The thing with feathers

“Tonight I write the saddest lines,” said the poet, thinking it to be true. But there were sad days before, and sad days to come. Nobody has ownership of sadness, of mourning, of realizing that the world cannot hand you a reward just because you worked hard for something. Of course you deserve it, you can say, of course you need to see something from all that work you put into this one thing. But there are farmers all over the world who wake up and realize that the soil is dry and the leaves are dead, and nothing can come from something. There are fishermen all over the world who cast their nets into the merciless ocean and hope that maybe this time, they will draw those nets back up, heavy with the rewards of the sea.

There is something poignant about the sun shining bright on the day that the world has ended. That you are still walking, hand in hand with the one you love, that you are able to afford small pleasures: a nice meal, an air-conditioned room, a comfortable chair. So many people around the world have so much less. Less food, less comfort, less health, less quality of life. This is the guilt you place around your neck, like jewelry you put on every day. You know that sadness is a constant thing: it occupies the spaces between waking and sleeping. Sometimes, an inexplicable heaviness wraps around you in its cold, soft arms. You know that this is sadness.

“But that would be enough,” says a woman, singing a song. And you stand, every day, in front of young people, and hope that you are good enough for them. That you are smart enough and wise enough and careful enough to help them navigate the lives that are blossoming in front of them. Too many of them have told you of the horrors they have witnessed, the heaviness of their burdens, and you wish that you could wrap them all up in cotton wool and protect them from the terribleness of the world. But you cannot. All you have is your time and your words and your patience, and even some days, you do not have enough those.

Sometimes you wish that you didn’t care so much about the world and the people in it. That we can be hit by an asteroid one morning, and all burn up. That we can do enough damage to our already-damaged world to assume that the end is nigh. But we’ve been saying that the end is nigh for centuries now, and the human race still trundles on. In fact, one of my favorite lines from Doctor Strange is appropriate: “It’s not about you.”

It’s not, of course. My sadness cannot equal what other people have experienced and are experiencing right now, so much closer to ground zero. This is why I need to remind myself that it’s not about me – it’s for them. It’s for the people who cannot or will not say anything. That it’s for the people who need kindness and understanding and patience. It’s the true outcome of the humanities: recognizing the humanness of another being.

And, to quote, “in the face of ignorance and resistance,” we need to remind ourselves that tonight does not determine the rest of our lives. As long as we breathe and think and communicate, we have a choice. We can choose to write the saddest lines now. Or we can hope – and do what we can (a word, a gesture, a moment of stillness) to keep it alive.


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