One should not mistake comfort in the familiarity of the status quo with its being the most beneficial condition. Richard Garlikov
I have written for some years now about - for me - the healing catharsis of activism.
I have long "enjoyed" the comfort of knowing I am not alone in my feelings of loss and grief in regards to my adoption loss. But I needed more.
I found my activist writing and speaking out against the injustices of unwarranted and unnecessary family separations - as well as the profiteering from child redistribution - gratifying in providing a necessary channel for my anger at it all.
Having twice lost my eldest daughter, having no family of origins or significant life partner for support, and with a family tree littered with suicide and serious depression...it is far too easy for me to fall prey to a like demise. My life is a daily struggle not to yield to feelings of despair at the dead end of the relationship with my daughter, and the guilt that I did not prevent it. I struggle not to fall victim to these triggers of genetic dispositions.
I cannot undo the past, but I do have options regarding my present and the future.
And so I write...and I fight as best I can against "the system."
A recent off-hand comment by a colleague set off a downhill chain of events. Someone used the phrase "spitting in the wind" regarding an attempt at activism.
While I have long scoffed at naysayers...my initial reaction was anger. (I find my underlying anger at adoption loss makes me quick to anger.) But this hit somewhere in my gut and I have had difficulty shaking it.
I began living in my head more than living in real time and reality and examining not merely the one thing that the remark was aimed at, but all of activism...and thus my entire adult life!
Has my life been just a matter of "spitting in the wind"? Is all adoption activism a waste of time because it is futile and will never change anything? I recognized why many are opposed to becoming involved in activism - because of this very feeling of futility it creates.
After all, so few states have opened their records in the past 40 years - since my own personal connection to adoption occurred. Despite all efforts to stop immoral so-called "safe haven" child dumping grounds...the last state, Nebraska, actually expanded the definition, allowing the dumping of chidlren as old as 18!
As I questioned what I/we do...I was drawn to an image in my head of Sisyphus doomed to pushing a boulder uphill. Wasteless, pointless use of time and energy was the worst punishment the gods could conceive of for this mortal who had tricked them.
In the realm of the dead, Sisyphus is forced to roll a block of stone against a steep hill, which tumbles back down when he reaches the top. Then the whole process starts again, lasting all eternity.
It was intended to be the most horrific punishment not only because it was difficult labor, but because it was frustratingly futile, unrewarding, repetitive labor. The toil of Sisyphus is a metaphor for all difficult and repetitive labor that is frustrating and unrewarding.
Frustrating and unrewarding indeed describes my life's work in adoption. But because it feels that way doing it...does that make it so?
The 1957 Nobel laureate for literature Albert Camus wrote in a brief essay "The Myth of Sisyphus" (1940) that Sisyphus' fate and his endless toil is not futile.
Camus says: "If the descent [i.e., Sisyphus' returning to the bottom of the mountain to start pushing the rock upward all over again] is sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy." And "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
I find this but incompressible and also of little value. Although I take occasional pride in some things I or others have done, I do not do what I do for the pleasure of doing it. If there is no valid result - why do it? Why spit in the wind?
While contemplating this, I found the writings of a philosophical counselor named Richard Garlikov. I found value in his take on Sisyphus. I hope that you do as well:
Making someone happy or providing solace for someone in despair, even if it is only temporary is still a worthwhile act…. Even if all we do in the lifetime of civilization collapses into a universal blackhole or relative pinpoint of incredibly dense mass, our accomplishments are what they were, even if they do not remain in the memory of an omniscient God but dissolve entirely into the metaphysics of empty time. That something happened and meant anything at all is important, regardless of how long it lasts….
… if we once again look at what is in some sense metaphysically important, it is important in life that we try to do what is right, not just that we succeed. We cannot control our destiny, but we can control our deserts, and we do that by always trying to do what is right and what is best. Attempts may be futile, but making the attempt is never futile, for it determines and simultaneously rewards our character….
… Not all work is noble. What is noble is to be striving toward the best we can accomplish, not toward just any accomplishment for its own sake….
In another essay, Garlikov who provides analysis and resolution of conflicts and disputes, using a philosophical approach, states:
I would argue that happiness also stems from the pursuit of excellence or of desirable (not just desired) ends, even when the pursuit fails to achieve whatever is sought. Psychologically, there is something about the pursuit of the good that gets one's focus off just one's "self", particularly one's more petty or mundane concerns, and onto an ideal "outside" one's self that is, in some sense, more universal and more important, more satisfying and more uplifting --something transcendent.
(Most of Garlikov's writings are offered free of charge on his website.)
And who knows? Since unlike Sisyphus we are neither mythological or metaphorical figures nor are we dead yet...nor doomed by any God...
Perhaps than there is the possibility that we might just reach the summit someday!
This illustration shows a clear distinction between the lone work of Sisyphus and what is possible when we join together! None of us are as powerful as all of us!
The reason the spitting comment had such an impact was because it had not come from an "outsider" but from one with whom I worked shoulder to shoulder, pushing that boulder.
I, however, chose to see my life (and that of the life of adoption activism) not as futile, but as a success according to the following two definitions:
Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. Booker T. Washington
I like to believe that the work I and other adoption activists are doing will leave the world a better place , even if we do not see results -"the redeemed social condition" - in our lifetime.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I thus offer my spittle to the wind...and to the earth and the sea...
I offer my spittle and my sweat, my tears, my words and voice...because it is all I have to give. If I were a coke-eyed optimist I might even imagine that a drop of my spit watering a seed that might grow into a beautiful flower or mighty oak someday.
Who knows? Regardless, I give it all. How it is received is out of my control and I will not cease because of fear it will not be received well. If we were to act only when assured our actions were to be acceptable, we'd never love or care for children or the informed.
Doing what it is in your heart and soul to do are its own reward. Or as Garlikov points out:
Aristotle had it close to correct when he said that happiness was not in the mere having of possessions nor of reputation or power, though those were useful, but that it is "an activity of the soul in conformity with excellence.This -- and the support of others who are like-minded -- are two very critical factors that Sisyphus was denied (making his life a living hell) but available for us to freely chose!