I arrived home yesterday depleted. That’s really the only word for it despite the fact that it was a good day. Wednesday is my hardest and longest teaching day. Paying such close attention to people who are nestled so closely around me for hours on end may, in fact, draw out of me more than it does some of my colleagues. Perhaps more than I’m really able to give.
At the end of such a day, it makes sense that I just wanted to head home to lay low, to have several cups of steaming tea and soothe my vocal chords.
I dropped all of my bags, set the kettle on the stovetop and opened this laptop. I do this to reconnect with the world that I’m drawn away from by my work and my absences. I move from my email inboxes to Facebook, seeing what I’ve missed (or briefly caught on the screen of my IPhone before it flitted away).
It’s a highly interactive but quiet world that is both a highway of engagement with others and one of my favourite places of retreat.
I discover brilliant sites online that I subscribe to happily and which now fill my Inbox every day with notices. I skim through the online papers though there are too many. I visit the surface of the lives of the people I care about, wanting to see the evidence, through pictures, posts and messages, that they’re well, that they’re still there. I’m apprehensive about letting any of them fall through the cracks of my awareness.
When I got home yesterday, Christian and my husband were sitting together watching something on Netflix. Everything about the scene and the feeling in the house was benign and calm, except me.
I couldn’t bring myself to go sit with them; it was too soon. So I opened up this laptop. And scrolled. And scrolled. And scrolled. And was inundated by posts about the Trump presidency. Facebook’s algorithms saw to it that all of them—from the most considered and balanced to the most polemical and shrill—were unrelentingly distressing, worrying, disturbing, depressing and alienating. This stream was magnified by the posts of friends and their friends from both sides of the border who are, as I am, in agony.
This election year in the country of my neighbours to the South has filled me with a sense of dread. There’s a darkness in the world that has revealed itself and that clings to me.
I know how this sounds. But I also know that I’m a healthy and emotionally balanced, level- headed, very intuitive woman and I trust what I’m feeling.
I’ve been alerted.
I feel the breath of something that wills ill. Something that’s tearing the social fabric in an unendurable manner. Something that it may take decades to heal from. Something that seeks to separate us from each other and divert us from what we must do and become.
More immediately, it’s a dark energy that will envelop and endanger the people I love: my students from all around the world, my children and grandchildren who will be more wounded than I because they’re still headed into the biggest portion of their lives.
There are so many voices crying out these days. Some of them (many?) screaming painful, ugly, vile things that infect everyone. But many, too, yelling out like sonar beacons in search of kindred minds and spirits and the reassurance of these connections. People of kindness and conscience.
I don’t feel that there is an US and a THEM.
This dark thing that hovers over us all is about inequality, despair, fear, tribalism, malice, innocence, ignorance, corruption, rapaciousness, cynicism, greed, misfortune, selfishness, the degradation of modern life, insecurity, exploitation, and a sociopathy that normalizes and institutionalizes everything that breaks down the connections between us and the planet which is our shared home.
Facebook has hugely amplified my bewilderment and sadness in the wake of the rise of Donald Trump and his entourage. It’s true. Sometimes, what I read there makes me queasy.
I think maybe that’s part of what was happening to me yesterday when I sat down after work. I just felt sad. It was a heavy and cold feeling. It was that longing for a good cry. It’s what creeps in when my energy is low.
In recent weeks, I’ve come to understand that maybe suffering is part of what I’m meant to experience. When there’s little else a person can do to effect immediate change in the face of a terrible wrong, owning the suffering that emanates from that darkness is something. It’s a valuable first step.
This seems to be a shared sentiment because, beyond the unrelenting stream of post-election news online, there are the cries of many voices expressing pain and distress. And also a desire for something good and just and universal.
From the pain comes resistance. I’ve felt this too and I watch its myriad expressions and modulations appear online every day, especially among artists and writers.
I’ve recently been invited to join other writers searching for a means to combine their voices in an expression of resistance to the darkness, certainly, but also, hopefully, to build pathways of understanding and unity between us.
I want to be part of this movement, but I know that I’m not a political writer. I hope I’ll be able to find a way to contribute something that’s meaningful and useful even though it’s personal.
On the table yesterday, I found a package from Amazon addressed to me (most of them are and most of them contain books). Inside, I found three volumes of Mary Oliver’s poetry. Lean, lovely books that weigh nothing in the hand but somehow have such import.
I opened the smallest one first, A Thousand Mornings, and read one poem after another. At first, I thought that I would break down and cry—her work is so beautiful—but I couldn’t stop reading. There was such grace and truth in the short poems I pored over that I felt them lifting my spirits almost immediately. I can only describe this as a moment of quiet bliss.
The ones I found most beautiful are the ones that spoke to the pain inside me yesterday. Who knows which will resonate in a week or a month from now.
Here are two of them:
THE MORNING PAPER
By Mary Oliver
Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.
What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?
POEM OF THE ONE WORLD
By Mary Oliver
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water
and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to
sooner or later
is a part of everything else
which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.