Sooner or later, every thinking person has to make a choice.
You can love the world unconditionally and avert your eyes from the cold cruelty of its everyday functioning.
You can pull the parts of the world that you love close and hold them in front of you as shields against the horror and deep terror (and apathy towards both) that you know you will never truly be able to avoid.
Or you can lose yourself in the rock-bottom coldness of everything, let it wash over you and become one with it. In a sense this is the most rational option, it is certainly the path of least resistance. It seems to me, however, to be the path of mass murderers at one end of the spectrum and the chronically depressed and paralyzed people we all know at the other.
So I struggle with the middle option, knowing the first was never compatible with my particular temperament and hoping the third is not either.
On days when my shields fail to protect me – my sweetheart on the other side of the country, my bread failing to rise properly, frosts threatening to kill my delicate edible flowers – I just sit on the floor or the bed or the bathtub and let everything come at me in gigantic sickening rolling waves.
I just stare at it – bodies being blown to bits in Iraq, blood and guns and the uselessness of so much death all the time everywhere. I read a Margaret Atwood novel and immerse myself in the deep dread of her universe, knowing that the quietly terrifying worlds she writes about are only a hairsbreadth from our own. I stay home and let everything sink in for a few hours or a day. End game capitalism and melting ice floes and just everything.
Then I get hungry or something, or the cats do, and I stand up and take a deep shakey breath. I know that in this state I have to be careful. Everything is very fragile. I am pulling myself out of it. Extracting myself limb by limb. Even the carefully inoffensive NPR voices are too jarring. I try to listen to a food podcast, but the show is about barbecue and men and mallets and beating away at the flesh of tortured carcasses, slathering the bludgeoned animals with spice rubs and sauces, blood on their faces as they lick their lips. I shut it off and focus on my breath. I try not to think of the people who would laugh at me for being so disturbed by a food show. I just let things be, let things settle a bit.
There are beautiful tomatoes on the counter to be chopped and peach pies to be made. I take a small step and pick up a knife and begin chopping. I hold the tomatoes in my hand and feel their weight. I remember that they are the good that makes the bad bearable. I remember that there is no shame in succumbing once in a while.