Looking towards the future, we were begging for the past
Well, we knew we had the good things, but those just never seemed to last
Oh, please just last.
Everyone’s unhappy, everyone’s ashamed
Well we all just got caught looking at somebody else’s page
Well, nothing ever went quite exactly as we planned
Our ideas held no water but we used them like a dam
Oh, and I know this of myself, I’d assume as much for other people
Oh, and I know this of myself, we’ve listed more to life’s end gong
Than the sound of life’s sweet bells.
Was it ever worth it, was there all that much to gain?
Well we knew we’d missed the boat, and we’d already missed the plane
We didn’t read the invite, we just danced at our own wake
All our favorites were playing so we could shake, shake, shake, shake shake
Tiny curtains opened, we heard the tiny claps of little hands
A tiny man would tell a little joke and get a tiny laugh from all the folks
Sitting, drifting around in bubbles, and thinking it was us that carried them
When we finally got it figured out, that we had truly missed the boat
Oh, and we carried it off so well, as if we’d got a new position
Oh, and we owned all the tools ourselves, but not the skills to build a shelf with
Oh, what useless tools, ourselvesModest Mouse, “Missed the Boat”
Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock has probably written more than forty songs about how and why people are assholes. That made choosing just one of them to lead off today’s blog very difficult. I ultimately settled on “Missed the Boat,” because just about every line in it is a winner (although I did omit a few for brevity). Metaphorically speaking, if you are someone who has “missed the boat,” that means that you have missed out on opportunity- or perhaps also the point. This is a song about human beings who “miss the boat” on life, but don’t realize it until they are staring directly at the end of their journey.
We (humans) are given this great gift, and we think that we know it’s value, but we don’t- not really. We don’t know it, because we’ve never had to lose it, or even face losing it. And when we are young, we don’t even really know at first what to do with it. So, we all mutually agree to more or less all follow the same loose blueprint (look at someone else’s page). We focus on the future, and get caught up in the past and miss enjoying the present altogether. Afterwards, we wonder out loud how quickly those special moments disappear. “Oh please, just last.” Or, as Frost puts it “Nothing gold can stay.”
But that’s okay. This is America! All we have to do is produce! Work hard and build tall towers so that everyone can see your success. The American dream. Along the way, we are told to keep our chin up and project happiness and what we envision to be success even when they aren’t really there. We plaster idealized pictures of ourselves on Facebook and obsess over the perfect selfie. Instead of being vulnerable, and using that vulnerability as a means of learning, growing and connecting with others we “fake til we make it”. We project confidence and that we know all of the answers because doing this nets rewards and helps us to ignore that gnawing feeling deep inside that we don’t really even have a clue.
When we have good things, we drift along on the bubbles of our fortune, pretending that every lift is the product of our work and talents only. We forget that almost everything is supported in large part by privilege, luck, our connections and the efforts of those around us. One seed gets planted in a garden and lauds his hard work for becoming a flower, then assumes that the seed that was thrown on a pile of rocks didn’t grow because it was too lazy.
We wrap all of our time and efforts around ceremony, formality, pettiness, titles and promotions, shallow grievances and even shallower conversations, when we should instead have focusing on honesty, character, real connections and the big conversations of life.
We, of course, are clueless that we have wasted our lives on these petty things. Until suddently we reach the end, face our own mortality, and realize that we have truly “missed the boat.”
We had the tools to build a deep, rewarding life, but never developed the correct set of skills the skills to make that happen.
Or, as I have stated often in these blogs (borrowed from another blogger): “Life is wasted on the living”.
Speaking for myself, I can say that I often rationally knew that I was focusing on and getting wrapped up in the wrong things, but I didn’t really feel it until the full impact of my diagnosis sunk into me. We think we know that life is precious. But we don’t. Not really. Not as long as it remains some abstract event that will occur at some time in the future. I tried meditating, writing in my journal, and therapy, as if they were “to-do” list for happiness and fulfillment. Changes were happening, but very slowly. What it really took was a doctor telling me that I was going to die.
So, why am I focusing in on all of this today? Because I am starting to get angry again. Angry at assholes. It seems that they are multiplying exponentially these days. Or more likely they have always existed. The difference is thay they have now been validated. They’ve been given permission by the head asshole and their echo chamber of fools to finally put their lack of empathy for anyone else in full display, instead of hiding it behind closed doors like the old days.
