It’s been a busy time for me in online dating world: much fun, new friends, maximizing my exposure to serendipity on the road to true love. I keep being surprised at how much this process teaches me about myself.
For instance, I just added another paragraph to the list of qualities I am seeking in a man:
A disinclination toward doom. On the future of humanity, I’m an agnostic. I’m aware of the depth of our environmental and social challenges; in fact, a lot of my work concerns them. But I don’t have much tolerance for the certainty that our collective story will end badly. Many men I’ve met are continually collecting evidence of humanity’s folly: if that’s what you look for, you’ll find it everywhere, of course. But there’s also abundant evidence of our kindness and capacity to heal the damage we’ve done. I’m not a Pollyanna (or even an optimist). I just want to stay open to possibility, and find it difficult to sustain a close relationship with someone who doesn’t. Can’t we agree that none of us knows how the future will unfold? To me, that’s the only sustainable position.
What prompted this addition was a series of encounters with interesting, attractive men, each following an uncannily similar script. A man and a woman of a certain age are walking along the Pacific coast a little before sunset on a cool, sunny day:
SHE: Look at the light today! Everything looks so incredible saturated in pink and gold.
HE: Yeah, but it’s all that particulate matter in the air, and we are breathing it. But not for long!
SHE: Are you planning on checking out soon?
HE: We all are. We have messed it up beyond repair and the chaos is coming. I’ve seen what human beings are capable of, and it’s not a pretty sight. I don’t want to be around for the end, when it all breaks down.
SHE: Are you so sure that’s the only possible future?
HE: Oh, yeah. Look at the evidence!
SHE: I do, and it’s dire. But then I think of all the times humanity’s end has been predicted, and the fact that all the prior predictions have been wrong.
HE: Not this time.
SHE: Haven’t you ever been wrong about what was going to happen? Think of the things we’ve seen in just our lifetimes: the fall of the Soviet Union, which was going to rule forever; the end of apartheid, which so many people saw as permanent; and now Arab Spring and all the other popular movements….
HE: True. I was wrong about those things—almost everyone was.
SHE: My point exactly. When I look at the potential for harm in the world and consider how many more acts of kindness and compassion I see each day than wicked, damaging acts, I am amazed. Look at the way Occupy has changed our national conversation. Look at the examples of planetary healing [NOTE: Check out John Liu's Lessons of The Loess Plateau, dear readers, which I wrote about back in October.] Who’s to say we can’t redeem ourselves still?
HE: Oh, sure. We can, maybe. But we won’t.
SHE: How can you know?
And so on.
This can continue as long as HE and SHE enjoy playing ping-pong (i.e., when I’m the SHE, not very long).
I haven’t the slightest interest in talking anyone into a stance of optimism, which seems just as unfounded as the opposite. What I see is the vast potential of the human project, the moral grandeur of which we are capable, our capacity to make beauty and meaning. That’s not news; I’ve been aware of that feature of my own philosophical landscape for a long time. But just lately, I’ve realized I could never make a life with someone for whom the verdict is foreordained. Just facing that every day would burden my spirit and eventually, tip me away from the equanimity—and the dynamism, the perseverance, the creativity—that comes from knowing that the future is beyond our ability to foretell.
A blessing for us all as the new year approaches, then: May the power of not-knowing suffuse our lives, granting us a brilliant vision of possibility, an open-eyed ability to see the present with clarity, and the desire and energy to do our part in bringing the two together. And may we find true companions on the path.
Mighty Mo Rodgers’ “Dispatches from The Moon” puts us on the bleeding edge of the planetary tipping point, with an option to learn. Rodgers is a most didactic composer, which doesn’t interfere with his ability to groove on serious pleasures. I couldn’t find a video of his “Blues for A Blue Planet,” which I love; and if you’re interested in a unique take on blues ecumenicism, check out “Blues Is My Wailin’ Wall.”