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Peace Voice

Struggling to stay positive — and productive

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Excuse me as I ponder eternity — briefly.

Like it or not, this is the essence of … uh, aging. As I wrote a year ago: “ …once you actually hit it — that three letter word, “old” — watch out: “An aged man (as William Butler Yeats pointed out, as he sailed poetically to Byzantium) is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick …” 

Nonetheless, hooray for my good fortune! I’ve been dancing around at age 77 for a while now, and before I start complaining about the aches and pains that come with it, I have to acknowledge — indeed, revere — the mere fact of making it this far. So many people don’t, due to the random will of fate, but also due to the hell of war, which remains humanity’s cancerous addiction. How can I complain when the bombs I help pay for are killing children?

So the following words are not meant to be complainy — just, rather, a contemplation of the great unknown, whose presence becomes increasingly more visible as the aging process obfuscates more and more of my certainties and, indeed, rattles my optimism. The core of this optimism is the mantra that helped me make it through middle age: Be positive and productive! It was my psychological — my spiritual — cane. Now it feels broken.

In its place I seem to have an anti-mantra, which I refer to simply as giveuptitude. You know, life is just a doggone inconvenience. Addressing it pragmatically — paying bills on a regular basis, for instance — doesn’t seem to yield the benefits it used to. The negative consequences of not doing so are still present, of course, but I am feeling less and less a sense of “equality,” you might say, with the process of life. The difficulties of living keep mounting, no matter how many damn bills I pay or chores I do. And giveuptitude, which for me amounts to surrendering my day to computer games, junk food and a random wandering through YouTube, becomes ever more enticing.

Come on, Bob. Be positive and productive! Work on your book — you know, the book that will explain the nature of peace to Joe Biden and those other war-addicted pols out there. This book (and I quote its beginning):

“Let’s start the book with a moment of silence. Nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds of silence, maybe, in honor of a man who lost his life to a retributive, fear-driven system of justice, and in honor, as well, of the uprising that began to emerge in the wake of his death.

“This book hopes to be a continuation of that uprising.

“The man is George Floyd. Nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds was the length of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, suffocating him, in October 2020. He (or somebody) had supposedly tried to use a counterfeit bill at a grocery store. His death was caught on video: one more video captured on a passerby’s cellphone, overturning the police ‘justifiable homicide’ version of events, and outrage — deep, historic and, oh Lord, complex — began sweeping across and beyond the country. 

“This is a time of consciousness shift. Humanity is altering its understanding of, and relationship with, power. The goal of this book is to help this shift along: to give some language to it.

“But first, the silence.”

Yeah, that’s the book I’ve been dancing with for a decade. Perhaps sharing a few paragraphs of it in public will help bring it back to life. I think what happened is that I shrugged and gave it back to infinity a few years ago — after an absurd bicycle accident that apparently shattered my belief in “being positive and productive.” What’s the point?

I was on a borrowed bike, riding with family through a nature preserve in Wisconsin. We were on an asphalt path. The group stopped for a moment and … well, the bike I was riding was slightly higher than the one I normally rode and for some reason — still a mystery to me — rather than dismounting I simply stayed on the seat, holding the handlebars. The bike fell sideways. My face hit the asphalt. Big ouch!

I won’t go into further details, except to note that the big, psychological ouch never quite went away and suddenly, so it seemed, eternity wasn’t on my side any longer. My mind was still intact, I wasn’t sick (didn’t get Covid), but … the aging process seemed to be in control of things now, in a deeply emotional way, rather than my sense of productive purpose. This was something I hadn’t experienced before. I began making a completely unconscious decision: to surrender to giveuptitude. Or at least partially surrender. I still write my weekly column, but the book … felt lost in infinity.

In sharing a fragment of it publicly, I think I’m saying this: I can’t do it alone. I don’t even know what I mean by that, except I know it to be true. I have to be humbly vulnerable as well as positive and productive. This is how that first chapter (tentatively) ends:

“What if we organized ourselves, socially and politically, in reverence not to some linear certainty — the law — but to this unknown, which demands of us not obedience and submission, but rather an ongoing openness to that which we don’t know: the infinite universe? What if we organized ourselves around our best efforts to absorb, connect and understand?”

Robert Koehler (, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. He is the author of Courage Grows Strong at the Wound, and his newly released album of recorded poetry and art work, Soul Fragments.

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