A few weeks ago a friend looked me in the eye and said that he feels depressed about these times. I had never seen this guy look quite that way. Had never heard him say something like that, straight up. He’s a calm, affable, middle aged husband and dad, and we coached soccer together for years. He’s not a complainer.
The grey, wet days of a Portland winter might have been some of it, he said, but mostly it was the president. The relentlessness of all that. The astonishing yet numbing headlines, every day. It was starting to get to him.
We were with another friend, sitting at the bar after dinner, sipping some whiskey. This was our monthly Three Dads get-together, and all around us people were talking and laughing, checking their phones. I listened to my friend, he was understated like always, but it was clear that he was worried and down.
As he talked, I felt what he was saying. I understand, as many of us do, about needing to take it in doses, all the bawling and disheartening pettiness from our country’s president. I understand about feeling your stomach tighten when you think about our casual treatment of democracy, money in politics, this new gilded age, and the huge number of human beings who view themselves as outside of nature.
It might’ve been the whiskey, I don’t know, but we started talking about stars. Galaxies. The cosmic perspective. It’s a helpful thing, the cosmic perspective, though for most of us the night sky isn’t clear and we need imagination even more. We talked about our star being one of a hundred billion in the Milky Way alone, about the Milky Way being one of a hundred billion galaxies in the known universe, and as we talked it seemed to help all three of us a bit, but I think mainly it was the talking itself, in person like that. We were in no hurry.
And so we acknowledged the insane frenzy and the heartbreak of these times, and we happened to recall that one star among billions warms our planet, and when I got back home later on that night I found myself standing alone in the front room. I went over and turned on the radio for some reason, and there was Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.” It’s one of his best songs, in my book, and so I sat down near one of the speakers. There’s tenderness and such tragedy in that song, and if you play it at a moment when you’ve slowed down, you also hear a haunting grace that can about shatter you. You hear the need to connect with one another in a genuine way. The narrator reaching out, his heart broken yet still open, barely. And you might even stand up and look out the window on a wet winter night and remind yourself that new days will come, more revolutions of this reeling, teeming planet.
When I said goodbye to my pals outside that bar, we gave each other strong, slightly wobbly hugs, joked and hooted some, and then — in a sudden, insistent moment — found ourselves looking at each other and vowing that we would refuse to let a sad, angry guy ruin our health. We would refuse to become sad, angry guys even though at times we get sad and angry. We would find ways to resist, stay fierce as wet badgers, stay fit, stay with it, and do our work.
As we rode away on our bikes in the cold rain, this seemed to me like an important agreement.