Recently, I heard of a local man who, in the pre-dawn dark, gets up early to run his neighborhood streets. As he runs past houses, he yanks out the yard signs he doesn't like. He sees a political sign he hates? Yank, and toss it aside.
But then, that same morning, another runner follows in his wake.
Little does the first man know, but the second runner picks up all those yanked and tossed yard signs.
And he puts them back squarely in place.
This is absurdly hilarious to me, an Aesopian fable for our times. Apparently, the two runners have never met, yet each morning, they are engaged in this yard sign tug-of-war over opinions, beliefs and views.
It's perfectly existential and perfectly Groundhog Dayish: we fight, we yank, we tear down, we pick up.
The next morning, it happens all over again.
For most of my career, I have engaged in a fight. Or rather, The Fight. As a writer and teacher, The Fight has been at the core of my curriculum: Get engaged, take a stand, make good trouble, fight the good fight.
The world is not our oyster. It's our responsibility. Build democracy, create community; don't float the lazy river of life.
"We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision," the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "but we must speak."
Fighting the good fight has been the work of so many of you in all walks of life: activists, yes, but also preachers, teachers, nurses, scientists, public servants, artists, entrepreneurs — anyone who incorporates a moral vision into her or his labor in order to call forth a better world.
That's The Fight.
But lately, this fight has left me wrung out.
I am tire-tread exhausted.
I know, I know. 2020 is a mess, and if it isn't a mess, it will sure as hell work until one gets here.
But on the inside, something feels crooked, like a wobbly grocery cart wheel. It feels unsustainable, as if there were 10,000 yard signs every morning.
Lately, I've been thinking about surrender.
For years, I have mistaken aspects of The Fight with illusion. If I fight hard enough — my illusions said — the world will bend to my vision of it. If I yank enough yard signs, people's views will change.
That hasn't happened.
It will never happen.
"Have you ever changed one person's mind?" a friend recently asked. "Really and truly?"
I used to think: yes.
Now, I'm not sure.
If I put a thousand yard signs in my yard, would that change anyone's mind? Even the most eloquent or well-crafted of signs? Or columns?
(Black Chattanoogans have been preaching, praying, petitioning, marching, raising hell, boycotting, forgiving, shouting, whispering, talking for decades, trying to wake up the white mind. And we still have a Confederate general statue on our courthouse lawn? And this week's take-it-down resolution may not pass?)
To me, surrender means this:
I stop trying to control what I can't control.
I surrender to the reality of life ... as it is, not as I want it to be.
You will have your views. And yard signs.
I will have mine.
Violence and ignorance exist. They will always exist.
And life will always — one way or another — hurt.
I can't fight those truths any longer.
Does this sound crazy? At a time when the stakes are so high, here I am talking about surrender. Maybe I've been punching above my weight for too long.
Maybe this is my privilege talking. As a straight white man, I have a choice to fight when others don't.
How can I rest when others can't?
I am humble before folks in this city who have been in The Fight for decades. Before them, I feel like the last guy at the end of the JV bench. At a time when we so desperately need answers, all I have are questions:
How do I fight without fighting life itself?
How do I stop trying to change what is unchangeable?
"There is something more important than the fight," my friend said. "Your mind."
How do you fight without losing your heart and mind?
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.