strange thing for us to have missed, once juxtaposed with our truly tremendous potential, with the power of the human mind and spirit to be extraordinary (something proven to us again and again every day). We’re not particularly stupid creatures; what is keeping us from so basic a realization as the fact that we don’t exist alone in a vacuum? That we alone can’t make things much better but that there is some strength in numbers? Why have we insisted so adamantly on remaining lonely? How could we have allowed selfishness to dominate, when it seems so counter intuitive to both survival and that creeping sense of totality we’ve all experienced at least once in our lives. Surely, you must feel the truth of this inside you—I know you do—the truth that we face a dying civilization. Or one that has gone so still and stagnant that it has seemingly stopped to pulsate.
But you must also feel the senselessness in all of this, in the illogicality and innecessity of our demise. Surely, in light of all this, you must also feel baffled by how we, the human race, seem so ready to watch idly as the life seeps out of us all. Doesn’t that bafflement count for something?
Here, I believe Virginia Woolf should be allowed to reclaim her throne on the seat of my fanatic heart. Let’s allow her to finish that statement on moments of being: “Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.” Art and religion may serve to reflect truths about this vast mass–just like I have attempted to do here. But it curates the beauty that inherently exists in us all. You are in control of this world, you have helped shape and create it; any masterpiece, all of our most important inventions and discoveries, every revolution, has happened because the people who made up the world in that moment mustered it into existence, allowed it to take shape. Because you are human, you are art, you are strife, you are the sole thing which perpetuates continuity into any of it. I will never come even remotely close to expressing the completeness of the truths that already live inside you, buried underneath, the ones that cross boundaries of time, space, class, race, sex, gender, age and all those other superficial distinctions which keep us from seeing one another for what we truly are: a human being living in the same place with other human beings. In short, a human family.
The task set before us is enormously difficult and unsettling. We must never lose sight of that. But now that it has become unavoidable, do you really believe the human race so easily cowed into surrender, so complacent to sign up for the annihilation of our planet without a fight? Human beings have proven throughout history to retain a certain–if I may–youthful tenacity. I believe the question now is, how willing are we to rebuild our planet into a safer, more beautiful place to inhabit?