Dear President Biden,
It had been coming on for a bit, but I finally hit a pretty low point yesterday evening as I considered the enormity of what we’re facing and how, even at the micro-relational level, people can’t seem to get along. All day I’d been hearing stories about people yelling at those they’re supposed to lead or freezing one another out in shitty shows of territoriality and power mongering. And those weren’t “out there somewhere” news stories – no, they were close in stories about things that happened to people I care about.
I did remind myself that the crappy stuff seems to burble to the surface more quickly and insistently than the good stuff – I mean, who thinks to make a special note that “so and so held the door for me” or “so and so hung on the zoom call after the meeting for a few minutes to tell me they appreciated what I said”?
That said, even though I know there’s still a lot that’s right with the world, I found myself seriously contemplating giving up on caring and instead devoting myself to mindless distraction. My reasoning was that this was a reasonable position to adopt because my efforts are only ever likely to have vanishingly small impacts and the odds of us getting our collective shit together seem pretty remote. It was not pretty in my head.
In keeping with the “I clearly need a break” alarm bells that were going off in my head, I opened the art and design website, Colossal, which is one of my go-to’s when I need some measured distraction and maybe some inspiration. I’d scrolled through the various up-top stories and was perusing the images at the bottom of the screen associated with less recent posts when I saw a picture of a very old man who was framed by water with sunlight glinting off of it.
He looked soulful and kind, so I clicked on the picture and it took me to a story about this man whose name is Wayan Nyo, a 90-year-old Indonesian fisherman, who, since 2000 has been fishing for plastic in the ocean. Well, really, Colossal is telling the story of the film that Dana Frankoff made about him called Voice Above Water.
I did end up watching the film – it’s lovely and provocative and I recommend it highly – but even before I clicked on the film link, I found myself breathing much, much easier since I suddenly knew that not only is it time to seriously re-engage with my early morning trash pick-up ritual, but also that as small a thing as that is, it’s still a thing and it’s worth doing. Given how easily it backed off, my existential distress clearly wasn’t all that augured in, but the feelings of relief and gratitude were profound.
So this morning I set out with a plastic (sigh) garbage bag and a plastic (double sigh) newspaper bag to serve as a glove and went to the site of a really yucky garbage array in the block down from us that I’d noticed yesterday morning. The stuff was strewn across about half the block, mostly confined to the nature strip and the gutter, and it probably took about 15-20 minutes to get all of it. It was super early so there wasn’t much traffic, but the very first (of 4) cars that went by was driven by a young woman who looked like she could have been Mr. Nyo’s granddaughter. She slowed way down and gave me the most beautiful smile as she mouthed “thanks.”
May we all be safe and may we restore our planet’s systems so they function safely.
May we all be willing to take care.
May we all be strong lights for one another like Wayan Nyo was for me.
May we accept that small efforts won’t fix everything, but they will help us hang in.