If life feels frustrating, there’s a reason. Frustration is a condition throughout the universe. Even electrons are vulnerable. Because an imbalance exists between the places for them in one layer of the quantum soup and another, each time the layers interact, the quantum particles must scramble for positions like players in a game of musical chairs. Though existence is hard for electrons, scientists suspect they can use that frustration to increase reliability when encoding digital information.
In politics, frustration is a boon for antacid manufacturers. Each new poll in our divided nation sends many to the drugstore. Current tallies for the 2024 election show Donald Trump leads Joe Biden by a few percentage points, a difference that keeps Democrats awake at night worried about the return of a failed president whose agenda is political revenge.
Logic suggests the polls are wrong. In 2020, Joe Biden defeated Trump by 7 million votes. Is it reasonable to suppose that 4 years later, these 7 million find Trump’s 91 felony charges an asset? Should we suppose that women, even in red states like Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio, who have voted to enshrine abortion rights into their state constitutions will find Trump’s call for a national ban irresistible?
People are more complex than the polls can reflect, it would seem.
This morning, a friend in California surprised me with a phone call. We haven’t met for several years but we’ve stayed in touch with birthday cards and holiday messages. He opened our conversation with a few lines from my memoir, Getting Lost to Find Home. His speech sounded urgent, as he feared I’d missed the importance of what I’d written. Afterward, he thanked me for reminding him that friendships needed nurturing, and he resolved to do better with ours.
The sweetness of his remark stuck in my throat like a lump of hard candy. I doubted my friend could have foreseen the feeling of communion that rose within me or fathom the compliment he’d paid me by reading my words with feeling.
When our conversation ended, I returned to the blog I was writing, compulsively, the way a crow returns to a crust of bread at the side of the road once traffic has subsided. My thoughts returned to an interview with David Brooks I’d just read. (“Q&A,” AARP Bulletin, Nov. 23, pgs. 40-41.)
Brooks is a columnist whose political views are more conservative than mine. Many times, I’ve crushed his commentaries from my easy chair, though he never knew it. Even so, over the years, he seemed to have mellowed, and I am gratified that in his interview, he confirmed my assessment. I’ve learned to be more relational and humbler, he confesses.
Time’s passing has a way of changing perspective. For example, I have rid myself of the notion that humans rule the planet. As a species, we are no more in control of the ground beneath our feet than were David Thoreau’s warring red and black ants in Walden Pond.
China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin may imagine otherwise and hope to find a place for themselves in the pantheon of great leaders. More likely the pain and distrust they sow will grow like graveyard weeds to one day blot out their memory.
Jews and Palestineans are at war again, the historical residue of tyrants and old men bent in prayer who exhort their followers to slaughter non-believers. Do these disparate sides not see the absurdity of that call? No other mammalian slaughters its own in greater numbers than our species. That isn’t Nature’s way. It is human vainglory.
With both sides drenched in the blood of their enemy, the time has come for all to see no triumph lies in war. A dead child pulled from the rubble of a bombed building is the universal source of human tears.
We can do better. Let there be no more learned hate.
Frustration may exist in the universe, but we can choose our response. We either yield to it or build a wall of defiance. If we choose the latter, let imagination be the bricks of our fortress and communion its mortar. When we fill the cracks between oblivion in service to one another, we give our frail and inauspicious species primacy and establish compassion as human law throughout a deaf, dumb, and blind cosmos.