Philip Martin’s New Year 2015 article

This from the 1/4/15 Arkansas Democrat Gazette

In The Twilight of the Gods, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “Out of life’s school of war: that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” and self-aggrandizing egoists have been plucking it from context and pasting it on their locker room walls for glib inspiration ever since.

Never mind that, taken literally, it’s ridiculous: sometimes that which doesn’t kill you leaves you in a coma, or makes you a bitter old recluse unfit for human society. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you slaughters your whole family and leaves you bereft and vacant and yearning for that black oblivion you’re almost (but not quite) sure awaits you on the other side of some delicious razor.

Yet it’s true that surviving bad events can be a catalyst for growth. Some of us remember the sense of community that enveloped the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In Little Rock last year, the murder of a beloved member of the live music scene–Terry “Tc” Edwards–spurred a beautiful outpouring of love sufficient to dissolve any and all cynicism. People can and do care about one another, it’s just that most of us are too insecure to make ourselves vulnerable to being moved by anodyne human distress. In a real way, we need these examples of how awful we can be to one another to know how gracious and self-sacrificing we can be.

Every year encapsulates all that is sad and brutish, tender and noble, about our nature. Not only are human beings imperfect, but aside from a few silent saints, generally uninterested in becoming better than they are. As dissatisfied as we may be with the world as it is, we are a pretty self-satisfied lot. That’s why the whole New Year’s Resolution thing is generally perceived as a joke. (By the end of January, the only people who will be in the gym at 6 a.m. are the same ones who were there last October. And the October before that.)

Still, this is a convenient time of year for inventories (moral and otherwise) because there’s really not so much going on. Most of us are still in holiday hangover mode (in the interest of transparency, let me say I am writing this column on the eve of New Year’s Eve; it is nearly my final project of 2014 and I am eager to get it done so I might have a few days free of obligation) and not much is expected of us. The office is quiet this morning, it feels as though the world has reached one of those still moments at the top of the cycle. The wheel’s still in spin, but we have mutually agreed to pretend we’ve reached a good point to take a break.

By a lot of measures, 2014 was a horrible year. But it’s always a horrible year if you are poor and black in America, and things could be better if you’re middle-class and black in America. Because you are by default suspect, because there are plenty of people who consider themselves to be very good people who, in certain circumstances, can be made nervous just by your presence. And some of these people who consider themselves to be very good people also happen to be black people.

I sometimes allow myself to think that things are getting better, that maybe even sad accidents and atrocities can contribute to some kind of deeper understanding. I sometimes think that maybe the killings of people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, are not completely in vain, that maybe each one brings us incrementally closer to acknowledging the universal sacredness of human life. All lives matter.

And maybe some of us begin to realize that not everyone has had the advantages we take for granted, that our background has a tremendous influence over the way we think and that these ingrained prejudices can only be overcome by conscious effort. What otherwise might seem as a senseless tragedy can have social utility if it causes people to consider the problems faced by people superficially different than themselves. I get it–we want to make the best of things. We can’t go on; we go on.

On a personal level, I cannot complain about the just-concluded year. I am fully adult in that I’m old enough not to expect a month to go by without learning of a friend or relative who has suffered some grievous loss. I understand disappointment is inevitable and that on a good day I’ll only fail in half a dozen ways. I am happy enough to worry that I might jinx myself by saying more.

Still, I am looking forward to 2015, even if I do not expect to improve myself. I don’t make resolutions, but I am hoping to do some things I haven’t in a while–my first book since 2001 is coming out this year; so are two others to which I’ve contributed. I’ll do what I can to promote them. I will try to be a better Twitter follow. I want to drink better wine and better whisky. Maybe we will travel more if fuel prices really do hold down airline fares. I will try to be more patient with nice Republican ladies from Bentonville who tell me I’m going to hell for writing tacky things about Angelina Jolie’s Billy Graham-approved movie Unbroken.

And maybe I should be less patient with unreconstructed racists who snarl warnings (veiled and otherwise) and epithets that I thought lost currency in the late ’60s on the phone. (I’m a journalist, son. With Caller ID. It took me about 15 seconds to assess the credibility of your threat and find out all sorts of things you probably wouldn’t want me to know.)

But mostly I should remember that I enjoy a pretty cool relationship with those holdouts who look at newspapers. So I will try to relax, even when someone monkey-wrenches my mood with some easy platitude.

If you are reading this, you have survived 2014. Perhaps congratulations are in order.

Do you feel any stronger?


One Response to “Philip Martin’s New Year 2015 article”

  1. Molly Graham Welch Says:

    I just wanted to comment on your column which was in the ARDemGaz this week about your dog being sick. I really felt for you. I have a golden retriever who I inherited from my husband 3 years ago when his resident was changed to Heaven. I was afraid Brandi wouldn’t take to me, but guess she knew that if she was to get fed, she would have to switch her allegiance. Believe it or not, I was raised in a house where I was never alone at night, they wouldn’t think of leaving me home alone. Even after I grew up, married and moved away. My husband was an Army man and we moved around a lot in 21 years. I learned to stay by myself (uneasily) and then we had kids. I had to be strong for them, but never felt safe in the house at night. After Brandy gave me her allegiance and stayed near my bed all night, I felt completely safe. I can understand your love for your dog. I feel it for my Brandi. Thanks for your beautiful column,
    Molly Graham Welch

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