How to Live in an Unjust World

My stepdad asked my mom if I’m depressed. Perhaps jokingly. He thought I’d been writing about a lot of hard stuff lately.

I don’t feel depressed. But I have been feeling a bone-deep sensitivity. And it’s had me thinking about fairness. I’ve heard that the happiest people understand that life is not fair. That life isn’t even about fairness.

I’ve never understood this, and I fear it will be my undoing, that I’ll become an angry, cynical old woman. Because while I understand logically that I cannot change the world, that I cannot make life fair, my heart does not. My heart aches, too much I think, when a child dies of cancer. Can a heart ache too much over this? Maybe not. Maybe I’m just envious that while others can redirect their thinking, can avoid thinking about awful things that happen to people they don’t know, I have a hard time with it. Perseverating, my mom used to call it while I was growing up. “Don’t perseverate,” she’d tell me. But perseverate is what I do, and it’s part of what helps me write, it’s part of the same urge that makes me want to write in the first place—to document, to bear witness. I think about things—I think them through until I can almost feel what it’s like to be that other person, to be a mother watching her son die.

It’s gotten worse, much worse, since I had children. Heartaches over injustices last longer, penetrate deeper. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all that is wrong with the world. I don’t want this to happen. I don’t want to hate the world, to hate the people who make it this way, who don’t join in the effort to make it a better place.

I used to be a bright-eyed idealist. Now I’m a beaten and battered idealist. Note—still an idealist. I’m often as passionate about all that is great. But the world is crushing. Simply crushing. And I’ve got to figure out a way to hold myself up.

Come hell or high water, I will have a hopeful post for you next time.

***I wrote the above draft, then closed my computer and went to pick up my son from school. I brought him home, we played, and then I wrote this, which is your promised hopeful post. Warning: It involves various “I’m thankful” phrases:

I am thankful that I hear my two children playing upstairs right now. My son is directing my daughter on how to play with his Angry Bird stuffed animals.

I am thankful we just shared lunch together and grouped my son’s dinosaurs by time period (his idea). I got to do that—to sit, in the middle of a Monday, on a soft couch in our cozy house and play dinosaurs with my son while my daughter, who is fighting a cold, snuggled against me with her blanket. The magic of being an at-home mom.

I am thankful for my husband, who still writes me notes.

I am thankful for winter in all its ferocity this year, for the moon on the snow last night, and the bare branches against the sky.

I am thankful we do not have to travel for the holidays. We get to wake up Christmas morning with our children; they’ll wait on the stairs while I make coffee first (I learned to prioritize from my mother). They’ll beg and plead and when I have a hot cup in one hand and my video camera in the other, I’ll say, “Okay, sweeties. It’s time,” and they’ll come tripping down the stairs to the Christmas tree.

I am thankful that my son just walked downstairs with two round Angry Birds stuffed under his shirt and said, “Look at me! I have fat nipples!”

There is nothing—nothing—like six-year-old humor to lighten things up.

This post first appeared last December at True STORIES.

6 thoughts on “How to Live in an Unjust World

  1. Your 6-year old has it right, joyful living. As adults, we have a hard time getting caught up in the pain and suffering in this world. But the truth is that you can change the world, by being present in love. The waves of love that emanate from you go out into infinity and affect others in ways you will never know. See how your son just did it with his angry birds and you, in turn, shared it with many unknown readers. Keep the faith, girl. The world is still worth living in, although it takes positive input from us all. Namaste.


  2. I agree with this completely! Except for the ‘I’m thankful parts’…seeing since I don’t have children and all but I just really agree with the unjust and perseveration part


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