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March 11, 2010
In The Village
Do it anyway
by Orson Scott Card

Martina McBride, one of the great country voices, sings a deceptively simple lyric in the song "Do It Anyway."

She gives several examples of actions that can seem futile -- building something that a single storm can blow away, or praying when your prayers seem not to be answered, or loving someone who can so easily discard you. Each time the stanza ends with "do it anyway."

It's a message of hope and determination. We mortals can't know the end from the beginning, so what matters is that we keep setting our feet on good paths and staying with them.

I was talking on the phone the other day with a good friend who has wrestled with crippling depression for many years. He described a feeling of such despair that it hurt me just to hear about it. He had a friend who had expressed an interest in the gospel, but, he said, "I felt so overwhelmed by my lack of understanding, my own weakness, that I felt like I had nothing to offer him."

"But it's not you that you're offering, it's the gospel," I said.

"That's just it -- I felt so desolated that everything that came out of my mouth sounded stupid and empty to me."

I knew just how he felt, because I, too, have felt such despair -- the kind that pins you into inactivity because all you can feel is the uselessness of anything you might attempt.

This day, though, I said to my friend: "There's only one answer: Do it anyway."

I reminded him of McBride's song (which he knew), and pointed out to him examples in his own life of times when, despite how he felt, he went ahead and did what he knew he should -- the righteous thing he wanted, most deeply, to do.

Whether I helped him or not I cannot guess. (But I talked with him for an hour, anyway.) And for the next few days, my own words -- well, McBride's song -- stayed with me.

I woke up the next morning and I didn't feel like exercising. I hadn't felt like it for a week. But those words were still fresh in my mind, and ... I did it anyway.

Then I went upstairs to write a chapter, and was filled with dread about how difficult it would be to solve the problems that the story posed. Usually this feeling leads me to keep putting it off -- answering mail, playing little nuisance games on the computer, anything to avoid the thing I don't feel like doing.

But instead, I wrote the chapter anyway. And it went fine -- it was not as hard as I had feared. For that matter, neither was the exercise; I felt much better afterward.

How many of us have wished, when we got older, that our parents had "made us" persist in something -- music lessons, sports, any activity in which proficiency required much careful, intelligent practice? But "making us" wasn't their job.

One of my daughters, at the age of six, got a terrible case of stage fright just before performing in her first play -- a ward road show. She had a very small part, and I told her, "We won't make you go onstage if you don't want to. But if you don't go on now, you'll be even more frightened the next time, and you'll end up never performing at all. If you want to be a performer, then when it's time to perform, you go on, no matter what your feelings are."

She went onstage -- of her own free will, yet overcoming powerful fears to do it. The stage fright has never gone away; but she does it anyway, every time.

Sometimes the emotions that block us from righteousness "feel good." (As in Satan's motto: "If it feels good, do it.")

For instance, a married person might be thrown into association, at work or elsewhere, with someone of the opposite sex who inspires yearnings that the world, in all its stupidity and wickedness, suggests to him is "true love."

"Oh no," he's been taught to think, "this is the love of my life, and here I am married to someone else!" It can feel so exciting to look forward to each meeting, and he might start to rationalize that his marriage is also keeping his wife down (though if it is, whose fault is that? And how will betraying her make her life better?).

When you have already made a commitment that is good and righteous, any feeling that prompts you to throw it away, damaging other people who are counting on you, is as dark and negative as those feelings of dread or despair that block those who suffer from stage fright or depression.

I have known several good friends who acted on such yearnings, and then found surprisingly soon that breaking their marriage was far more damaging to everyone, including themselves, than they had imagined. In every case, the "love of their life" turned out to be exactly as permanent as the first "love of their life" when they were fourteen.

Feelings change. So when we've chosen a righteous goal that is within our reach, or made a good commitment that we are perfectly capable of keeping, we must recognize contradictory feelings for what they are: roadblocks, not roads.

We know what's right, even if we temporarily feel like discarding it. The key to happiness, in so many cases, is as simple as a song: However hard or hopeless the right action might appear ... do it anyway.

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