by David Lucky Goff
I’m still feeling rocked. My form of unbalance is different than many—at least I think it is. I have a sense of familiarity with the unsettling change that others are discovering. The level of disillusionment that is going around is deeper than most people are used to, but it isn’t new to me, or to the legions of disenfranchised old people out there. We have known this level of neglect and prejudice for a long time. The truly destitute among us, the old without portfolio, have learned to endure disillusionment, recrimination, prejudice, being considered in the way. This gives us a leg up, some insight into what is happening.
It isn’t pretty. There is plenty of uncertainty to go around. The level of alarm, fear, and genuine vulnerability is huge. As one accustomed to loss, it behooves me to give a voice to the other side of loss. I’ve been dragged around the block enough to know that loss is accompanied by gain. The current national situation is no different. There are gains, big mercies, which are showing themselves through the suffering that is occurring now. They are most apparent to those who have lived the longest without the privileges that now seem so thoroughly jeopardized.
Disillusionment is a necessary ingredient to real change. It breaks down all of the defense mechanisms, the reliable protections, which guard us against feeling and being really vulnerable. Aging does this naturally. But, for too long, too many of us have enjoyed and taken advantage of a level of denial, a presumption, that our way was the only way. Happily this form of hubris is being threatened in these times. I suspect this will move us closer to a more real experience and apprehension of Life. This, though many are being dragged kicking and screaming, is a gain.
Uncertainty has a similar effect. The nation is going through a very vivid experience of the danger associated with too much certainty. We are teetering now, being softened up, discovering how much room is generated by uncertainty and how much certainty, especially in the form of ideology, undermines freedom. Greater freedom depends on something this whole nation is up against now. This, too, is a gain—albeit a most uncomfortable one. One way out of so much uncertainty is fundamentalism. That is a big part of its appeal as well as a big part of its threat. Can we bear the uncertainty that it takes for freedom to reign? Being confronted by this question, in this way, increases the stakes, adds clarity, and thrusts us deep into a process that will determine if we will grow up as a nation, as a species. This is a painful gain—but an essential one.
All of the vulnerability that accompanies so much disillusionment and uncertainty is part of the gain. Just like after 9/11, people are being drawn together. The nation and the planet are absorbing a painful hit. Things, important things, are at risk. We, individually and collectively, are feeling that risk. Again, this is uncomfortable but essential. When privilege melts, and risk is once again shared, it brings us closer to what really matters. And, in this moment of deep uncertainty, we are more likely to turn towards each other. The fear that potential division raises arouses a unifying response. The basic need we have for each other is stimulated. The real potential for a diverse community is enhanced by our shared vulnerability. Maybe, along with climate change will come a greater sense of connection.
A 92 year-old woman, who is a friend of mine, said something interesting and germane to this moment of deep uncertainty. She said, “I feel sympathy for those who haven’t suffered enough.” I took her words to mean that there is no real confidence in oneself until one has weathered the fire of suffering. My sense is that this moment offers great risk and great opportunity. It, more than anything, asks us what we are made of. This is a gain—a painful, essential moment—when so much is at risk, and when we humans can determine what we are made of.
One of my favorite poems is The Dakini Speaks by Jennifer Welwood, in which she says, “Let’s grieve our losses fully like ripe human beings.” To me, that means both the losses and the gains. She goes on to say, “Please, lets not be so shocked.” We have to endure and feel the losses to know the gains. That moment of great paradox is here. I quiver, knowing that what aches with pain is the brutality of birth.
David “Lucky” Goff, Ph.D. As a result of his brain aneurism and stroke in 2003, and the onset of a rare brain syndrome, he nearly died and ended up permanently disabled. This experience had a transformational effect on David, which made him “Lucky,” and cued him into how radically connected all things are. This broader awareness now informs his approach toward what it means to be human.