“I can’t immerse myself the same way you do. I respect what you do so much. But I can’t do what you do.”
It’s a hard truth to hear, and often, when I do, I’ll immediately jump to the conclusion that it’s a statement borne of privilege.
But this time I was hearing it from someone I do care about. Catie (name changed) is someone who I know deeply cares about other people. Someone I know who recognizes she’s coming from a place of privilege. But she’s also coming from a place of deep empathy and a need to ration her emotional availability when it comes to dealing with all the struggle, pain and darkness this world has coursing in its veins.
It’s a struggle I do recognize in my own lack of balance. I live mired in all of it, and I know the toll it takes. I can’t begrudge her for doing what she needs to do to maintain a semblance of mental health.
And then I remembered an old Hebrew proverb from the “Pireki Avot” — loosely translated as the “Wisdom of our Fathers.”
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
I shared that proverb with her, which she hadn’t heard before. It seemed to resonate.
And her statement resonated with me.
I became a journalist because, in my heart, I’m a crusader. An idealist who sees the world as it is and wants to see it evolve into what it could be. I always think of that last line in the movie Se7en where Morgan Freeman’s voice over is heard: “Hemingway said, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I believe in the second part.”
That line stuck to my soul.
In our discussion, Catie also admonished me for my very entrenched stance on what I see as people who display a moral failing. The people who continue to embrace the GOP as it exists today, in this particular conversation.
“You’re too hard on people,” she said. “You don’t know everyone’s story. You don’t know where they’re all coming from. How they were raised, what beliefs they have to have undone.”
Again, my defensiveness started to inch to the front, but I pushed it back, because it was coming from someone I know to be kind. Someone whose values I know align with mine. Someone who also sees the world as it could be one day. She leads with empathy and love.
And I’ve spent the last several years leading with my jab.
Truth is, my expectations of my fellow man have fallen to criminally low levels. I struggle mightily with cynicism now. I know, rationally, there’s a potential for light in our future. But emotionally, I’m beset on all sides by the darkness I see encroaching every day.
And yet ultimately, she’s right.
The only way you can illuminate the darkness…
…Is with light.