Terry From Derry: Strange But True
by Terry Boyle
I’ve been having some interesting discussions as we head toward another election. Most of these discussions are based on the daily news and, as such, they tend to reflect the opinion of the day. Of course, we usually only have these discussions with like-minded people. However, the media frenzy over the political spectrum is enough to drive you to distraction, if you let it. Over the past few days, I’ve had to distance myself from obsessively reading the news online. Since each new headline was enough to enrage or excite me into despair or hope. One day, I’d be ‘this is great’, and the next ‘this is bloody awful’.
In Buddhist theology, it is the attachment to something that causes suffering. We get so fixated by something or someone that we’re unable to let it or them go. This inability to detach ourselves causes us to suffer greatly, even when we know it would be better to let go. The human condition is such that we rarely are content with simply being.
We keep playing out the endless scenarios of what might happen, and, predictably we miss out on what is happening right now. When it comes to the political circus of our times, I’m guilty of playing out the worst possible results of maintaining the status quo.
Is Your Phone Your Hammer?
It’s hard to live in the present, especially when the journalists are constantly forecasting lots of different outcomes. For months, I found myself swinging between hope and despair, depending on what result some journalist predicted. There is only so much of hitting yourself on the head with a hammer before you realize that if you stop it feels much better. In my case, the hammer is my phone. I need to stop looking at the news and get on with my life.
We miss out on the good things in life when we allow things we have no control over to dominate our thoughts. This lesson is a hard one to learn, and I’m still struggling to learn it. In one of my discussions, we discussed this symbiotic relationship between hope and despair. There are those days when you feel most hopeful. The news day, for instance, is working in your favour and all is finally right with the world.
However, in the back of your mind, despair lurks, seeking to undermine your new-found hope. Then, there are times when despair reigns. The newscasting predictions are unfavourable and worrying. During those times, hope manifests itself as a defence of what we fear is unavoidable.
Since the election of 2016, and the UK vote to end its affiliation with Europe, my anxiety level has skyrocketed. The uncertainty of our future has been galvanized by the rips in our society manifested in racism and political partisanship. When a government divides people and fuels sectarianism, you worry where what this will lead us to.
My hope is that as we drift into autumn, a season of change, we will see a change in government for the better. Hopefully, the election will strip away the fascism of the present regime and provide us with a new administration that will help to heal the wounds of the past four years.
Surprisingly, the one good thing this pandemic has taught me is that no matter what happens, we should be grateful to be alive. We took so many of our freedoms for granted. It’s so true, you don’t miss these things until their gone. Who would’ve thought we were so vulnerable to such an attack?
It happened so quickly, and in a matter of days, our reality changed, irrevocably. We may find a vaccine but we’re not immune to the next virus. In our arrogance, we thought we were in control. Nature has shown us how disposal we are, and that reality will continue to haunt our imaginations.
Over the next weeks, we are going to be inundated with news stories. Some will leave us feeling more depressed while others will stir us to hope. What we need to remind ourselves of is that if we allow the news to determine our emotions we’ll constantly feel anxious. There are times when we need to ‘back off’ and think about the time we’re losing by becoming fretful about outcomes that have not happened. I realize that I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone else.
Each of us needs a mental health break from the cauldron of bad news that brings nothing but despair. Recently, I watched a movie about Anne Frank. Despite her entrapment in an attic, fearing capture by the Nazis, she writes in her diaries of the simple joys of daily life now denied to her. A young teenager living with the daily fear of capture, remembers the lost freedom to play with friends, enjoy a summer’s day, walk without fear of being singled out, and instead of bemoaning her lot she celebrates these things.
In the midst of despair, hope finds a way to inspire us to believe in the best of life. For me, the only way to fully appreciate this gift of hope is to remove myself from the source of suffering. The world won’t fall apart if I’m not reading the news. Life is short, and even though we’re in the throes of a pandemic, we’re not trapped in an attic for fear of our lives. If we do the things we need to do to avoid infection, we can enjoy the simple things denied to Anne Frank. And, whatever the outcome of the election, whether it leads to hope or despair, we will continue to hope for change.
*Terry is a retired professor at Loyola University, Chicago. He writes and reviews plays. Moving from Derry, N. Ireland to Chicago in 2004 and CA in 2019, he continues to enjoy is work with the Irish American community. He can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org