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Lyrics and Life

 

By Caitlin Ward

12/21/2016

You Gotta Be
Des’ree

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky
Lovers, they may ‘cause you tears
Go ahead release your fears
Stand up and be counted
Don’t be ashamed to cry

CHORUS
You gotta be
You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser
You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger
You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together
All I know, all I know, love will save the day

Herald what your mother said
Read the books your father read
Try to solve the puzzles in your own sweet time
Some may have more cash than you
Others take a different view
My oh my, yea, eh, eh

CHORUS

Time ask no questions, it goes on without you
Leaving you behind if you can’t stand the pace
The world keeps on spinning
Can’t stop it, if you tried to
This best part is danger staring you in the face

Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky
Lovers, they may cause you tears
Go ahead release your fears
My oh my, eh, eh, eh

CHORUS

Got to be bold, got to be bad
Got to be wise, do what others say
Got to be hard, not too too hard
All I know is love will save the day

CHORUS

In 1965, on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked how long it would be before African Americans would have full equality and justice in the United States. He answered his own question: “not long,” Dr. King said. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” He was paraphrasing 19th century abolitionist Theodore Parker, also a minister. I first heard the concept listening to a talk by Bryan Stevenson, an African American lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, though he phrased it slightly differently: “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

The idea has stuck with me for years. That said, “not long,” as a concept, is rather vague. Time is relative, and what a geologist thinks is “not long” is bound to be far longer than a three-year-old waiting for cake.

I think what the past year has taught us is that at this point, “not long” is at best, “not yet.” I don’t only speak about justice and equality for African Americans in the United States, though that’s certainly a significant issue. I mean justice and equality generally — we remain frustratingly ensconced in the era of “not yet.” I write this as Aleppo falls in Syria. I write this as the Liberals have approved the construction of two pipelines, shackling our country to oil once again. I write this as that wretched orange man creates a more and more terrifying future for the United States and the world as he demonstrates his narcissism, self-interest, and incompetence in running a government as a result of those first two things.

I write this remembering how many of my columns in the last two or three years have attempted to say something reasonable or purposive about humanity or God or both through the lens of the latest terrible thing that has happened. I write this wondering how many times I managed to succeed. I write this wondering if it’s reasonable to believe that the arc of the moral universe is particularly long, or if it bends with any logic at all.

But then, I also write this on the eve of the new year. I write this remembering another line that has stuck with me for many years — one I read years before I would have ever known who Bryan Stevenson was, or knew anything about the death penalty or the mass incarceration in the United States that Stevenson works against. This line is from Anne of Green Gables: “tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it . . . well, with no mistakes in it yet.”

I may not have got that exactly right — my L.M. Montgomery books are buried at the bottom of a box in my parents’ garage — but I think I’ve got the sentiment down. The older I get, the more wisdom I glean from Montgomery. She suffered from severe depression herself, but consistently wrote complex and delightful characters who were often hopeful despite sometimes difficult circumstances. Her books are filled with beautifully touching moments and an incredible insight into the human condition that often goes unnoticed — probably because they were aimed at young women, a group that is rarely taken seriously.

I mean, by all this, that just as tomorrow has no mistakes in it yet, so does next year. That may be naive or wildly optimistic. It probably is. But I don’t see much point in thinking anything else right now. There are times and places where hope is next to impossible, and despair is not only easy, but feels inevitable. In those times and places, people have been systematically broken down by violence or poverty or injustice or all of those things until there is not much left of themselves to cling to. The phrase, “hope springs eternal” must have been uttered by someone who’s never hit the bottom — but I’d hazard a guess that many of us are not there, yet.

Now, I’m not going to lie: things are bad. Things are so very bad. Pretending otherwise would be naive. But there’s this thing that’s been building in me for the last little while. It’s not a plan, or a call to action. It’s an idea. And it might not be a fair one, but I can’t shake it. It’s this: depression is a mental health issue, but despair? For many of us, despair is a luxury. Hopelessness is something you can afford when things look bad but no one’s breaking down your neighbour’s door. It still costs too much.

“Not yet” doesn’t discount “not long.” Perhaps we don’t have much evidence that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but frankly, nor we do we have evidence that it doesn’t. And either way, it certainly won’t if we give up fighting for it.

Ward is a Saskatoon-based freelance writer who spends her days (and most nights) working at a small Catholic college. Her less eloquent thoughts can be found at www.twitter.com/newsetofstrings