I try to distance myself from mentally and emotionally getting too wrapped up in politics and in people’s resulting behavior. But it gets harder and harder every day. Ignorant people have now fully melded their entire identities into defending the narcissist at the top. Because if he is wrong, they have to then admit that they have been wrong as well. And so now they deny the severity of a global pandemic in the name of defending the cult-leader in charge. Humanity has always done this. A rebranding of reality in order to justify reprehensible actions. If the pandemic is declared “fake” or overblown, selfish people can feel justified in not doing anything to try to curb it or to protect our fellow citizens. They can cuss and yell at people wearing masks and try to claim that violent, abhorrent and rude behavior is somehow now “defending liberty”.
And along the way, they are treating life itself, precious life, like it is only so much trash. “We all die someday” they throw off, casually. I think that I’ve mentioned before how much I hate this phrase. I hate it because it is tossed out with such stupidity and ignorance. They say it confidently even because the actual idea of dying is still just some abstract idea to them. Like unicorns. They have never had to sit down and face that fear. If they did, they wouldn’t act as if dying were less important than money. Or convenience.
And the tens of thousands of pandemic deaths in this country alone? Those might as well be unicorns too. They haven’t stared at fear in in the eyes of their loved ones. They haven’t had to say goodbye to their family one last time before being sedated for a ventilator. Death is no more real to them than a game piece in a political argument.
“Let’s face it. Most people who are dying of this are on their last legs anyway.” Thanks Bill O’Reilly. Except that what you just said is not true. Someone can be immune-compromised and not be on their last legs. And even people with stage 4 cancer can still have years left. The last years of their lives with their families are important to them. They are important to older people too. Anyone can die of this disease. Younger people can die of this disease. And those who don’t die may still be left with permanent debilitating conditions. All of these people are still hypothetical “others” to you. All of these people love and are loved.
We used to unify in times of crisis in order to protect our most vulnerable citizens. Now we actively act to injure them. As if the very idea that they exist makes you feel “attacked” for being the asshole that you are. And this is done in the name of “liberty”. If God is love, he is absent among you. He is among the sick, vulnerable and elderly.
Of course we find that conservative, religious people are at the forefront. Gathering in groups, and grabbing their guns. They are protesting social distancing “laws” which basically only say, “don’t gather in large groups, infringe on others’ space, or throw parties.” (i.e. “don’t be a dick”) But their protest signs have the gall to claim that these directives are congruent to slavery or to being placed in concentration camps. If you want to work, you are free to work. You might have to take a job with long hours and low pay. They are jobs held by the same people that you are treating like crap for politely asking you to wear a mask or social distance for the health and safety of others.
I want to ask these people if they will volunteer to sacrifice their own lives for the economy. An economy that they would never see, hear or consume in. Will they lay down their lives for the sake of someone else’s convenience? Or so that someone else can go out and do all of the fun things again. I want to be able to ask these things. Not because I want them to die- but because these people are strangers to empathy. They won’t care about someone else, so it has to become real to them. Take the gun that they are cavalierly toting around and point it in their direction and all of the chants and the protests will fall silent.
I fear that all of this is only going to get much worse before it gets better. I fear most of all for my kids. I worry for the world that they are going to grow up in. My girls, especially, are already outspoken. They are already bold and willing to speak their minds to point out racism, sexism, homophobic and other behavior. They aren’t afraid to tell people that they are being assholes. What will happen to them the first time that someone decides to seriously strike them back? They will have to learn in a painful way what I have been trying to tell them all along. That the world is not fair, and that speaking out will usually have a price- and possibly a high one. People really don’t like it when you tell them they are behaving like an asshole. I am both very proud of and afraid for them.
I teach them to be grateful for what they have and to expect nothing. I tell them to what is right even when nobody is looking. We tell them to go where their purposes and talents lead them to, but not to expect the payoff of success in return. The world isn’t fair. There will always be someone with less fortune than you. Appreciate the privileges you have that someone else doesn’t.
But words have less power than actions. So I need to model that for them. I need to stop be angry and frustrated at these assholes. Getting angry and worrying about things that I cannot control is part of the problem. It’s like flailing around in deep water when you don’t know how to swim. All it does is waste energy. The only sane option is floating and letting the current take you towards something to grab onto. I need to model that for them. So that they can live life and not waste it. So that they can focus on all of the beauty and love that will always be present somewhere instead.
So that they can catch the boat, steer the boat, and live a better purpose through the the very turbulent waters I see coming ahead.