Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What good turns can be done today?
Again, the context is the Stoic assertion that humans are born good, or with an inclination to virtue. If there’s anything that requires a conscious will to believe in 2020, I think, it’s this statement. The media is full of stories of selfish people who won’t wear a simple mask, and that’s just the least of the world’s problems today, four days before the US election. My Facebook feed is full of friends saying “people suck!” or “humans are awful.” And yes, people do some awful shit, from the petty to the downright evil. But I have to choose to find the good, or else despair will win. And for me, that’s often finding the stories of human perseverance despite despair, in the face of great tragedy or evil. People finding beauty, joy, passion, love, kindness–not in some kind of toxic negation of reality, but in spite of it. Evil wants humans to turn on each other, to tear each other down, to break the bonds that unite us. It wants us to be so exhausted that we believe justice is no longer possible. And that’s why in fighting evil and injustice, I need to find the good and to support it, to lift it up, and augment it. I need to call out injustice and evil in simple, plain, stark words. I am not a saint, and sarcasm is a superpower, but my challenge is to find a way to always support the good–and sometimes that may be simply finding the irony in the words of the injust.
And when it comes to the pandemic: I recognize people are frustrated. People are still attempting to bargain with a virus. And that is frustrating for those of us who know that can’t work. But I also acknowledge that even part of my own brain wants to do that–risk management is essentially figuring out what my own personal limits are and what risks are acceptable. Every single one of us is grappling with that–and there are those who can’t cope and so are turning to conspiracy theories and quack solutions. Why? Not because they are evil–but because they are tired and want it to end, and they can’t deal with reality and so descend into magical thinking. It happens all the time, and even I occasionally slip into it (although not so much about this issue). So yes, I can be frustrated with these people, and tired of them, but I am not devoid of empathy for them as humans. Back to the Kubler-Ross model: They’re stuck in the denial, anger, and bargaining steps because they cannot contemplate going into to depression, or admitting they have far less agency in their own lives than they believe or have been led to believe. So they keep cycling through.
So my good turn for the day is to try to see the human in every person, while not excusing bad or injust behaviour–because that behaviour is a symptom of something deeper, which cannot possibly be addressed until it’s understood (and even then, sometimes it cannot be solved).
Indigo blue, almost black, fading into nothingness
But here, the Pleiades, on the bull’s shoulder
And the moonlight reflecting, London blue
Spectres drift nearby, springing,
evoking, calling, a past requirement
no longer needed
but peace, seeping ether
and pain and time wind down
and seem to cease
and flies drop from the walls
but in the last moments of fever dream
fragments of a lost waltz
and one last time, fending off
the inevitable, now approaching
night falls, has already fallen
bursts of silence, faltering
the procession falls unheard
the clock ticks, precise
as time itself fails
a tapping from
(On this day, it is widely believed by those who believe that the veil is thin between worlds. Even without belief, it seems to me that ghosts (for some value of ghosts) are real, and visit us when we are open to them. This performance utterly rent the veil for me. The spectres were, in some sense, absolutely real–my printer came to life in the middle of the first movement and spit out four pages I’d tried–unsuccessfully–to print yesterday. Sometime around 20 minutes in, I realized I could hear the ticking of my clock over the sound on my headphones, and then a second, percussive tapping–fast at first, but gradually softening until it died out about a minute after the piece ended. Yeah, my logical mind knows it was the furnace, but part of me knows it was more than that. )
So sometimes the universe sends blatant signals to you. The quartet was the first one. At lunchtime, I tried–once again–to get going on Shostakovich embroidery #4, which is meant to be cross stitch. I laid down an initial patch of stitches–and then had to frog it. That’s the third frogging. It isn’t meant to be, at least not in this moment.
What I realized while doing a drive down to Betty’s to pick up a takeout turkey dinner (and they had pumpkin pie tonight) was that as much as I adore these later Shostakovich compositions–the ones in that sort of liminal space of approaching mortality–I hadn’t made friends yet with the images of Shostakovich in his later years. They are not comfortable. He was so frequently ill the last nine years of his life that he usually looks much older than a man in his 60s–but you occasionally get a flash of that boyishness that he retained well into his 40s. This was a man who spent those last nine years or so in constant dialog with mortality. That’s something I want–and need–to honour. The recent book of photographs I purchased has three of him from June, 1975, and that is, I think, the universe was trying to tell me: Do one of those. Don’t look away. This was a man still fully capable of writing incredible music, and he did so up until–nearly–his dying day, despite all the infirmities, the cancer, the pain. So, I’ll scan them, and pull up some editing software, and see what emerges for my needle.
I listened to the 15th Symphony on the way home, and then flipped over to my other playlist on shuffle, and this came up. Clearly, there’s something in the air from 1974, and it needed to be heard today.