Tuesday, May 22, 2012


My old friend Hubert Selby Jr. used to say "You can't have left without right, or up without down. So if you want pleasure you better be ready for some pain to go with it" and the same for success (expect some failure) and anything we think is "good" ('cause "bad" will come with it) etc.

You could object (and I have) and say, what was "good" about Hitler and his cronies. True, they were responsible for some of the worst violence, death and destruction the world has ever known.  But it was so bad, there hasn't been anything like it since (yes, there has on a smaller scale here and there, but nothing close to the dark days of the early 1940s). Most of the world recoiled, especially Europe where many of the worst wars of the previous centuries had occurred.

I might not be articulating it that well, but the point I'm trying to make is don't despair. Things look glum right now because of the slow economic recovery, the failure of the right to come up with any solution to any problem other than ones that further enrich and empower the wealthy and hurt the rest of us, and the left to coalesce around a clear and united agenda for stopping the growing economic inequity in this country as well as come up with strategies to transcend the resistance on the right to anything but their will, etc.

Not to even mention the global warming crisis which many scientists now believe has gone too far to stop, or the population growth that has contributed so much to it, etc. etc. etc. But some of these things were terribly wrong in the 1950s as well, when there was also the haunting threat of atomic annihilation. In that "age of anxiety" (and despair in many cases) some of the best art and jazz and poetry etc. was created and the struggle for racial Civil Rights, as well as the birth pangs of other rights struggles were emerging, etc.

I'm not saying the greed and shortsightedness of a powerful few might not lead the human race to its own destruction. But I am saying that when it seemed that way before, for whatever world was known or self-reflective enough to see itself as "the world" at the time, the pendulum swung, the tide turned—whatever cliched metaphor you want—and through luck or timing or even sometimes the triumph of reason and logic and good will, the forces of evil were weakened and their damage stopped or reversed.

We could be in another Great Depression right now, but we aren't. Or have been destroyed by nuclear war. But we weren't. Or still fighting over whether slavery should be legal or segregation be legal or laws condemning homosexual sexual activity and imprisoning those who took part in it, etc. etc. etc.

As I like to say, my Irish immigrant grandfather grew up in a thatch roof "cottage" with a dirt floor in a country where being a native, especially one who practiced the Catholic religion, meant he had almost no rights at all. My father, born in the USA dropped out of seventh grade to go to work full time to help my Irish immigrant cop grandfather support the family. My two oldest brothers were in the military in the last year of WWII, and the next was in the military during the Korean so-called "police action" (war) as I was during the so-called Cold War (and the very beginning of Viet Nam heating up).

But my grandfather made that journey as a teenager across an ocean and managed to survive the great inequities and anti-Catholic anti-immigration movements of the late 19th century. My old man managed to start his own business, a few of them, mostly around hardware and house repair, and raise his six kids (a seventh died as an infant) in part thanks to the policies introduced by FDR. My two oldest brothers and I got to go to college on The G.I. Bill, thanks to Democrats, and the other one got to own a house bigger than the one we grew up in and raise a wonderful family etc.

They're all dead now, and some of them suffered more than others. But their lives and they themselves contained all the contradictions that life does. The success and failure, the pleasure and pain, the ups and downs, lefts and rights, good and bad. As does mine. As does the world. May I work to make whatever I can better, but accept that no matter how good it gets, there will be bad that comes with it, and vice versa, sometimes double.


elaine durbach said...

Thanks, Mike - Feeling put upon after a day of totally normal stresses, this is just the wise reminder I needed to clear the murkiness and restore some appreciation.

Lally said...

You're welcome Elaine. I was doing the same myself, which prompted the reflection.