Posted by: Mark Nielsen | November 9, 2007

Is It Possible to Just Stop Caring?

And pray to God to have mercy upon us

And pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain …

Ash Wednesday, T.S. Eliot (1930)


Pardon me while I whine and rant again. We all need to do it now and then, don’t we? Sometimes I just feel like chucking it all– all my tired and tiring bleeding-heart, churchy, sacrificial activities –and instead go out and make some serious money. When I’m this tired, or pissed, or discouraged, I try to convince myself: I could be selfish, couldn’t I? I could drive like a jerk, stop recycling, throw caution to the wind, get drunk whenever I felt like it, spank my child to make my own life easier, buy a Harley, join the NRA and become a completely unapologetic hedonist. It would be a 180 degree turn from the way I’ve lived since I was about seven years old. But change can be good, right?

That’s how I was thinking today as I walked out of the inner city school building where I teach. I’m exaggerating a bit, but not much. I just wanted to crawl in a comfy hole and get away from anyone who wanted anything from me– including my family. At times like this I just want to get rich, buy a bigscreen tv and a speedboat, stop giving to all these nagging charities, and set aside my concerns about Burma and Obama and Big Box union-busting stores and the friggin’ Chinese manufacturers trying to kill my son if he even dares play with a new toy this year. (I swear, China’s gotta be laughing hysterically behind our backs, just tickled about how distracted we are by Iran, Iraq and North Korea, while the real Asian problem, the elephant in the room, marches on… making pollution, oppression and godlesssness seem acceptable, profitable and even trendy. Woo hoo!)

It feels a bit dangerous to say how tempting it is to just give up the fight. Maybe even more dangerous to write it down for complete strangers to read. (Yeah, all fifteen of my faithful readership. Big deal. Even my wife hardly checks in here anymore.) Nevertheless, it’s how I feel. What’s more, it’s probably pretty common for do-gooders to reach this dark place now and then. Because it really sucks that nice guys (and gals) finish last (George Clooney, David Ortiz and Jimmy Carter notwithstanding).

Lately here in America we’ve had a glut of famous liberal tv personalities getting bit on the behind while trying to do the right thing: Ellen DeGeneres sobbing over a silly handslap because she didn’t follow all the dog rescue group rules, plus Oprah losing her Africa innocence, finding out that evil knows no color, class or border.

Years ago, when I was still young, spry and enthusiastic, a kid I directed in Jack and the Beanstalk gave me a mug that says: “Those who care… teach.” I still have the mug, but my stamina when it comes to compassion is running pretty low. You might say the mug is half empty.

Oh well, at least Al Gore is still out there, doing his thing. He has even shifted tactics, proving tonight on NBC’s “30 Rock” sitcom that even the most earnest do-gooder has to have a sense of humor, just to get by.

The crying’s the easy part. It’s the laughter, the stop-and-smell-the-roses optimism, and the love that are hard. It’s hard to stay faithfully focused and hopeful when it feels like the whole world’s going down the drain. But if bitching about about it helps, as I suspect it will, then I’m gonna fire away whenever I need to. Life’s too short to keep it bottled up, eating away at me.


  1. yes, you can stop caring.

    but from what i found during my stint trying it, its not any better.

  2. Sorry to hear you are having a tough time this week. The world is always going down the drain.

    Maybe you need to give yourself a timeout. Maybe you and your wife and your son should sit on the couch with a glass of milk watching an Abbott and Costello movie while drinking the milk. A little milk spewing out of all of your noses while you laugh might be refreshing.

  3. And don’t forget the lines near the end of Ash Wednesday, which is (perhaps) enough to fashion an entire spiritual practice around:

    Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
    Teach us to care and not to care
    Teach us to sit still

    Anyway, the Mark Nielsen I know and love will neither stop loving nor ranting.

  4. Thank you, sweet friends, for the encouragement. Abbott & Costello may in fact be just the thing to recharge the ol’ battery. And yes, the whole Ash Wednesday poem is a good reminder that I’m not God, but that God IS here with me in this.

    Launching into another day of tiring teaching now… refreshed a bit by the knowledge that you (and God) are out there listening.

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