When Despair Pays a Call

One Saturday in October, I went canvassing in the rain.

This wasn’t noble. This was self-serving.

My heart had been slipping into despair. Over how human beings can treat other human beings. Over how human beings can treat this big blue and green marble we live on.

My 25% tips, composting, love notes dropped in the mail seem so pathetic, irrelevant, naive against this mass of awful.

Despair, as I suspect you know, is a coercive feeling. It can elbow every other feeling out of the room and leave me energy-less, hopeless, just plain less. And that’s no place I want to dwell in.

Once, many months ago, someone shared with me a line from the Talmud that I’ve gone to again and again:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

Reading that, I knew that despair was abandoning the work I’d been assigned for this lifetime. Tipping, composting, love notes are part of the work. They won’t stop all the awfulness. Still, they count.

And when I need a deep supercharge from the enormity of the world’s grief, I go to the sources that connect me with something larger than I am.

Bringing bighearted, big-visioned people together over good food in a warm home.

Donating to a cause that matters to a friend in his or her honor.

Sitting in the bleachers for a team I love and screaming hoarse with fellow lovers.

Making art - writing, dancing, designing, cooking - creating something that didn’t exist before.

Going to the beach in the early morning and watching the dogs endlessly chasing the waves in the morning light.

And canvassing for things that matter to me.

Will my canvassing on a wet Saturday make the difference? Who knows.

But what I know is that it is part of my work. As is recycling, holding doors, letting cars merge in ahead of me, and any other kindness we undertake.

The most important causes won’t be resolved in our lifetime. Which makes working for them all the more worthy. Each humble step we take means one less step those after us will have to take.

And when despair pays a call, as it does every now and again, let’s turn to the things that connect us to the larger stream of humanity moving our world forward one nudge at a time.

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