My friend Sean Cranbury shared an article on Facebook earlier, and a comment debate ensued. Here’s my takeaway.
In my youth, I was a huge U2 fan. For a long time, my listening trifecta were Joshua Tree, Rattle & Hum, and Achtung Baby. That was my “era” of U2.
One song I played a lot back then was “Acrobat.” Something about it spoke to me, because I knew I was an angry person. I was angry then, I’m still a brand of angry now.
And you can swallow or you can spit
You can throw it up, or choke on it
And you can dream, so dream out loud
You know that your time is coming round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down.
I wanted to live a life where the bastards didn’t grind me down, but I also wanted to be of those who shouted at the wind to evoke change.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, it did grind me down. I lost my soul for a while. I was angry about everything. I was the trodden. I was the one looking for the crumbs of hope and choking on any I dared to swallow.
I’m 41 now. I’m tired of being angry. I’ve learned something along the way — nothing will ever be perfect. Nothing will ever make us all happy. Whatever victories lift me up are the same that leave others crestfallen.
We live in an imperfect world. That’s just the way it goes. There are no flawless heroes. No perfect souls we can hold up as an example to all.
But every now and then, we have a great day. Like when marriage equality was finally doled out by the Supreme Court in the USA. That was a fine, glorious day.
Then someone turns around and says “But we need more! There are injustices left! Don’t stop! Don’t breathe! Keep going! Fight, fight, fight!”
Here’s the thing, though.
In the United States, more than half of the states still have being gay as a fireable offense. Show up to work gay and you can be fired for it. Really. “Sorry, Bob, we’re in a no rainbow zone here. Pack your knives and go.”
And yet, in plenty of those states, gays lined up for the opportunity to put their love on display and get married on the least-subtle day EVER to be married in gay history. Some said, well, the strange thing is, I can get married today but on Monday I could be fired for celebrating a right given to me over the weekend by SCOTUS.
But still they married. Why?
Because Monday would be a new battle. This weekend? It was for joy. It was for celebrating. It was for saying that in one brief moment we all had a little more love, equality, and hope in our lives.
Those moments — they’re truly rare. That instant of glorious togetherness, where we don’t have to sing “We shall overcome,” because we overcame. In my life, there are a handful. Berlin Wall toppling. The Quiet Revolution in Egypt. Obama’s Inauguration.
I’m 41 and I’m struggling to remember more moments of true joy, laced with the feeling that comes from witnessing change in the making. The good change.
If you don’t stop to enjoy the feeling of victory, then what is it that sustains you? It’s certainly not hope for a better day, because you just had one and you didn’t savour it. No, what sustains you is anger and frustration.
I can’t hate like that. I can’t be angry all the time.
Choosing your moments
Do you know what I did on the night that thousands died on September 11th, 2001?
After a day spent in horror and fear and lost in the coverage on TV, I went for a bike ride. I wanted to find a moment in time somewhere that reminded me what life was like before planes crashed into two buildings that morning and killed so many.
Remember that first night? We knew over 50,000 people worked there. We didn’t know how many were killed. I’d thought over 10,000, easy.
But I went cycling. I found some kids playing in the street. I stood there and watched them battling out over street hockey supremacy, laughing and giggling and shouting and disputing each others’ goals.
For just a moment, I was in a world that hadn’t changed beyond recognition. I was terrified of the loss of innocence we’d had as a continent just hours before. I guess, like me, these children’s parents were trying to make sense of that loss and death and hate, and they’d not yet spoken to their kids about it. I’m grateful they took a pause because that laughter helped me sleep that night and for many thereafter.
Whatever else the terrorists took that day, they didn’t take my hope that we’d one day move past it.
All this and so much more
The world is filled at once with unending beauty and undeniable evil. We hate, we love. We contain multitudes.
I guarantee you: On every good day you ever have, there are horrors happening elsewhere. Not just bad things, true horrors. They happen daily. This is humanity, for good or ill. It’s nature, too. Animals eat their young. They kill the weak. We are not so different. We are nature too.
Moments. That’s all life is. Snippets joined together. Vignettes.
The good times, they won’t last. Your righteous rage does you much wrong if it robs you of the ability to find joy and celebrate the small victories that punctuate our banal and fleeting lives.
I, for one, would rather have my world and my values cobbled together by those who can see great moments when they come, not those who brush aside victory because the world is not yet perfect.
All I want from the world I live in is more good than bad. I want leaders who call out injustices but jump to ring the bell of victory the loudest when the good wins pour in.
Tomorrow is Monday. We will have stories of those fired for embracing their love. We will have a new fight. But this weekend, I chose love. I chose gratitude. I chose to sleep in with the warm fuzziness of knowing there was one less injustice in the world this weekend.
And tomorrow, my rage will rise in support of those who show us that there is a new day to fight for. Either way, I won’t let the bastards grind me down.