The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.
--Lizzie Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
So I'm surfing the internet, doing research on child pornography, which is probably the number one way to grow depressed about humanity. Then, these men come into the coffee shop, and sit down at the table next to me, and they start this conversation about female genital mutilation. So, of course, I'm eavesdropping on their conversation and completely not focusing on whatever I'm supposed to be doing. In an effort to fact-check one of the conversation partner's dubious assertations regarding female genital mutilation statistics, I start researching countries that have the largest number of incidents of female genital mutilation.
So, of course, I grow more depressed about humanity. Goodness sakes, is there nothing comforting about the human race?
There is something very glum about the reality of the waking world, and the inability of human beings to act in a way that is morally responsible, good, or virtuous, myself included.
Perhaps this is when the heroine of the novel begins to express over the corruption of the world: when she realizes that the brokenness that infects the world is somehow kin to this brokenness inside of her. That there is a fundamental flaw in the entire universe, which is terrifying, but more horrifying still, it reaches into her own heart. She is not exempt from the sordidness surrounding her.
And everyone thinks New York is the most wonderful city in the world and I can't even get to like New York. Seems like I'm the most dissatisfied person in the whole world. Oh, I wish I was young again when everything seemed so wonderful.
--A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
Poor Francie, I thought. I walked up the street, eating a sandwich from our neighborhood sandwich shop, run by a beautiful family from the DR, complete with surly-yet-friendly teenagers with chirping iPhones and energetic two-year-olds running around.
I noticed the molding on the beautiful, ancient apartment buildings. I noticed the sunlight sparkling on the shiny windows of the new apartment building. I felt the reflection of the sun's warmth of the red brick buildings, the strong clay radiating heat and cozy brightness.
I looked at the hill ahead of me: at the top of this hill was a different world than below the hill. I had not noticed this yet properly. I had not drunk in the grandeur of two worlds delineated so clearly by the slope of the hill, and yet bleeding together by the passage of people to-and-fro like eddies of water stirring up the riverbed, blending each current into the next.
What frustrated me most was that I had forgotten to look at the world like that: not just in terms of my own feelings or experience, but in terms of what was really going on--the deeper reality underneath my daily experiences. For, it seems that if I only look at each day through the lens of Me, I find that there is much to be sad about.
And this is the truth that I think all grouchy, grumpy, irritable people exhibit so well. I love them so much more than falsely cheerful people. They are usually dreadfully funny, which is unfair, because they usually are unhappy in their irritability. But they also seem to be unafraid of the unfairness and ugliness in life. And life is full of unfair and ugly things.
But that cannot be the end of the story.
The other day, for example, I was feeling dreadfully lonely. I was feeling lonely in an aching way I have rarely felt before. It was one of the most intense feelings of alone-ness and solitary-ness that I have ever felt. It was like a punch to the stomach, and it seemed to be exacerbated by all the beautiful things around me, that would normally be comforting and soothing. The fan vaults, the songs, the crisp twinge in the air that makes for the perfect walking weather, which would usually be a thousand lovely love-letters, were torturous reminders of my inescapable loneliness.
Somehow, by a vision not my own, I realized that the loneliness was not something that I could escape, because it was inside of me. I was absorbed in myself. The only thing I could see in that moment was me; how I felt, what I thought, where I was.
Perhaps it is not the world that needs to change to soothe my aching soul.
Perhaps it is simply I who needs to change, so that I might soothe the aches of the world.
Perhaps the beauty and goodness is throbbing all around me.
Perhaps it is my vision that needs adjusting.
'This that I see now,' she thought, 'to see no more this way.' Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn't held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? "To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory."
--A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith.