Friday, January 13, 2017

Praying for Time (Among Other Things)

I recorded this song on my phone yesterday, in memory of George Michael. I'll tell you why, and what it means to me, after the jump.

Those who know me will tell you, without hesitation, that I'm an optimistic person and always have been -- perhaps overly so. I walk around this world grinning like some kind of delusional madman because I really do love life and the people in it.

I hope for the best, and unfailingly look for silver linings when the best doesn't happen. My wife would tell you this can be inspiring, but also wicked annoying. But either way, that's me.

However, something happened to me after Nov. 8th, 2016 -- something that tossed me into a long, deep, and uncharacteristic depression -- and I only recently realized the true reason for my existential crisis.
It wasn't that my preferred candidate lost an election; that has happened plenty of times in my adult life. It stinks, but life goes on. But after Donald Trump specifically was elected, my very faith in humanity, in the innate goodness of most people, was deeply shaken. For for the first time in my life, I felt myself doubting whether people really are good.

And I realize that deep down, this might be my greatest fear: That people actually suck, and I've been wrong about them all this time - that my enduring faith in humanity is misplaced. That we're not just unremarkable, but actually horrible parasites on this planet, and not even worth God's love or salvation.

And I think that's why the song "Praying for Time" by George Michael has always pierced me in a deeply moving way, even as a kid. When it first came out around 1990, I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that this was the same seemingly shallow pop star who sang "Father Figure" and "I Want Your Sex." I think it's a wholly underrated work of brilliance by a largely underrated songwriter, God rest his soul.

Beyond its striking relevance to the dumpster fire of 2016 -- more than 25 years after its release -- the song lashes out at our greedy culture of consumerism, at inequality, at our own willful ignorance and selfishness, and at our careless destruction of the Earth we call home:

This is the year of the open hand, it will not be the last
Look around now, these are the days of the beggars and the choosers
This is the year of the hungry man whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance and legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor, and most of us are not sure
If we have too much but we'll take our chances cuz God stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way, he must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all God's children crept out the back door. 

It's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hang on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much, much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time. 

This is the year of the empty hand, you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year
This is the year of the guilty man, your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind the door, say, "What's mine is mine and not yours!"
I may have too much, but I'll take my chances cuz God stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you, did you cover your eyes when they told you 
That He can't come back, because He has no children to come back for

It's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hang on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much, much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time. 

-- George Michael (RIP, 1963-2016)

I mean, damn -- it's all too much, right? This is one of those songs -- there are a handful of them - that gives me a pit in my stomach, that simultaneously makes me feel sick and lights a fire inside of me.

But there's a beautiful takeaway here -- the silver lining under those wounded skies: It IS hard to love, but we have to try. I keep trying.

'Hold on to Hope'

I'm still working through fits of deep hopelessness, and existential fears of unchecked climate change, religious and cultural persecution, and the now-all-too-real possibility of nuclear warfare.

But I have come to realize a few things that help me hang on to hope (when there is no hope to speak of):

1. Donald Trump lost the popular election by nearly 3 million votes. Our electoral system is rigged in favor of rural states (and former slave states, more specifically). But the fact remains that only a small portion of Americans actually voted for this man, and those who did vote overwhelmingly chose Hillary Clinton.

2. That actual majority of voters rightly feels cheated - and they're fighting back. It's been inspiring to witness the galvanizing efforts and unified reaction of progressive activists in the face of such a defeating, demoralizing setback. Donations to charities that support human and civil rights, the poor, minorities, women, the free press, and other groups threatened by a Trump presidency have surged since his election. To my delight, Trump has had difficulty finding A-List entertainers willing to perform at his inauguration, because most musicians have, well, souls, but also a larger-than-average store of empathy.

3. Trump's election was a wake-up call... like a cancer diagnosis. America is very sick. The cancer of racism (and sexism, and xenophobia) may have seemed to some like it was in remission, but it's still there. The election of Donald Trump was the equivalent of an early cancer diagnosis to the body politic: It's awful and terrifying and gut-wrenching to hear, but it's also the first step toward treating and hopefully surviving a potentially deadly disease. Had Clinton won, many of us who don't suffer or witness the effects of racism or sexism on any regular basis may have continued to believe everything was fine - when in fact, it's clearer than ever that this country has an illness that threatens its very survival.

A note about 'sour grapes'

Listen, I'm hoping for the best from our president-elect. I sincerely hope he's able to govern the country for the better over the next four years, though I've seen little evidence to suggest he will. But, as is my way, I'm hoping for the best, and that he proves me wrong.

In the meantime, it's not "sour grapes" to bemoan the election of someone who has emboldened and made mainstream the awful sexist and racist undercurrents of our culture... who has been celebrated by the Ku Klux Klan and has elevated white nationalists to the highest reaches of authority... who has bragged about grabbing women by their genitals without their consent... who publicly mocked a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for his physical disability... who continues to threaten the free press like a third-world tyrant... who spends an excessive amount of time and energy on vanity vengeance, settling perceived scores with private citizens on social media... and who has encouraged the proliferation and potential use of nuclear weapons.

It is certainly not sour grapes to lament the election of such a man when 2.8 million more Americans chose his opponent, and when every U.S. intelligence agency believes a foreign country made deliberate attempts to illegally influence the election in his favor.

Very simply, this is not partisan sour grapes. After George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, I was upset that we as a nation had voted in favor of committing ourselves and our soldiers to years more of an unnecessary war in Iraq -- an ultimately devastating decision that even most Republicans now admit was a mistake.

However, while I disagreed with Bush's policies, I never doubted that he was a gentleman, or believed he held malice in his heart. I certainly never feared that he would accidentally start World War III in the midst of a Twitter feud and bring the world to an untimely end. 

These are real concerns that people, including some conservatives, have about our incoming president - a man who, I'll remind you, has no governing experience whatsoever, has driven several businesses into bankruptcy (stiffing contractors and taxpayers while protecting his own wealth), and is basically just a reality television celebrity. We have just elected The Situation, but with money. The Richuation.

So yeah, I'm hopeful, but I'm allowed to be worried. For my daughter and my wife, for people of color and of different faiths, for any American out there literally deemed an enemy by his own president-elect. These are unprecedented, unconscionable times, and I'm allowed to be upset.

As a friend of mine, addressing Trump voters who insisted she "get over it," posted on Facebook shortly after the election: "Don't assume that your neighbors and family and friends know that you are 'Not a racist' and that you 'Would never accept sexual assault' -- because to the rest of us, you just did."

Hang on to hope when there is no hope to speak of.


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