Friday, April 09, 2010

The Candle

Please believe me! I do not want to become a bitter old man muttering oaths under my breath and swiping at passing children with my cane. But I am sincerely growing increasingly concerned about how bitter I am becoming. I don't want to turn into a nasty curmudgeon people cross the street to avoid. But it's like being in quicksand: the harder I try to free myself, the further in I sink.

Perhaps it is just that bad things weigh more heavily on the mind and sprit than do good things and tend, with every passing year, to become more and more the consistency of hardening concrete.

How can I escape being aware that we are becoming a society utterly consumed by a pathetic fascination with the rich, the beautiful, and the famous? Our worth as individuals--often in our own eyes--is measured against those three criteria. A "celebrity" suffers a hangnail and the world gasps in horror and shock. Flowers and messages of support pour in. Mary Jenkins, of Olathe, Kansas, is brutally murdered in her home in front of her children and the news doesn't make it past the next county.

Have I been under a rock for the past ten years? Who the hell are these people who rule our popular culture--these preening, posturing poseurs whose unknown talent totally escapes me? What constructive, positive things have they ever done to help improve humanity? Why should their peccadillos, their divorces, their scandals interest me in the least? (Well, they don't, of course, but surely, surely I have to be missing something, somewhere!)

Why are we glued to "reality" shows--awash in vacuous young bimbets and hunks with flawless skin and perfect teeth but with a head so hollow you can almost hear the wind whistling between their ears--which couldn't possibly be farther from reality? Why do people listen to--and far, far worse, totally believe--the purveyors of ignorance, bigotry and hate posing as "political analysts," pundits, and talk-show hosts on egregiously un-fair and un-balanced media like Fox News? (Actually, Fox occasionally displays some bitter humor. You can be sure, for example, if, when reporting on a home-grown terrorist, they discover that the perpetrator's great grandfather had voted Democratic in the 1928 election, it will be brought out as incontrovertible evidence of guilt.)

The problem is that it is so hard not to be bitter when things that should be so simple and self evident are twisted and skewered and turned inside out at the whim of anyone with a perceived axe to grind. Becoming bitter is a particular danger for romantics, who really want and fully expect to see goodness and courtesy in others and who never really develop the rhinoceros hide most people don in order to deal with the world. The more one yearns for a world of puppies and cocoa with marshmallows, the more prone one is to be disappointed and hurt by gratuitous evil.

The seeds of bitterness grow slowly, but the trees that spring from them are almost impossible to fell. And worst of all, there is no joy, or hope, or promise in them.

And yet, for all my very real concerns, for all my inability to comprehend why the world works the way it does, or why there is so much soul-crushing stupidity and bigotry and greed and so little compassion and common courtesy, there remains, underneath the accumulating layers of cynicism and distrust which threaten to smother me, the belief in good and our ability to somehow...somehow reverse all this negativism; to somehow put the genie back in the bottle.

And as long as humanity has hope, however unrealistic it may seem, we will survive. For in the raging tempest of existence, hope is our one small, inextinguishable candle providing a beacon in the vast night.

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