A few days ago, I was about to caution someone about being dishonest about something. Halfway through, I stopped myself. The words died in my throat. It doesn’t always pay to be honest or to do the right thing. I used to believe that being good is the right thing to do, but lately, it doesn’t seem to matter either way. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people.
You can rape someone and get away with it if you are moderately OK at something sports-related. (I already knew this though, because I have already seen people get away with rape, cruelty and even murder.) You don’t always earn a six-figure book deal through hard work or talent, but by being a terrible person. Some of the most incompetent people I’ve ever worked with update their LinkedIn profiles with new positions because they are good at B.S. (They never fooled me, though. I don’t understand how people overlook their blatant lies. Until I realized…) You can become one of the most powerful people on the planet even by being so arrogant as to blatantly mock the people who would put you in power, as long as they don’t understand that you’re making fun of them. People admire someone who doesn’t pay taxes and doesn’t respect women. As a Hispanic woman who needs healthcare for cancer, I am terrified, but people think I am less of a person.
But I knew that too. I’m from Ohio, where I inexplicably see Confederate flags. (I don’t understand the Confederate flag thing in Northern states. It obviously has nothing to do with the Civil War. Why don’t they just make a flag that says “I Heart Racism!” and end the charade?) On the drive on I-71 from Cincinnati to Columbus, there’s a barn with a Confederate flag and a big wooden cross, the kind I imagine that would be burnt at a KKK event. Years ago, driving back late from Cincinnati one night, I turned to my friends—a black man, a Jewish man and an Indian woman—and said, “If we broke down here, we would all die.” I always would joke when I passed that place, but it’s to come to terms with my disgust, fear and anger.
I can’t joke my way out of this anymore. I can’t laugh anymore.
Sometimes, late at night I hold my breath for a few seconds and think about not taking another one. I don’t know if I have the courage to move forward, with this illness, in this world. I feel weak and helpless. I am physically drained and emotionally beat up.
I was emailing with someone about hope for my health and how I felt I had lost it, and she wondered, “Hope is a funny thing—is it fickle? Or is it paradoxically strong?” I think it’s both. Just as you can’t hold your breath until your body forces air into your lungs again, it’s extremely hard to completely give up hope. It’s a survival mechanism. Even if you’re told your time is running out, you hope for a good day, some extra time, something good for your loved ones.
At low points, when I think there’s no point in doing what I think is right, a tiny bit of hope nags at me. I have to think about what I think is right. My mom worries that she didn’t raise me correctly, with the right beliefs. She worries about my soul. I refuse to hate people based on sexual orientation or race, or believe that women shouldn’t have equal rights. I don’t see how that makes me a bad person. However, while I try to love people as a whole, I have a lot of trouble loving people as individuals. I try to make peace with the concept of loving People, but I can’t love people often on an individual level. I was bullied a lot as a kid, and I don’t believe that people are basically good. People cut you off in traffic, push you on the train, say terrible things online. I find myself thinking things like, “Who IS this terrible person? I’m trying to be NICE.” With lots of expletives thrown in. I am not very good at being nice.
When everything seems pointless, I know that it makes me personally feel better to try to do the right thing. (Sometimes.) Maybe it is completely pointless to be “good” or to even try. The bad guys often win. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Life isn’t fair, but I already knew that too. However, bad things often happen to good people because of bad people. Others are exploited so few can make money. Some people don’t want others to be equal because they feel threatened. People slap a religious or idealistic label on what war has always been about—money and power. Many people are bitter and feel the world owes them something.
On some days, everything—every single thing—looks bleak. Hope is fickle, and it can be dashed by one more piece of bad news, yet it’s paradoxically strong. One day—sooner, as it turns out, than I’d hoped—I’ll die and my name will be forgotten. As long as I exist here, though, I will try to remain strong enough to try to do the right thing. I won’t always, but when my time is up, I hope that I will have done my best.