The Absurdity of Despair

The Absurdity of Despair April 12, 2017

Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.

–Bruce Springsteen, “Atlantic City”

I take Mom to lunch on Wednesdays, and afterward this week we took a drive around the San Francisco Bay Area, and everywhere we went the hills were bursting with new life – the deciduous oaks were budding out in brilliant vermilion, wildflowers crowded the edge of the road we took through the Berkeley Hills and fruit trees made blizzards of petals with every gust of wind.

I suppose it is deeply human to have a hard time seeing over the horizon of the present moment. Five years into the recent drought, it got hard to imagine that our streams would ever overflow again. The oaks got more twiggy and desiccated-looking every year; the reservoirs got more and more empty. It seemed that we would never see a truly wet winter again.

And, yet, in the space of five soggy months, the drought is now officially over, and every catchment and pond in California is bursting with freshly captured rain.

The early spring days of sun and warmth have felt almost like a resurrection. We Californians could celebrate, guilt-free, 10 recent days in a row of rainless skies.

Spring is a seasonal reminder to me of the absurdity of despair.

My late 20s were a difficult time in my life. I had a couple failed relationships, and there was a besetting existential angst that seemed to dog my every decision. I could not seem to find a good “fit” in life – there were a succession of jobs that didn’t work out, school held little interest for me.
And then, soon after my 30th birthday, everything in my life seemed to just fall into place. I started working at a publishing company in Berkeley, I got a decent apartment for $535 per month – that’s how long ago this was – and I suddenly settled into my own skin in a way that I could never manage before. I seemed to know and accept who I was, as I was.

I remember hiking one Saturday from my apartment in the Rockridge district in the flatlands of Oakland up to the top of the Berkeley Hills, and standing on Grizzly Peak Boulevard and looking out across the bay at San Francisco glinting prettily in the summer sun, and feeling an almost overwhelming feeling of gratitude at being alive, and at having made it intact through the storms of my 20s.

America is going through a rough and disorderly patch right now, but I still have a deep hope in the resilience and goodness of my fellow citizens, and in the institutions that have survived far worse tests in the arc of our history.

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