The writer and activist, Grace Paley (RIP) was someone much admired by almost everyone in the progressive/left community. We knew her in Vermont and one day a group of us were rehashing the tribulations of the peace and freedom movements of the sixties. In response to something she said, I replied, “I am too cynical,” to which she countered with, “Don’t be cynical; it’s too expensive.” I have thought about that often over the years.
It is so easy to give up on the world, to think it’s all bullshit, that everything is a lie, that money and power control it all, and there is no truth either knowable or worth seeking. Are there only two choices? Is it either “all bullshit” or, for the new-age person, “all is one.” My take is “Fuck you, it’s all bullshit. Fuck you, all is one.” To me, those easy outs, either one of them, is avoidance, giving up on the struggle to resolve the contradictions of life.
One of the brightest guys I knew growing up, John, became a deep hippie. When I knew him, he was funny and kind. As he got more and more alienated from the establishment and more “out there” in hippy land he became cynical and less kind. He died at age thirty-nine.
Some years back I met his younger brother, Tom, for dinner in New York. Seeing me, he cried because I had known John well and we were close. Tom said, “His last two years were tough. They were not good years. He got to believe it was all bullshit.”
“Yeah,” Tom continued, “but you still have to take a shit every day.”
We are in a body, stuck in it but stuck in it for a reason. What’s that? There is a spiritual thinker and writer I like very much, Richard Rohr. He put it like this: “The people who hold the contradictions and resolve them in themselves are the saviors of the world. They are the only real agents of transformation, reconciliation, and newness.”
Nobody said this is easy. If it was easy, it probably would not be worth doing. A Trappist priest gave me a small Dhammapada, sayings of the Buddha. It has a triangular copper bookmark and on that page: “Few cross over the river. Most are stranded on this side. On the riverbank, they run up and down.”