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Enjoying Yourself While The World Burns

I managed to coerce myself to have what I’m told is called “fun” a few weekends ago and it got me thinking about the difficulty inherent in “letting go” and enjoying yourself while the world burns.

For me, I can’t. I get instantly assaulted with guilt, then shame, and then my brain tells me that if I just feel BADLY for enjoying myself then that counts as “doing something.” You’re welcome world, I fixed you. By not enjoying my life!

My fun offenses aren’t even reckless, like I got lunch and went to a Biergarten. Still, the voices in my head were loud and very clear: People are literally dying and you’re EATING? This is stupid, you can make your own sandwich and actually get ahead on things. Go save a life. Go write an op-ed. Go call some senators. Go yell at strangers on the internet! What are you DOING?!

Psych books call these voices “intrusive thoughts” which are a fun symptom of anxiety and/or being Jewish or Catholic. Intrusive thoughts are especially distracting if you’re trying to be “present” and “in the moment.”

I brought all this noise in my head up with a friend I was getting drinks with and we got onto the light topic of politics, the Middle East, America, Democracy, moral philosophy, and where the heck is the waitress she was just right here.

It’s fun talking about these things with someone who is tempered, well-read, makes good-faith arguments, and is not morally confused. You can disagree in a civil and mind-expanding way instead of an ideological or tribal one.

When we got to the existentialism part of the conversation, as all conversations that go in this direction invariably do – I found myself back in that “what’s the point” hole of despair. Eager to talk about solutions and change and effectiveness and action and DOING.

My friend shrugged. I was plagued by guilt again and getting antsy to leave. To go fix these problems, to contribute, to DO ANYTHING to counter this overwhelming feeling of helplessness and guilt. The audacity of experiencing rest, fun, or joy seemed selfish and out of touch.

There are people who argue that joy is the most subversive act against violence. I agree with them.

And yet I couldn’t reconcile it. How do we distinguish between joy and turning a blind eye, when they look nearly identical on the surface? I’m not even talking about the Middle East anymore I’m just talking about life. Where is that line between staying in your lane and doing your best to live your life in integrity and cultivating joy because it is your birthright – versus being ignorant and complicit? Weren’t we complicit by just sitting around talking politics while people we know were being bombed and stabbed and graffitied and gaslit and raped?

“You’re not going to fix it,” my friend said.

He’s right. I’m not going to fix it. I’m not going to fix much of anything. The closest I can get is writing to strangers on the internet so I can regulate my nervous system enough to go on with my day.

I eloquently quipped back. “How do you sit here and enjoy yourself with all this *waves hands* running in the background?”

“One sip at a time,” he said. “One sip at a time.”


I have no idea how to distinguish between complacency, complicitness, and entitlement to joy.

Are you being complicit by enjoying your life? I don’t know. Perhaps. But here’s what I do know, unequivocally:

The times I’ve been most abused, sad, lonely, in pain, and in crisis – I absolutely wished those I loved were enjoying a drink together somewhere beautiful pontificating about art, philosophy, movies, and memes.

Without question.