Meditation on Discouragement

Courage is a rare and indispensable thing.  It is necessary for overcoming fear, which is all around us in a tumultuous world that ends, inevitably, in our certain death.   I don’t mean courage in the sense of being able to rush headlong into danger, although, in the moment sometimes it comes to that, but more the daily courage to act on what you know to be true in the face of an immense crowd chanting the opposite, loudly and constantly.  Or in the face of a small, silent crowd, for that matter.

Encouragement is a good and important thing to anyone facing any kind of challenge.  Note the way ‘courage’ is embedded in the word encouragement.  We can actually give courage by sincerely encouraging.  Presumably one encouraged consistently during the formative years will internalize enough fearlessness to continue without the need for external encouragement.   Blessed are these people, instilled with an incalculably valuable gift by the people who raised them.

Me, some days I find myself looking through the eyes of my grandmother’s beloved little brother who never made it out of Vishnivetz.   The youngest of seven Marchbein children, my grandmother spoke of him with love, and a glitter of joy in her eyes, the one time she mentioned him to me.   She was scratching my back, no doubt, as she often did when I was a boy, and told me about how much she loved her wonderful little brother, whose name was a Yiddish diminutive variation on Joe.  

No mention, of course, of what became of him, or the other six siblings, though I would find out years later exactly how things ended for them all.  Explaining, at least in part, why my grandmother resorted to so much vodka so often in her final years.

I am that beloved youngest sibling, standing on the lip of a ravine on the northern outskirts of Vishnevetz, in my underwear, amid the pounding of drums, the crashing of cymbals and the drunken ruckus of Ukrainian peasants who are trying on my clothes and scrambling over the ravine like demented monkeys.  It is evening, the sky is darkening.  I am waiting, and I can see what I’m waiting for.  The group before me has just had it — a bullet in the back of the head, one for each.  One more shot for the occasional twitcher and then a little dirt thrown over this layer.  “Next,” motions the Nazi in charge, like the maitre d’ at a horribly overpriced restaurant the critics can’t get enough of. 

I cannot get past this ancestral memory at the moment, though I try.  It is more than enough to stop me in my tracks, force me to the keyboard to try to tap it out of mind.   Some days the incomprehensible hatred, greed and stupidity of human beings lays on my heart like an anchor.   Why should such long ago events, no matter how terrible, stop me from doing what I need to do today?  Where is the courage to acknowledge it as just another terrible and distracting thought, one to think and let go of, and let myself get back to work?

What is work?   Today it is sitting at the kitchen table, where the new laptop is set up and ready to go, and clicking “play”, the timer on my cellphone running.  Watching the pitch that I need to refine, make sure it’s as close to ready as I believe it may well be, note what I still have to improve.   I have been working on to it now for over a month.   My immediate task is to make sure the automation is working correctly and timing the presentation, which aims to be about ten minutes long. 

Does not sound like particularly hard work, though I’ve been nervously unable to get to it so far.  Instead I am thinking of a ravine I never saw, on the outskirts of an old town cursed by God himself.

Of course, it’s the fearful difficulty of the entire enterprise that is upon me today.  The arbitrary slaughter of my family thirteen years before I was born is just a manifestation of my feelings of futility.   The fear is knowing that everything is riding on the pitch being a wonderful evocation of the thing I’ve been working on, unpaid, for the last few years.  

An excellent sales pitch is the difference between life and death, I understand that finally.   No shame in being a shameless shill for something that can help so many kids, give myself a better and more productive life in the process, I understand that now too.   I’m ready to do it, truly, and working on it.  Except for the feeling of discouragement I have to talk myself out of.

The pitch will explain why the program I’ve created, which has worked 100 out of 100 times, under very bad circumstances about half the time, and even been greatly appreciated by several amazed adults who’ve seen it in action, is something the NYC public school system, and every children’s hospital and juvenile cancer ward, should pay to have their kids participate in.  

The good work will then go on, the joyful laughter will be heard, the heartwarming feelings will be stirred.  The alternative?  Nothingness, the years theorizing, designing, field-testing, being delightfully confirmed in my theories, refining, trying to document, raise funds, publicize… gone with no meaningful trace.

I’ve refined the pitch now for a few weeks, showed draft 3 to two professionals last week who gave me excellent feedback.  I am using their notes to make draft 4 much better.  It is already much better, after several hours work on it yesterday.  I am sure of it.  

All that remains for me to do at the moment is to press “play”, start the timer, and watch the show.  Then I will know how close I am to having something I can present that will do the bulk of the selling for this wonderful program; that and being in and out of the sales meeting in 20 minutes or less and leaving the potential purchaser with a warm feeling of confidence in me and my product.  Nothing to it, baby.  

And so I have successfully talked myself into doing the obvious now, as soon as I’ve hit the “publish” button I’ll head right in there with my timer.  

Even though I am also, clearly and at the same time, still standing by that godforsaken ravine in Eastern Europe waiting for that coup de grâce as the supercilious maitre d’ distractedly fusses with the collar of his uniform in the hideously warm Ukrainian night.

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