I can’t. I’m sorry. Basta. I’ve tried, but I can’t.
I just can’t keep the brave face on all the time. I can’t have the right words at the ready all the time. Sometimes I can’t keep the wrong words from spewing out of my mouth (or, more likely, my fingers) in a moment of anger. I don’t always remember to check my sources, and I’m actually pretty lousy at assuming positive intent in difficult conversations. Hell, sometimes I can’t even summon the courage just to smile at strangers. Sometimes even a frickin’ smile, a 16-muscle acknowledgement of shared humanity, feels like too much effort to offer the world.
I can’t be the person I wish I were. I’ve tried. But I can’t.
Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like the “good guys” were profoundly
outnumbered overpowered. Students and colleagues and acquaintances that I know to be optimistic, hard-working people with good hearts and souls, struggled to peer out through a kind of sadness, of fatigue. Snarky half-attempts at humor were delivered through lips-only smiles, while eyes pleaded for encouragement, for comfort, for strength.
At least, I know that’s why my eyes were pleading for.
I lay in bed last night for hours, staring at the ceiling and wondering how in the name of anything I could make a difference—how I could resist the oppressors, how I could be an ally to the oppressed in more than name and token. But most of all I lay there feeling guilty because I. am. just. so. damn. tired.
It doesn’t seem fair—and to my friends in minority communities, this paragraph of privileged whining may be one you want to skip over—that nice guys seem indeed to finish last. It doesn’t seem fair that playground bullies seem always to know when the teacher isn’t looking. It doesn’t seem fair that hoarding power seems so much more effective than sharing it. It doesn’t seem fair that privilege is blind and love speaks softly and the high road always seems to have way more detours than the low.
I lay there last night wanting to weep, but too tired even to do that, feeling useless and helpless and ashamed of my apparent inability to use my vast privilege for anything other than self-pity.
But this morning, with the rising sun struggling to break through the Pennsylvania fog and the finches calling blindly to one another in the January air, I had an epiphany of sorts.
A prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi asks:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
I love that prayer. But this morning I realized that there’s something missing from Francis’s list. So as of today, I pledge:
Where there is fear, I will sow gratitude.
Because while fear paralyzes, gratitude empowers. While fear excludes, gratitude invites. While fear clutches, gratitude opens. And while fear shouts, gratitude whispers.
So I will whisper gratitude. To one person at a time, one appreciative moment at a time, I will use thanksgiving to drive out fear. I will do so because it helps me to tear my eyes away from the violently fearful place the world is becoming, and focus on the world I believe is worth saving. I will do it because hearing words of gratitude can make the difference between a sleepless night of self-pity, and a cared-for soul that is ready to speak truth to power.
There is so much to be grateful for. And while I can’t always live by my best lights, I can be grateful for the times I do. And more importantly, I can be grateful for the people in my life who remind me of what those best lights are, and how love really does work in the world. May our gratitude ripple outward and fuel the work that lies ahead.