I was heartened to read in the December 3, 2019 edition of The Washington Post that the world isn’t actually as terrible as we all seem to believe. The editorialist looked at the many ways that people are actually better off now than they have been before. Starvation-level poverty reduced by 80% since 1970, massive gains in disease prevention,and billions of people living with the freedoms that democracy promises and more prosperous than ever before. Read it for yourself: The world is doing much better than the bad news makes us think. And don’t we all need some good news? ¹
I could have looked at a dozen (or more) other places in the same newspaper to find articles which point to a very different interpretation of current life, with stories about gun violence, environmental degradation, and evidence of racism and hatred and corruption of every kind. Which version of the world is true? ²
It comes down to a choice of living with hope, or living with hopelessness. The first suggests we avert our gaze from the bleak realities all around us and the second is just, well, depressing. If the goal is to do something, however small, to make the world better, than which of these attitudes – hopefulness or hopelessness – will spur us to action? It’s well-known that depression causes inaction, an inability to move forward or cope with life’s challenges. So that leaves hopefulness, but what to do with this chosen hope? ³
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
(from an essay by Wendall Berry, Poetry and Marriage)
I have this idea that poems, like art, can’t be sought after. They seem come into my life when I’m not looking. Berry’s words above aren’t a poem exactly, but they did come unbidden into my life at just the right time several years ago, read by a yoga instructor at the end of class. They give us permission to live comfortably in bafflement, to accept uncertainty, to find hope, and maybe even joy, in those things which block us from the easy paths we think we want.
The year ahead promises all of those – bafflement, uncertainty, and hope too. It is Berry’s last line which makes me smile though. High on my list of favorite sounds is water moving through a rocky creek, but I had never thought about the creek’s music coming from the stony impediments along its path. Perhaps your 20/20 vision will see more clearly through the looming 2020 clouds if you sing more. It’s worth a try.
³ I don’t know, but singing will help