I had a short conversation the other day with an acquaintance who told me that he’d watched the first half of What a Way to Go and found it so overwhelming that he couldn’t finish. He asked me, “Is there hope in the second half?”
“What would hope be?” I replied.
“Something positive,” he said. ”Something we can do.”
I paused for a moment, as I always do in such situations, my wounded ego triggered with the need to not disappoint, a major liability for someone whose life’s work seems to include questioning the basic assumptions that form the foundations of our lives. ”I think we come at these things at more of a meta level,” I finally replied, searching for, and failing to find, short words to describe something that feels so big that I couldn’t describe it in a day’s worth of conversation.
He raised an eyebrow. ”What does that mean?” he asked.
I shrugged. ”We’re more interested in the question of who will we be? than what should we do?” I said. ”There’s tons of resources out there full of information about what people can do in the face of all of this. Sally and I are more interested in the deeper emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of our present predicament.”
“Hmmm…” he said, not appearing to buy my explanation. ”I guess I’ll have to finish it.”
“Many people have told us that they love how we end it,” I offered, hoping that he would watch the rest of the film. Hoping to be done with the conversation. Hoping to quickly escape into the dark, cold night air and walk back home, where it’s easier to pretend that I know the answers. Sally stood by the door, in conversation with someone else. I shook the man’s hand and started out, pulling at her shoulder as I passed, hoping she would follow. She did.
Sally and I went the first year of our life here in Eastport without mentioning to anyone that we’d made a documentary. Partly because we just wanted to fit in and be accepted, or not, based on who we are in the present moment. But partly because we both feel a bit of a need to distance ourselves from the documentary. Not because we consider the information in the documentary wrong in some way. The on-the-ground situation today, in fact, can feel far more “overwhelming,” to many, than even What a Way to Go presents. It’s more the tone of the movie from which we want to create some distance. We did not stop processing our emotional, psychological, and spiritual responses to the global situation back in August of 2007. We’ve kept at it. We are not now who we were then. And were we to make the movie today, it might feel quite different from What a Way to Go. The movie represents a step, and a necessary step, I believe, one can take in the journey to full, clear, adult human acceptance of, and response to, the situation. It’s just not the final step.
There probably is not a final step.
Eventually the bag unraveled and the cat escaped and we did a local screening. Eventually I published All of the Above, which continued the conversation What a Way to Go began. Eventually I started soapboxing on street corners in Facebook City. Eventually I jump-started my blog and began my sequel, Rumi’s Field. A great deal more processing ensued, pulling me along like an ocean current and depositing me on the shore of NOW. Eventually I found more peace and grace than I had before.
And still the same old question arises… “do you have some extra hope to share?”
Part of me, my wounded ego, my monkey mind, my reactionary self, felt rather irritated in the moment. Great. Another entitled White Guy™ demanding comfort and salvation from an outside source or “higher authority,” looking for a quick answer, an easy fix, a Happy Chapter™ that would allow him to return to his comfortable life. As if watching a documentary was the equivalent of “doing something.” As if hope were a product that could be transmitted cinematically. As if Hope™ would even help. ”I have no hope to give you!” I wanted to shout. ”I’m deep in contemplation of the “mid-century extinction meme”! How can you ask me for hope? Go find your own!”
But that, of course, would have been wildly unfair. I could have no real understanding of exactly what it was he was asking for, or what he was meaning by the words he used, without long hours of dialogue. I could not know who he was and what he knew and how he felt and where he was headed. I could not know what gifts he had to share with me, what wisdoms and insights, what challenges and proddings. That he had poked one of my buttons was not his fault. I’m the one who carries that button around, after all. And though I’m working to disconnect it, I have not yet succeeded. That’s on me.
And the button he mashed was this: I want to help, and I don’t know how. So I feel helpless, sometimes. And a little stupid. (Please refrain from leaving comments telling me that I should not feel this way, or offering advice about how to stop feeling this way. This is monkey mind. Part of disconnecting monkey mind is to simply speak it out loud and have it be heard. I already know the untruth of it.) What I really want is long hours and days of deep dialogue that would help us both get, not only to the bottom of this man’s question, but to a place to stand in the world that feels, if not steady and firm, at least stable enough, for long enough, for us to catch our breath.
But my shouting would have also been unfair because, ultimately, his question may be a fair one (not to mention being, essentially, my own question), and he may have been right to ask it of me. The fact remains that, even in the face of the “mid-century extinction meme,” I am not feeling undone with anger, fear, or despair. I’ve got a strong gut sense that possibility remains. The doctor has delivered my fatal diagnosis and I’ve just picked up my guitar and played, as if I’ve been doing lines of magic happy fairy dust from a stash I keep in my desk drawer. Maybe I have been. I’ve been processing this meme my entire life. Who better to ask?
I’ve let hope become a bad word these past years, as though hope was simply a refuge for comfort-addled minds looking for an excuse not to do anything real. And perhaps hoping, as a verb, is and has been used in just this way by many people. And perhaps it is understandable that I have scorned it. But hope is also, simply, possibility and vision, longing and dreaming. It can represent an essential half of Robert Fritz’s dynamic tension, the thing-not-yet-realized which provides a motive force for movement, even in the face of impossible odds. Sure hope can be misused. But it can also be used correctly, I think. And maybe I now have something to say in that matter.
If I do, it’s not something I can easily give away, I think, certainly not in the few moments a chance encounter on the street affords. And perhaps it’s not something I can give to just anyone. It may be that the hope and possibility to be seen sitting in the midst of the “mid-century extinction” can only be seen by those who have journeyed far enough along the path that they’ve reached the hilltop from which it can first be glimpsed. It feels like that’s where I am right now, standing on that hilltop, a bit footsore and out of breath. I’m just beginning to see it: the possibility that remains, the possibility that has always been there, waiting for me to shed my false hopes, so that I could see the real ones.
Time will tell. I will trust things to emerge.
I hope my acquaintance finishes our film. I hope it moves him in some way, further along his path. I hope we find or make time to sit for as long as it takes to explore our mutual question. All or none of this may happen. But just saying this here, just finding my own clarity regarding what I want and what’s in my way, will allow me, the next time we meet, to more fully step into the clear, adult human response I want to give him. Already the dynamic tension pulls me towards. And ain’t that as cool as hell?
Time for music. Pax, all. T