My town was flooding, the rain had finally relented, and we were all core-shaken and gut-checked by the US election results.
The boy and I went outside to patrol our creek, and snuggled on my back, his body went suspiciously slack. I bent over like a Sherpa, piggybacking him home to nap. Awesome, I thought, I can write. But once I crawled into the bed next to him, I was pulled in by the lure of the quick hits – checking email, imessage, twitter, instagram, and then scrolling the best twitter links I found for what appears to be endless hand-wringing and intelligent commentary on this almighty What the Fuck moment.
And finally, after an hour, or more, I realized I had become no more informed, no more aware, no more insightful, no wiser.
His breathing continued steady beside me. His body stretches almost off the bed when he is lying at any angle and I carry a disbelief that he was ever small enough to lie along my forearm, fit between my wrist and elbow joints, that his feet ever tucked into the palm of my head–I carry it like I carry stretch marks and a tendency to knot and kink up in my right lower back– just part of me. Doesn’t warrant talking about. Almost tedious. (Look how big he is!) Yes. But of course he is. That is the order of things.
We are called now to Create, wrote the Paris Review. And I think, yes, that was my urge. And yet the resistance is always there – the desire to just surf and skim and swim and not paddle so hard upstream, not always be working so hard, to just be taken where the tide goes, wash me all the way out to sea. Alas, I never feel refreshed or quenched by the surfing. Just saturated. Sodden. Needing a good wringing out.
It’s always too much.
I log off.
I think – what is called for now? Not complacency. Not platitudes. Not “let’s give him a chance.” Not “let’s believe he’ll rise to the occasion.” No. That is what quells the beast – the one that rises up from the belly, answering to a command to protect the tender ones. That is what incites us to go back inside and have a cup of tea, to turn away, hope for the best, until it’s too late. What is called for is a militant response, and by that, I do not mean armed, violent. Warriors do not need to be armed with weapons that kill to fight for what’s right.
I mean feisty. Vigilant. (As the appeal court judge I articled to, a former defence lawyer, said of what all our democratic systems require — “Constant vigilance” – against those in power and their enforcers.) And cynical, because if you’re not cynical, you’re not paying attention.
The systems that were built, to create a social civic balanced society, have been gradually torn down over my life time. Disrupted, as they say, trendily. And change is good, and the future being scary is fine, and technology has always made people shudder and in hindsight they look like cartoon characters cowering from a giant shadow that turns out to be a little mouse… But, the dismantling of the structures that allowed hundreds of thousands of people to collaborate in some form of meaningful society is dangerous. What hasn’t been dismantled is broken, imperiled. Schools. Courts. Police and protective services. Social services. The media. Manufacturing. Spiritual institutions. And into the vacuum that their destruction left in its wake – greed, mania, fear, violence. 80 human beings who collectively own 50% of the entire world’s wealth. 80.
The planet as their plaything.
There’s lots of commentary being written, tweeted, shared, pushed out but I can’t help but think: shhhh.
I long to hear something wise and kind and thoughtful and encouraging, but none of it is, really, it all falls short. I want to say: enough rhetoric. Enough commentary.
Less silence. More speaking up. Quietly. But firmly. “No, that’s not okay.” “I think we can be better than that.”
Nerd-alert – I was a debater. That’s what people – parent, teacher, adult kind of people – did to you, when you were a kid who loved words – they didn’t say write your heart out kid, the world needs more poetry… they said, oh, you should be a lawyer. And signed you up for the debate team. I have tripped over myself to say smart things, tripped over the sentences of the person I want to argue against, to get in my words. No more.
We need more listening.
I lay on a massage table last night, at the end of a crazy work day during which I honestly contemplated the collapse of my world, and listening hands corresponded with my fascia, muscles, nerve endings, and my whole body quieted, my breathing quieted, my mind calmed, and I thought: less shouting, world. Less shouting. And more listening.
Let us hear what needs to be heard. In the breath of a sleeping boy. In the ache beneath the words. In the kinks in our necks. In the quiet streams, raging rivers, crumbling mountains.
That’s my goal as the year turns over. For tomorrow morning, and all the mornings to come. To wake up trying to listen before I speak, deeply, to what lies beneath.