Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What Keeps You Going?

A good friend of mine, who is serving in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, sent me an interesting question asked by one of her students. It was "What keeps you going?" I can't begin to imagine awaking in a grass hut to face another day of hauling water, wondering if you will get a bath, and if you have to travel a few miles knowing it will take all day. She is still one of my heroes--someone who chose to join the Peace Corps instead of enjoying a potential retirement of leisure.

I'm not sure what the context was for her student's question, but it made me reflect on it particularly in light of the recent suicide of Robin Williams--a celebrity who is only two years older than me and has been a part of my adult life through movies and TV and many hours of laughter and reflection. This also followed on the heels of a suicide by someone in my area just a week ago. A young mother with small children who, by outside appearances, seemed to have a wonderful happy life.

In both cases, depression played the final role. I have never suffered from clinical depression, though I have friends who do. It is a disease that it is impossible to understand if you don't have it. It is a disease that, untreated, drives people to such despair that the pain overwhelms the desire to live. It is a disease that never goes away and requires medication and monitoring forever. I pray that if you, or anyone you know, suffers from this disease that you check on them regularly and help them to continue in treatment.

I say this because what keeps me going is choice. Because I am blessed not to suffer from clinical depression, I always believe I have a choice. Below is what I sent to my friend.

What keeps me going?

It is a good question and one that I think anyone who struggles in life (and don’t we all?) has to ask and answer all the time.

For me it is three things:
  1. I want to make a difference in the world. Though I will never be a celebrity or a politician or even a great community organizer, I believe that simple acts of kindness and listening make a difference. For every person who says “Thanks for being there.” or “Thanks for sharing that opinion.” I believe I have helped in some small way. I believe that all those small helps add up. We never know when some small act of kindness is the one that gives someone else courage to keep going, or gives someone else a resource to add to their bag of resources for when they are in need. Or gives someone else that little nudge of motivation to do something amazing—it is my nudge among hundreds or thousands of other people’s nudges that added together make a difference.
     
  2. I want to leave something tangible for others after I’m dead. I suppose that is partly why I write and create music and lyrics and poetry. Part of it is to give voice to those thoughts I don’t express aloud because it is too big and complex and no one would listen to me ramble on for years. :) But the other part is that in expressing those thoughts perhaps one person will also identify with them and say, “Yes. This is me too. I’m not alone.”  I know that is how I feel when I read a good book, hear a good song, or a poem captures a moment in time. Perhaps it is ego or hubris to think that my creations can help someone after I’m gone. But it is important for me to believe that. If it was solely for me, I doubt I could continue writing or creating on those days that it is difficult or I get no feedback from others.
     
  3. To prove I can. Every day that I get up and move my body and wake my mind and interact with others, even when I don’t feel like it, I prove that I am alive and still kicking. This is something that as a young person I would never have thought mattered, because I never questioned my ability to awake and go and do. But as an older person with aches and pains and days of cynicism, I value each morning that I wake and can still move and have the luxury of being cynical. And when I get past that first hour of pain and getting my legs to work, my feet to  walk, my back to uncurl from the fetal position, it is a moment of triumph. A moment when I think, “Yes! I can still go out and do".  I can still hope that I’ll be able to hike that trail, see that mountain, ride that boat, visit that person.

In the end, what keeps me going is Choice. Every day I make a conscious decision to get up and face the day no matter what comes. I choose to put aside aches and pains, cynicism, and all the bad I know about the world and move forward anyway. I choose to try to do something that will help someone else. Something that will make a difference. So far, I am able to make that choice. One day, I won't have that choice. My body will tell me it is too tired and I will not awake. Until then, it’s me making the choice, taking control, and simply getting out of bed.

How about you? What keeps you going?