Mission Possible

Ever get to the point when you’ve read so much depressing news that your brain and heart reach some kind of maximum density and you just feel defeated by it all? I must admit that despite my usually relentless optimism, I was there last month.

pilar-gerasimo

Sitting at my local coffee shop, about midway into my daily helping of terror alerts, war reports and corporate scandals (garnished, on this day, with a sprinkling of political corruption and global climate change), I put down my newspaper, pushed it away with distaste, and said: blech.

Feeling bummed, hopeless and sort of wrung out by the whole state of affairs, I was trudging home with my headphones on when I heard an old Aretha Franklin cover of an even older Billie Holiday tune: “Crazy He Calls Me.” It’s a sweet, slightly sad (and I suppose unabashedly codependent) love song, but I’ve always found the lyrics hopeful and uplifting, particularly the line that goes, “the difficult I’ll do right now/the impossible will take a little while.”

For whatever reason, hearing that particular song at that particular moment was exactly what I needed. By the time I got home, I was feeling much better.

The next day, I opened the mail and, to my surprise, discovered an advance galley of a new book called, of all things, The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear (Basic Books, 2004).

Edited by Paul Rogat Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen (a book from which we excerpted an article last year), this volume contains more than 40 inspiring and thought-provoking essays. Their authors are a rather astonishing range of thinkers and doers — from Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to Bill McKibben, Margaret Wheatley and Václav Havel, plus many others, famous and relatively unknown, including prisoners, poets, pundits, artists and survivors of all kinds.

Representing a variety of political, religious and secular perspectives, the authors share both personal and public experiences — from working a suicide hotline to facing down apartheid oppression. What they hold in common is a high value for the resilience of the human spirit, and a collection of unshakeable evidence representing the power of small, courageous actions — even (or perhaps especially) in the face of what seems like unremittingly bad news.

One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from an essay by Danusha Veronica Goska. She says, “The problem is not that we have so little power. The problem is that we don’t use the power that we have.”

Goska bemoans the self-talk that tells us, “’Gee, I’ll never travel to Malaysia and close a sweatshop; I’m not brave enough (or organized or articulate enough) to champion a cause. I have to go to work every day, and I just don’t have the time or gifts to be a virtuous person.’

“Sometimes,” she writes, “we convince ourselves that the ‘unnoticed’ gestures of ‘insignificant’ people mean nothing. It’s not enough to recycle our soda cans; we must Stop Global Warming Now. Since we can’t Stop Global Warming Now, we may as well not recycle our soda cans. It’s not enough to be our best selves. We have to be Gandhi. And yet when we study the biographies of our heroes, we learn that they spent years in preparation doing tiny, decent things before a historical moment propelled them to center stage.”

Wise words.

They reminded me that courage and hope are inextricably linked. And that is why, in tackling both our individual and collective problems, we must not let the shadows cast by seemingly impossible things prevent us from perceiving and reaching out toward the doable things within our grasp.

In essence, that’s what this issue is all about. Whether it’s reforming the way you eat and exercise, tackling an old phobia, pressing yourself into creative action or questioning some of your most ingrained beliefs, I hope you find something in this issue that expands your sense of the possible. And if it takes a little while, so be it.

Pilar Gerasimo is the founding editor of Experience Life.

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