It is mid-April and I have recently come to grips with a level of anxiety which I find my mind existing. I wake up and initiate my usual routine and at some point in the day I recognize I am existing mentally at a level which is fully of anxiety and heaviness. This anxiety is responding to something which is in the shadows and the awareness of its existence has only now provoked within me the courage to name this shadowy and monstrous figure.
In the depths where I find myself at some point during the day, the monster whispers out of the darkness, “It will not matter,” “Speak and write whatever your hearts desire.. I will consume your words immediately.” There are moments I call into question my own purpose. All of the readings, dissection of information and communicating on podcast and videos prompt me to ask in my isolation, “Will this actually make any difference in the long run?” I am simultaneously fearful and angry when I find myself in this mental space. I am angry because I know who I am, what my purpose is, and those words which call me to be courageous in the face of fear. Yet the fear evoked by despair is present, influencing me to believe all of my efforts are for nothing.
One day while in my monthly visits to the local bookstore, I purchased David Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom. I am as familiar with Mr. Douglass as I am with a close friend. I have read his autobiography and shared it with young people I mentor. This time though in the pages of Blight, the prophet’s voice came to me as a strong friend in the depth of despair. In the moment he assisted me in naming the monster in the darkness. The monster I see in the darkness with its foul breath and piercing eyes, “You are slavery!”
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Our world possesses so many great works of artistic expression. There are musical pieces, paintings, pottery pieces which have stood the test of time influencing the development of whole academic courses around a singular artist or time period. I view particular comic book issues in a similar fashion. There are some issues such as Action Comics #1 with the first appearance of Superman, Detective Comics #27 with the first appearance of Batman, or the panel imagery of Captain America facing off against Iron Man at the height of Marvel Comics Civil War, all creating indelible impressions within the comic book universe but also touch real life.
An artist painstakingly offers her present self to produce some item which gives insight into her. He or she has committed him or herself to a craft, which over time, produces a work of art which is the culmination of who they are and what he or she observes in the world. This is not a task to be taken lightly as he or she must assess what present pleasure is worth offering so a more valuable outcome justifies the present release. The creation of something beautiful will make a demand and each of us must determine if we are capable and willing to make the exchange.
Now you may not be an artist. Your personality and disposition may lead you to some other type of vocation or calling which is not necessarily related to the subjectivity of art, music, or writing. You're “artistic” expression may be the home, as an entrepreneur, academic, or athlete. Whatever the case, each of us possess an opportunity by the simple reason of our individual existence to take hold of a series of elements and create something which can influence someone to become his or her better self. This “something” can be a beautiful expression of who we are as individuals and how we observe the world. I am offering myself and this will be difficult as I must reach within myself and bring into reality what I have determined to be precious. To create and live out our individual purposes will be challenging and it will never be without cost.
Focus on the present. The Jewish teacher said tomorrow has its own problems. Pay attention to the work of your hands and how you feel as you work on that one thing of beauty. Pay attention to how you respond in the moment of a finished detail. Creating something of beauty and worthwhile which is the expression of who you are in this life speaks volumes about the individual you are becoming in this world. The demands, again if you are willing, will be great but also consider like all great works of art, those demands will purchase a creation of your hards which can be meaningful and inspiring.
Reach your hands into the clay like a potter. You're digits will be sullied and calloused shaping a work of art which will offer an opportunity to those who pass by to say, "That is beautiful."
The last two years have admittedly been difficult. Individuals from all walks of live have experienced varying levels of difficulty regarding sickness, financial challenges, occupational difficulties, and social interactions. In my estimation, I would not seek to compare nor weigh which difficulty was greater than the other. Individuals for a number of reasons confront difficulties in different ways but what is clear, individuals experience suffering.
Suffering impacts the physical, emotional, and internal self. An individual in the experience of suffering faces the dark night of the soul, taking the moment or long moments to assess him or herself. I may not like what I see within myself. The thoughts swirling in my head may be negative working to pull me further down into this seeming ocean of difficulty. At the same time, I may find within myself a determination which I did not know existed within me. It is this second revelation I want to offer as a precious find.
Suffering is hard. It is rough and such items can act as a serving instrument to reveal what is underneath. The rough and rugged experience of suffering acts in service to our individual lives to reveal what has always existed. What can be revealed is determination, patience, boldness, or a number of other human characteristics which exemplify the beauty of the human soul.
Life is hard. It sounds so cliche but I believe it is important to acknowledge your anxiety, your tiredness, and frustration. I completely understand all of these emotions because these are emotions I have wrestled with in my own life. So you are not alone. You, like my self, are fellow travelers on this difficult and hard road called life. A life filled with disappointing politicians, social situations which have divided family members, friends, co-workers, and even the oldest of religions are not exempt. These are difficult times in our state but I need to tell you even in the oppressive atmosphere which weighs heavily on our hearts and minds, I believe better things.
Believing better things means we need to have courage. Courage is acknowledge the hardness of our situation but also having the courage to stand up and meet these hard situations head on. We have to stand up, walk out, and meet these concerns of tyranny, oppressive governments, divisive motivations and meet them with courage. These need to remember our names and these shadowy experiences need to know first hand these dehumanizing attempts to restrict our flourishing as human beings will not go unchallenged. So I believe better things because it not only requires courage but also hope.
Hope that what is near to human beings is not the dark, oppressive, and anxiety inducing experiences which seek to order life but hoping in a future in which the light of our courage and the hope there are more individuals who want to be free and live and love outside of coercion and shame. A courage and hope the shadowy places of the human experience will not prevail but what will warm the faces of your heart and mind, as well as mine, is the bright day in which we can tell future generations, “I was there. I was there with courage and hope and we won the day.”