by W.D. Ehrhart
Lately I have been struggling to find something worth writing about. What is the point? Nothing changes. I’ve written multiple essays about the madness of our uniquely U.S. gun culture; but Americans keep dying at the wrong end of firearms in record numbers, and in most states it’s easier to acquire and carry a firearm than it was ten years ago.
I’ve written multiple essays about the need for the Democratic Party to get its collective head out of its ass and start functioning effectively to counter the insidious and pervasive evil that has become the Retrumplican Party, yet the Democrats keep bumbling along with the competence of the Keystone Kops while Retrumplicans across the nation take control of state legislatures, town councils, local school boards, and even the levers of elections themselves.
And what am I to write about a Supreme Court whose radical conservative majority was appointed by presidents who failed to win a majority of votes, who are young enough to be around for decades to come, who believe that corporations are people, the 2nd Amendment is more immaculate than the Virgin Mary, women’s bodies belong to the State, and conflicts of interest don’t apply to them?
How does one explain a citizenry that doesn’t seem to blink an eye at a president and a presidency that is so corrupt, so crude, so ignorant, so venal, so beyond the pale as to make Rome’s Nero look as benign as Captain Kangaroo, but cannot forgive a president for high gas prices in the midst of an international crisis caused by the ruthless dictator our previous president described as “a strong leader” and a “genius”?
And don’t even get me started on global warming. The notion that the human race is collectively capable of altering our behavior soon enough and significantly enough to stave off what the entire scientific community tells us is now all-but-inevitable, leading to a Mad Max world on the way to complete extinction is the very definition of “chimerical.”
How pathetic is it that the most upbeat essay I’ve been able to manage lately is one about how I’ve arranged a “green burial” for myself in the middle of a pine forest? How pathetic is it that I’m glad I won’t be having grandchildren because I don’t have to worry about the kind of world I’m leaving them? How pathetic is it that I’m glad most of my own life is already behind me and I won’t have to be around to see how this Shit Show finally ends?
I actually shared some of this Doom & Gloom recently in an e-mail to our Alleged Editor. And then my wife and I spent a day in rural Adams County, Pennsylvania, with my dear friend and artist Jane Irish, and her partner, the philosopher Crispin Sartwell. It was a magnificent spring day, bright sky, warm enough to eat outside on the porch of their converted old schoolhouse, shade provided by a newly leafing maple tree.
Jane showed us her latest project, a series of paintings that, when fully assembled, will be 30 feet by 30 feet, though each panel can also be displayed as an independent work. She was very excited by what she is doing, and her enthusiasm and joy were infectious. Crispin gave me a copy of his latest book, Beauty: A Quick Immersion. He signed it, “To Bill and Anne—Beauty, emerging even from the darkness. Crispin 5-16-22.”
As we made the two-hour drive home, I found myself thinking about the e-mail I’d sent our Alleged Editor only the night before. Okay, the world is a pretty screwed up place, and maybe my country and the rest of humanity are headed for a cosmic train wreck.
But I am one small man in a very, very, very big universe that—as I wrote in another essay not all that long ago—doesn’t really care about me or humanity or Planet Earth. Whatever gave me the idea that what I think actually matters and what I write can actually change anything?
In the Twelve Step program I belong to, we’re told that we can only take care of our own side of the street. What happens on the other side of the street is not in our control. We also recite the Serenity Prayer, which reminds us to accept what we cannot change. This doesn’t mean docility or silence because we are also urged to find the courage to change what we can. But it does mean that we need to learn to accept and live with our limitations.
Moreover, if I think my little piece of the world is depressing, I really ought to remember what life is like these days for most people in Ukraine or Guatemala or Yemen. At least I’ve got food in my belly and a roof over my head, and nobody has shot at me lately.
My daughter and her partner just acquired a beehive. They’re going to be beekeepers, and they’re very happy about learning this new skill and in the process improving their immediate environment. My artist friend Jane has just landed a wonderful and unsolicited commission to do an installation for a prestigious university. My wife—let’s be completely honest here—my wife has stuck with me for 42 years, though God knows she’s had more than enough reason more than enough times to show me the door.
So what have I got to feel sorry for? And who knows? Maybe I just could be wrong about where my country, the human race, and this planet are headed. Wouldn’t that be nice?
W. D. Ehrhart is an ex-Marine sergeant who holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Wales at Swansea, and taught for many years at the Haverford School for Boys.