I need to write something, anything, be it profound or prosaic, masterful or awful. For once, I can’t afford to worry about grammar, for I fear that unless I release the flow of stymied creativity, the poetry will languish and grow heavy, like so much ballast sinking me to the bottom of the sea.
I’m afraid to pause. My fingers tremble, so let them strike the keys, and to do so violently if they must. I am tired and frustrated and angry. My inadequacy follows me wherever I go. I question my ability to better the world; to put my best foot forward; to inspire others; to write poetry and prose of worth to others, and worthy of my lofty expectations; to live up to my ideals; and to persevere in the face of hopelessness.
I wonder how Dr. King would feel about the present state of affairs. I know that toward the end of his life he despaired. He knew that the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were just a beginning of the long struggle for equality, yet for many they served as an excuse to focus their attention elsewhere. He had become deeply concerned about poverty, joblessness, urban plight, and American foreign policy. And though he would certainly be proud to have a black president, I highly doubt that he would be thrilled about mass incarceration, police brutality, housing and financial discrimination, and educational inequality.
Part of me wants to say, “Oh, well if Dr. King despaired, then it’s okay for me to despair.” But that’s a bit like saying that many great ideas were disparaged, therefore if people questions my ideas, they must be great! So where does that leave me? I don’t care if people consider me to be great, but I care about how I feel about myself. And when I even struggle to put in a solid, productive 40 hours per week, it becomes that much harder to feel proud of the life I lead.
On the other hand, I must not succumb to the desire to be superhuman. I am presently reading a book by Samantha Power titled Chasing the Flame: One Man’s Fight to Save the World, about a man who spent his life working for the UN and in some of the worst circumstances imaginable: civil wars and refugee crises in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Balkans, Lebanon and Iraq (where he was killed). If ever there were an example of a person who did everything in his power to make a positive impact, Sergio Vieira de Mello fits the bill. And yet…And yet…One cannot read the book and ignore the facts: he did all that he could, and had many successes, yet he could never overcome the violence, brutality, apathy and injustice that clipped his wings at every turn. Millions still died, and too many perpetrators of war crimes went unpunished.
What if the only way to better things comes from macro-economic forces that are often out of our control? The Green Revolution did more to reduce hunger than any other anti-hunger initiative, and economic development in places like China has brought more people out of poverty than the combined impact of most nonprofits in the world.
I can only come to the conclusion that, yes, the impact we have can often be negligible, but negligible is greater than nothing. And yes, factors outside our control–war, tax policy, economic growth–can outstrip even our most concerted efforts. But nothing good can happen in a vacuum. We must be ready to take advantage of opportunity even as we toil through the headwinds, do our level best, and face our own fears of failure and feelings of anguish.