I made a post on my Instagram account the other day – was it yesterday, even? Or ten years ago? I can't tell anymore; time seems to be whipping by me, blowing my hair in the breeze as it goes, while I'm stuck in a vat of quickly drying cement—or clinging to the edge of a cliff, maybe—it's hard to say; but I'm immobile, either way, and utterly out of control.
So I uploaded a picture of my purple-haired girl, four years old, ever curious, stepping lightly into the woods behind our house; and the caption on it says, "Tread carefully—it's a mad world out there—but it's lovely, too, isn't it?" And, look. I like the shot. I like my girl. I like feeling like there's wit and joy and delight and love in this world powerful enough to move us and to propel us onward and upward.
But I don't feel it. Not today, at any rate. And not yesterday, and not at all this week.
Is there good in this world? Is life even lovely in the slightest? And, well, even when I know it is, is it safe to say such a thing out loud? And when I do, do I even feel it anymore? (I do, oh, I do.) But I can't get a handle on what's going on outside my front door; I think for a brief moment I have, then I scroll through my social media feeds and—no. I never had a grasp at all. The madness is snowballing; the Nazis are puffing up their chests and the peace builders are dying.
And here I am, fierce and wild and scared as hell, and all my efforts are concentrated currently on just remembering to drink my water and take those deep, healing breaths and on telling myself that all the evil in the world can't break me—but oh, it can, I say to myself—and it is. People are suffering immeasurably in one corner of this vast vault we're stuck in, while others are skulking in the rafters, lighting their tiki torches and memorizing their chants. They're tying ropes around their waists and strapping handguns to their ankles and they're taking deep breaths of oxygen and satisfaction as they ready themselves for a war they've been itching to fight all along.
So what is good, and what is lovely at all? And where do I find the time and good conscience to sit with it awhile?
You do not have to be good, Mary Oliver says, and I'm ignoring the rest of that perfect poem, because I've honed in on this one line today like it's the only thing that matters. I'm glad she said it, frankly, because I'm not good, and because I'm not convinced I want to be.
I'm not okay, even; and I'm sitting here like a sad, shivering little white-skinned duck when I'm one of the privileged many. I feel gross about it. But I'm in the trenches—and I'm CANADIAN, which is maybe the most torturous element of it all. I don't want to be here, I don't have to be here, but I am here—chained down by bewildering things like a mortgage and a life and a community of magic people and in-laws and green space and delicious restaurants and wild rice and honey and a thousand other things that I daydream about giving up but oh, leaving them behind is the worst thing I can imagine—worse even than staying—so I stay. But I am not good and I am not okay—not today, at any rate. And not yesterday, and not at all this week.
Friends, family, community around me: you are everything to me. I want to tell you I love you and I still don't think it'll satiate me. I do love you—I'm telling you now, if I haven't said yet today. But I think about death and dying and the permanence of such a thing and I get scared that every last drop of interaction with you, the collective you, won't be enough for me. Because even basking in every moment and every love-laden breath, even every attempt to shut out the madness by honing in on every last shred of earthly perfection isn't enough to make any of that madness disappear.
The mind of an introspective empath is a rich and tangled space, I'm telling you. But more than this, I'm telling you that I love you.