Two Things True
David R. Weiss – July 15, 2022
Two things—opposite as it were—can be true at once.
There are things I wish I did not know … that I am yet glad to know. Not happy, per se, but grateful amid regret. Things needful to know and so the knowing, though unwanted, is, at the same time, welcome.
Two things true at once.
Or again: I am learning that it is possible to write—and to act!—with love … on the far side of hope. And it is possible, from that place, to sustain what might be called “counter hope.”
Not pessimism. Not at all. But a hope that is no longer hopeful. No longer the reflection of upbeat attitude or warm emotion. A hope so thin and gritty that it is “merely” existential—and nothing more. That is, it exists only as chosen action, however tiny, in the present moment. Such “counter-hope” is not something we hold onto, not something we “have”; it is something we do. Again and again and again.
Just back from a week of hiking up on the North Shore (of Lake Superior), my experience was one of persistent bittersweet awe. Many of the parks and trails and beaches bear witness to the irrepressible artistry of creation, the seeming longing of the world simply to be with unrestrained exuberance. Thus, an entire week of “oh my” followed by “and yet.”
Despite its pristine pretensions where I walked, this Earth is wounded. And deeply. We saw glimpses of that in the occasional mountains of logged trees or rail cars of mined ore. Fellow members of the Earth community, their citizenship revoked so they might be rendered resources for (globalized Western) human appetites that are fluent in one language only: More.
That’s not to say that no people or culture has shown a capacity for restraint or, better yet, a culture of humble harmony with the planet. Many have. But the lingua franc of the globalized industrial world is accumulative consumption. Our measure of worth, our sense of meaning, our very reason for being (from the individual to the whole economic system!) is oriented to a singular end: More.
Hence our wounded planet. And because no corner on Earth is separate from the whole, even the North Shore’s beauty is wholly entangled—in distant but undeniable kinship—with raging wildfires, receding lakes, ocean plastic, retreating glaciers, rising temperatures and more. The instinctive awe cannot be divorced from withering anguish.
Two things true at once.
Delighted to spend a week in daily relationship with three of my grandchildren. Yet every moment of joy is matched and more by the inescapable awareness that they have no idea. And they are wholly unprepared for the future that is coming for them.
How could anyone be prepared for a tomorrow that is not simply the day after today but the sum of decades of yesterdays that will now broker a complete break with every yesterday … and rewrite every tomorrow we ever imagined?
And isn’t childhood—they are, after all, just 9, 11, and 13—supposed to be a long season of innocence; rambunctious, sometimes cantankerous growing, in which kids can be kids, delaying their ripening maturity until young adulthood finally claims them? But with the entire world readying to shift—perhaps before they even have the chance to grow up—there is an impatient anxiety in me. They may not have the luxury of childhood.
Of course, many—countless—children across the globe—have already had their childhood forfeited to the More that fuels war and famine, political ambitions and environmental destruction. My grandchildren are simply going to find their lot abruptly joined to that of their peers around the world. A generation—a whole series of generations—consigned to live within the wounds of a planet that would’ve preferred to offer us its abundance.
Except that there was no abundance that could satisfy us. Enough? Was that even a word?
The same was true, by the way, of my brother’s relationship with bourbon. What struck me as abundance beyond measure left him perpetually unsatiated … until it left him permanently dead. A longer more complicated tale than that, but the cause-effect holds true. As it may for us as well.
I have every desire to be hopeful. I could name them if you like. Six children: each the apple of my eye. Nine grandchildren: together joys uncounted. A wife who still pitters the patters of my heart. And two or three decades of my own still unfolding. And those are only the desires that leap to mind. I have multitudes of wishes for a future that I know is no more.
Two things, painfully true at once.
“And yet …” you will stammer. “If only …” you will offer. “For surely …” you will insist. I hear the sincerity in your voice. But sincerity cannot purchase what is no longer for sale.
It isn’t just the math—although that’s damning enough. Between rising CO2, trespassed planetary boundaries, collapsing ecosystems—and social systems and political systems—there simply isn’t any honest math that provides any solid basis for hope.
And whatever miniscule odds you might conjure up are exorcised (an ironic use of the word if there ever was one) by those determined to turn a profit right up to their last breath, those determined to wield assault weapons while uncertainty and anxiety peak (an incendiary combination), and those determined to undo democracy so that authoritarian homophobic misogynist white nationalism can be the flag flying over the future as it implodes. I could go on: pandemics, migrations, drought, famine, hunger, massive civil unrest, war, and nuclear disasters. But that would just be piling on.
Yes, there is an abundance of good to strive for—simpler living, greener energy, and the resolute protection or reclaiming of all manner of civil rights and human rights. But that good is not cause to be hopeful. The forces arrayed against us, some systemic, some personal, and some ecological are not going to negotiate. And some of them have inertia that simply no amount of good will or regret will moderate. Our future is bleak—at best. And I mean “at best”; there are possible futures worse than bleak.
Which is why I say the good is not cause to be hopeful. The good is cause to do right. Irrespective of the odds. Doing right on the far side of hope, that’s “counter-hope.” It’s the best we can do now. It won’t make a dent in “bleak.” But it may open a passage to a tomorrow we never wished for, but which we will be damn grateful for if we make it there alive.
Two things true at once. The world is overfull with beauty. And overwrought with wounds. So much to savor. So much to salve. Keep busy savoring and salving and you won’t miss the hope at all.
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David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community Supported Theology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.