I recently attended a concert with some friends up at Red Rocks. The performer, who sings some fairly aggressive and angry songs, spoke out towards the end of his performance. “We live in interesting and difficult times,” he declared. “And I don’t know that I have the answers. I’m a romantic. And I think we need to listen to each other.” It was a somewhat surprising and appreciated sentiment to hear from the stage.
Riding home, I found myself reflecting on the belief that things in America are really extra super bad these days. The twists and turns of the car on the mountain road provided a comforting and peaceful environment to consider this viewpoint. I remember in 2008 when the country rippled with state after state passing the Defense of Marriage Act. When I was young, I watched the LA riots over the beating of Rodney King. I’ve studied the history of AIDS and how it was first called GRID- Gay Related Immune Deficiency. How gay men who were diagnosed were abandoned by even medical professions and left to suffer and die. I watched city after city in our country issue camping bans (even Boulder, bastion of all that is liberal) to shut down the Occupy movement and inhibit our right to assembly and free speech. I’ve read first hand accounts of our wars in Vietnam and Korea. I’ve absorbed histories and stories about the creation and use of nuclear weapons. And the impact of nuclear weapons and accidents on people and environments. I lived near 3 Mile Island as young person. Difficult times and human suffering are not new to our country.
When W. was elected, there were folks in my social circle who were pleased to have something happen to address the complacency of the progressive community. I admit my own frustration at getting people to engage and participate. We had achieved just enough to feel comfortable, without having actually and genuinely made change. Similar to what happened in the Obama years. It is an unfortunate fact that many of us need to be scared or uncomfortable to get motivated. And there is a form of fatigue from doing this work, repeatedly, for years, and still feeling a sense of being where we started. The ancient story of Sisyphus, condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again, highlights the essentially hellish nature of doing a task with no real sense of progress.
This feeling of discouragement is something I faced when I first took on the primary work of my household when my kids were young. No matter how many times I did the dishes, there were always more dishes. And as long as I thought of them as a task to complete, I found myself wrestling Sisyphian feelings of being in a hell of in-completion. After some time, it might honestly have been a few years, I had a moment of experiencing it differently. Instead of trying to complete the overall task of dishes so it could be done, perhaps I would simply do the dishes in front of me and feel a moment of satisfaction in the experience of the empty sink. And not really expect it to remain empty. It worked. Even when my well-meaning youngster dropped his cup into the pristine porcelain sink, it didn’t diminish my feeling of satisfaction. There will always be more dishes. Sometimes even the same dishes.
There will always be more injustice. Sometimes the same injustice. Vulnerable people will be targeted and hurt by the chess moves of the powerful. Policies will have intended and unintended consequences that are harmful and damaging. The poor will be left out and left behind. Those who are different will be overlooked or intentionally silenced. And those of us who are committed to justice will be tireless in our efforts to address these things. In the world. In ourselves. In our families. And some days, we will tire. And some days, we will fail. And some days, we will succeed. And every morning, we will start again. Because there is always more to clean up and the only way we can make a difference, is to keep cleaning.