I knew this guy who was going to be a businessman. He was going to identify a need in the community, raise the capital, invest wisely, open a small, friendly business, and enjoy success.

Ten years later, he owns a couple of fast food restaurants. His employees hate him, his customers shout at him, he has an ulcer from trying to balance the books, and the chain is pressuring him to sell to someone who will make the stores more profitable. He tells me he's living his dream, but the look on his face during the evening rush calls him a liar.

I knew this girl who was going to be an Artist. She always said it with a capital "A" -- Artist. She was going to move somewhere with beautiful scenery (Taos, New Mexico, she said, or Alaska or Northern California), live cheap, and paint everything she could.

Ten years later, she is a secretary for an accounting firm. She works 45 hours a week and can type 80 words per minute. She hasn't touched her paintbrushes in six years, and there is no look in the world that is sadder than the one on her face when she sees her boss hang some cheap landscape print up in the front office.

I knew this guy who was going to be a reporter. He was going to fight corruption in high places and tell the important stories that the readers needed to know. He practiced re-writing stories in magazines 'til they were better than the originals.

Ten years later, he bangs out a feature a day on inane subjects that are designed solely to fill space in the newspaper. He knows which deputies are brutal thugs, which judges are screwing their secretaries, which councilmen are skimming taxes, and which teachers are screwing their students, but he can't report on them because he doesn't want to get a reputation as someone who'll turn against a source. He claims not to remember his youthful idealism, and he may be telling the truth, for once.

I knew this girl who was going to be a social worker. She was going to work with the underprivileged, and help them overcome their circumstances to become productive members of society. She was going to work with the abused and injured and hurt, and help them become whole, undamaged people again.

Ten years later, she is a social worker who hates every single one of her clients. She hates them because they are poor or abused or pitiful or helpless, and all they do is whine, and they're all liars and scum, and why can't they do something for themselves for once, dammit. She grumbles to herself that someone oughtta round 'em all up and blow their fucking brains out, dammit. If you remind her of what she was like when she was young, she will favor you with a glare, tell you she doesn't have time for reminiscing, and get back to work.

I knew this guy who was going to be a cop. He wanted to be a cop for all the right reasons -- he was going to help people and enforce the law and put bad people in jail and make the world a better place for everyone.

Ten years later, he is in prison. He and his partner beat a kid to death. They thought he was a troublemaker, so they were gonna knock him around a little to teach him a lesson, and he bumped his head on the sidewalk and fractured his skull and died while the cops were still laughing at him and telling him to get up and run on home. This guy I knew now serves as a lieutenant in a prison gang because they'll protect him from all the other inmates who want to shiv him.

I knew this guy who was going to be a preacher. He loved God with all his heart, studied the Bible, wrote his own devotions, spent several years in seminary preparing to serve a church and its congregation with humility and love.

Ten years later, he works in the oilfield. The members of his small-town congregation decided one day that they didn't like his stand on (insert hot-button issue here) and fired him. He had a wife and child to support and couldn't find work with another local church. So he got a 12-hour-a-day job as a pumper in the oilfield and he comes home every night too exhausted to do anything but sit in front of the TV. He doesn't have time to read anymore, especially not a Book he already read twice when he was still in high school, and he sleeps late every weekend and doesn't get up in time to go to church.

I knew this girl who was going to be an actress. She did a killer Ophelia and Rebecca Nurse and Lady Bracknell. She disdained Hollywood and adored Broadway. She made two trips to New York and one to Chicago to see plays and visit with playwrights.

Ten years later, no one knows what happened to her. She moved to New York, rented a small apartment, and her family never heard from her again. She might be a waitress. She might be a junkie. She might be dead. She might still be an actress. We wish we knew for sure.

I knew these two people who were in love. More than likely, you know the routine: talked about each other all the time, worshipped the ground the other walked on, planned a long life revolving around each other, got syrupy and googly around each other and made the rest of us groan. The usual, commonplace miracles of chemistry and attraction and luck...

Ten years later, both of them have been married and divorced twice. They seem to spend most of their time in court or in counseling. They don't talk about each other or about anyone else with any affection. They haven't really loved anyone in years -- in fact, they both claim, independently, that they are now too smart to feel that emotion for anyone. They say they don't miss that feeling, but a more bitter pair of cynics you have never met...
Sometimes people break the world.

There's joy out there, you just have to go find it.

There are always choices.

Make a difference.

If you hate your job, change. learn something else.

Stop whining, and do it.

This is a rant at myself as well, i'm not on any kind of high horse here.


I will not be broken.

Let them mock and deride me. My pride will survive it. I will not be broken.

Let them tear at me and beat me. Flesh will heal. I will not be broken.

Let them lock me in darkness. However black and cold my prison gets, I will not be broken.

Let them leave me, if they choose. Loneliness is hard, but I will not be broken.

I may bend
I may bow
I may even fall, despairing.

