A few days ago, I had minor surgery. For a man of my age and ilk, those two words—minor surgery—might be an oxymoron, akin to jumbo shrimp, or a crash landing, or (my favorite) a civil war. Sometimes, life really is bittersweet.
The word ‘oxymoron’ is, in itself, oxymoronic. It derives from two words in ancient Greek: “oxys” meaning “sharp” and “moros” meaning “dull.” There’s power in this duality. It reminds us of the inherent yin and yang of the universe, the opposite but interconnected forces that make our world go ‘round: positive and negative; male and female; odd and even; darkness and light; harmony and chaos; and, of course, goodness and evil.
There is much to rue these days: a second year of war in Ukraine. Terrible storms battering California and toxic fumes floating over Ohio. Never-ending gun violence. Our own political house divided. While I acknowledge all these tragedies, I find that the only way I can get through my own day is to focus on what is good and beautiful and just within creation. That’s not to say I stick my head ostrich-like in the sand; rather, I choose to admire and, when and where I can, to emulate the good.
Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you just have to be patient and to trust that, in the end, good will outlast evil. I know that patience and trust may be only palliative—they relieve painful symptoms but do not deal with the root causes of the underlying condition. And maybe that’s why patience and trust are in such short supply these days, and why all the quick-fix alternatives that line our shelves only serve to deepen our divides. Reactive behavior is readily available, but reshaping our negative or inaccurate thought patterns—cognitive behavioral theory—takes both practice and time, and we are biologically programmed to react. Fight or flight.
John Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights movement and a man who lived and understood the paradoxes of life, coined his own wonderful oxymoron: good trouble. Those two little words were the sharp end of Mr. Lewis’ stick, and they still echo after he’s gone. The world needs their tension.
For better or for worse (there they are again; our old friends yin and yang), I’m a believer in the munificence of the universe. I have no idea why, but I’m guessing my perspective has to do with my upbringing and the security that came with it. Back then, I assumed everyone grew up happy and whole, but now I know how lucky I was. A friend of mine was given to say that “good things happen to good people,” but that’s only a half truth. The other half is that bad things can happen to good people, and that’s the sad half of the same truth. But just imagine for amount that if the universe is indeed abundant, then maybe there’s more reason for us to hope for the best even when things look their grimmest.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.