Life's most persistent and urgent question

Early this week I clicked on a link tweeted by a woman I follow on the world's favourite micro-blogging site and came across a quote by American novelist A.M. Homes. It pretty well summed up my last few weeks of first world, too-much-time-on-my-hands rumination.

"Having a child and a family, I not only feel obligated to be hopeful, but I want to be hopeful," Homes told Richard Grant of London's The Telegraph, in a somewhat fawning profile piece.

"I want to push back against the pessimism. I can't bear to accept that everything is basically going to shit. And everything is: the economy, the family, the social structures, the class divide, the political process in this country, global warming, random violence from terrorism.

"Unless you want to live in denial, I feel that you have to train yourself to find hope. The logical response is to get incredibly depressed, but what's the point of that? Especially if you've got children," said Homes.

I hear ya, sister.

Many years ago, I dated a woman who told me her major fear about having children was it would remove the option of suicide because she could never be so selfish as to abandon her offspring in that manner.

The unspoken sentiment was there was plenty of stuff about the world that distressed her to the point she contemplated pressing eject.

I think of her when I start to get weighed down by things, when I make the subtle choices that often lead me to depression and gloom.

Even though we live in, perhaps, the most privileged country in the world, I often despair because of all the problems Homes lists and wonder if we'll ever get it right as a species?

I won't try to defend what's an enormously self-indulgent practice on my part, except to say there are days when I look at humanity and am chilled by our cruelty, ignorance and arrogance, as well as my own weaknesses.

In days gone by, that's when I'd start in on a tidy little self-destructive cycle of thought summarised as "What's The Point?" What's the point of trying, of kicking against the pricks ... of hope?

Nowadays, the point is my daughter: she didn't ask to be brought into this world - it was my choice, so it's up to me to imbue her with hope and positivity about what's to come.

So, like Homes, "I want to push back against the pessimism."

The question of "what's the point?" informs much of Homes's work - particularly her last novel This Book Will Save Your Life (2006).

In The Telegraph interview, Grant writes that Homes was concerned, in the book, with the question: "How can we live happy, sane, meaningful, fulfilling lives at a time when society is half-deranged and the future looks desperately uncertain?" 

Grants says: "The best option, [Homes] suggests, is old-fashioned and straightforward: help other people as much as possible, and don't lose hope."

Not a new thought by any means, but one worth reminding ourselves of, especially if you're a parent and molding a little person's world view.

As often happens when I read something that resonates, I'll run across another idea that reinforces the thought, and that came to me a few days later, talking to an aquaintance on the phone.

He told me how he was working in finance some years ago and was in bookstore in Boston, where he flicked open a collection of essays, to find a quote by Martin Luther King.

It said: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"

Suffice it to say, he's not in finance any more.


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