But I will rise, and straighten. I am strong, and I will not be broken.

I knew this guy who was going to be a nothing. He had always been told so, by his parents, his teachers, everyone. No one treated him with any respect, becuase no one ever thought he'd achieve anything. No one cared what he was up to because no one ever thought he'd do anything.

Ten years later, he received a full scholarship to Oxford University, and is now an active, respected professor.

I knew this lady who was going to be an old maid. She was brought up thinking she would always be alone, never love or be loved by anyone. She was totally convinced that she would die alone, and she never even imagined what a companion would be like. It was imprinted in her head that no man would ever want to be with her, she simply expected to never be in a relationship of any sort. She was told she would be alone, she believed it.

Ten years later, she is happily married. She has three adorable children who can never stand to be in anyone's arms apart from hers. She loves her husband, and he loves her. They look as if they'll be in love forever.

I knew this guy who was going to be an alcoholic and had constant depression. As his drinking habits were fairly extreme, most people who knew him agreed that he was clearly going to lose his job, his family, and probably even his home. No one, including himself, thought there was any hope for him at all.

Ten years later, he is a dedicated school teacher and has not touched a drink in over five years. He is nearly always happy, and has a wonderful family living in the same house as his own.

I knew this girl who was going to be in the same town until she died. She was certain she'd never see another country, let alone another continent. She expected to be stuck in the same town forever, seeing the same people everyday until they managed to escape one by one to schools or job oppritunities. All that she would know would be what was there in that town.

Ten years later, she is hitchhiking through Asia. She has travelled through America, Europe, and is currently heading towards Japan, having just visited India. She carries a large back-pack, and meets people from all over the world. She also manages to keep in touch with them. She stays where she can, she eats what she gets. She's happy.

I knew this guy who was going to be a construction worker. He didn't want to be a construction worker, but he felt he couldn't pass up the job. He really wanted to be a musician, but he didn't think he would ever make it. He packed up his drums, and decided to give them a rest.

Ten years later, he spends his mornings working the counter at a music store, and in the evening he plays his drums out on the street, because he wants to. Between those two jobs he earns enough to live, and although he makes less than he would if he was in the construction job, he can do what he loves to do. He believes he made the right decision.

I knew this girl who was going to be homeless forever. She was homeless at the time, and she honestly believed that she was worthless because of it. She thought she would never be someone until she had a home, and she also thought she would never have a home. She didn't see the point in living.

Ten years later, she still has no home, but is just as happy as if she had one. She has many friends, some of whom have homes and some of which don't, and she lives her life as if she had a home herself, because she does. The city she lives in is her home, and she has decided that where she sleeps doesn't matter as long as she is still near the people she cares for.

I knew this guy who grew up with parents who told him he could do anything he wanted.  His teachers praised his work; his friends envied his intelligence.  He thought he could be anything in the world as long as he put his mind to it.  He dreamed of one-day entering medical school and later opening up a neuroscience research center in San Diego.

Ten years after graduating from medical school, he has been working at a prestigious hospital California as a neurosurgeon and extending his research at a nearby university.  He earns enough money to live a more than privileged life for four, yet he has no family.  He has never been in love.  He feels that through all his great achievements, he has missed out on what is most important.

I knew this girl who grew up with a family that loved her more than anything in the world.  Her father was a professor.  Her mother was a surgeon.  At school, she was voted most likely to succeed, as success came easy for her.  She won the national history day competition, and started a nationwide environmental project that recycles used bicycles and redistributes them to the those who can't afford them.  She wanted to study anthropology in third-world countries and make a difference in this world.

Ten years later, she is attending her third university after failing out of the previous two but this time may actually earn her degree in business.  She's found that her early years taught her nothing of discipline and hard work that tends to drive the world.  Small failures have turned her off her dreams and persevering through rough times has never crossed her mind.

Life tends to throw curveballs and we can either dodge them or swing away.  But the hardest part is noticing the spin of the ball.

How easy it is to say that you will not be broken. How easy it is to believe, convinced of your correctness, certain of its truth, that the world may never wear you down, that it may never beat you to the brink, to the very point, of submission; that, no matter what, you will never shatter into a thousand pieces, least of all by the world. How easy it is to fool yourself ad nauseam, deluding yourself into thinking that you will forever stand, like immortal God before mere humans, untouched by the world, unhurt and unscathed, till the end of eternity and perhaps even beyond.

Words are not actions.

It is impossible to deny that you can get lucky in this world: you can have the luck, the sheer glorious luck, to be able to do what you want, to be able to love what you do, and, most importantly, to be able to want to do what you love. You can have the benefit of being a genius, the advantage of connections, the power of money and influence on your side; you can be king of the world, or master of a few; you could wallow in filth, live in decay, dwell in pestilential surroundings, in dingy, broken homes. You could be anything or anyone in the world, and there is no way that it can be denied that you might one day rise to be greater than mere mortals, to a height unimaginable, on the tips of everyone's tongues. No, this is a sacred truth of life: that there is always a way to get what you desire most; the difference between what happens next and what you want to happen is in the choices you make.

