I don’t mean this to be maudlin; I’m certainly not preoccupied with my own demise.
I don’t even feel extremely mortal, most days. There’s a general sense, I think, of being way too busy to do anything like contemplate my own place in the universe, or its truly fleeting nature.
And I have no plans, certainly, to step away from my work. At this point, I’d just love to be able to work more during daylight hours, but I know that that, too, shall come.
But, disclaimers, aside, I read an article recently honoring someone for a lifetime achievement award, and I was a little shocked by the intensity of my reaction:
That’s not an aspiration of mine.
I’m known for not being really keen on awards, period; there was a box downstairs of different plaques that we finally got rid of during the most recent purge. I’m not much of a ‘saver’ of anything, I guess.
But my resistance to the lifetime achievement award idea is different.
The truth? I don’t think that fighting the same battles all my life is something I really want to celebrate.
I mean, I guess I get it that combating racism, or poverty, or really huge, intractable social problems with every ounce of energy for your whole life is super admirable. I mean, there was a former member of Congress who was referenced in passing in The Tyranny of Dead Ideas as a “fierce foe of slavery”, and I thought, that would be a pretty awesome epitaph. I always fancied myself a sort of “Speaks Truth to Power” type.
And it’s not that I’m pompous enough to think that I can vanquish foes that have plagued society for generations.
But what I mean is this: there are, ultimately, no prizes for effort alone, in the fight for social justice. And we have to be vigilant, or at least I do, that I don’t mistake activity for real action, or allow myself to be comforted with the thought of ‘fighting the good fight’, when what we really need are wins.
I mean it when I say that I’d love to be able to walk away from this work, because there’s just not much need for it anymore, and instead bake scones or sell plants or maybe write a novel.
But getting there means that I have to always ask, not just can I do more (even though that’s a question that needs to be asked, sometimes, too), but am I fighting the right battles, with the right strategies? Have I set my goals on truly transformational change, or am I going through the motions? Am I risking enough, pushing enough, questioning enough? Am I allying myself with the right players, instead of taking comfort from standing up alone?
Because what I want to look back on, whenever that day comes, is not just a long life filled with right causes, but impact–that more elusive and, ultimately, valuable, benchmark.
It can’t go on the wall or in a box.
But it’s what we all want.
And what our world needs.