But the choices that can be made are not the subject here.

Anyone who has ever been alive knows that life is not easy. There will be choices that will pit you against the most dreaded monsters that lurk in your mind; choices that arouse the terrible, choking cloak of fear that descends on your lungs, your skin, your heart; choices that can mean the difference between the relentless flow of life and the blessed peace of death. We are nothing more than rocks before a pounding river, forever weakening against its force, breaking, slowly, gently, almost unconsciously, into tiny fragments that simply float away, or perhaps descend beneath the wrath of the raging river, never seen again. No matter what we do, what we attempt, what we risk, we will always be rocks. Like all things, we will fade. Like all things, we will end.

In this node are written accounts of hopes and dreams, love and beliefs, ideals and bitter, cruel reality. In this node are also written accounts of great, glorious success, or pure, sheer happiness, the ecstasy of dreams achieved, goals met, hopes fulfilled. Yet for every success story, for every instance of love, for every joyous thought in this world, there lie two hundred failures, three cases of hate and murder and untold violence, and ten thoughts of misery. The world breaks us, bit by bit, inch by inch. It forces us to change, or accept what we have and live with it. Never mind those silly, naïve dreams of the past. Never mind what could be, what could have been; never mind a foolish relic of the ancient past. It makes us turn traitor to our own notions of perfection, to our own principles, to the bedrock of every soul. We live, half-asleep, in a world we think we understand but don't, trying, and failing, to beat its relentless march, till weariness and exhaustion make us stumble along, forever bitter, in the path life has set before us, in the rut we must survive, day after day after endless, ceaseless, tedious day, forgetting what we once imagined could have been, should have been, would have been, if only to cope with the sheer impact of the raging, shrieking river.

There is infinite sadness within this finite world. Each step you take is marked with resentment, or hate, or anger, grief, remorse, misery, suffering. We may struggle, we may fight, we may rebel, but ultimately we will bend, and from there is but a short step to kneeling, and ultimately, to the chains that bind us for the remainder of our lives. We are not gods, after all; we too are bound by the laws that govern this world. If we choose to try and fight those laws, we are worn down, bit by bit, by the numerous struggles we must face, on the road ahead, by hundreds of seemingly petty disappointments that nonetheless hurt us, in some deep, private part of ourselves.

The world breaks everyone. It tames their wild, roaring spirits, and turns them into tame, meek beasts that struggle to rise above apathy and self-obsession. There is no cure for these, no remedy. But I would be a liar were I to say that no cure exists for those who still struggle, who have not yet given up, not yet settled into the mild boredom that steeps each passing day. It is no easy cure, no easy remedy; I doubt there are people who believe in its effectiveness any more, it being so commonly repeated to those who want comfort and inspiration for the battle, nay, war ahead. I will say it anyway:

Don't fight.

Do not fight against the laws of the universe; struggle only damages you more. A conflict arises only because of a difference: a difference, perhaps, between what you want, and what you have. Eliminate this difference. Eradicate every last bit of it; alienate the very concept from your life. If you truly want something, and you only have so much to work with, then do something about it. Get more tools, more people; if what you have is not enough then get more. Make plans, set a target, and reach the darned goal already. You must cease to care if it effects life-changing upheavals. You must abandon every conflicting desire within you; you must be totally devoted to what you want. If you wish to help people, help them better than the gods themselves could have. If you wish to sweep streets, sweep it as if its cleanliness was more than a mere matter of life and death. It is only when you pursue with dogged determination, when you choose to want to weave magic from your very fingers and thoughts, when all you want is to do something, then do it better than any other person in the world, and pursue that dream to the very corners of the Earth. The heavens themselves will part for someone who works to the very soul, to the slimmest thread of flesh, blood and bone, for it.

Persist, and do it best. That, and only that, is the key to the chains with which we are broken.

And now I descend from the pulpit.

I knew this one Rwandan woman when I was a peace corps volunteer there. This woman had lost six children – one to starvation, two to sickness, two to still births, and one in an accident; none of her children had lived past twelve years of age. This woman’s husband had been killed in tribal wars. This woman had been raped several times, undergone uncountable beatings, almost died from starvation and sickness herself, seen her mother murdered, and had been driven from her home village – all before she was twenty years old.

When I knew her, though, she lived in another village that was, for the time, somewhat safe from the strife tearing apart her country. She had gotten remarried and had a baby girl who she loved dearly. When she smiled, the pain in her eyes was almost heartbreaking – but she could still smile.

The world only breaks you if you let it. And if you allow the fact that you never became an artist, or an actress, or a banker, or some bullshit, to break you - if you allow the fact that you never fulfilled some silly little dream to break you - then you don’t deserve to have dreams.

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