I have not figured out if we are being punished to live during this time in history or if we are fortunate for the opportunity to be here now, to know it, feel it, live it, respond to it and tell it firsthand.
History always has been an interesting subject to me. I think, when I was much younger, I thought it would have been interesting, exciting even, to witness and experience certain periods in time myself, to be part of history as it unfolds.
Say, a long stretch of the 1960s and 1970s, when so much was happening: a prolonged and controversial war, assassinations of meaningful voices, hippies and Haight-Ashbury, protests and Selma and Kent State, and the soundtracks (Grateful Dead, Beatles), films and photographs that seem to accompany every telling of that story in the decades since.
And now, here we are, with our own piece of time in history. With chaos and division, fear and anger, that future generations will look upon with a similar emotional and intellectual distance and naivete as I once did.
But now, as a parent in middle age, it looks and feels different than I’d imagined it would in my youth. I feel compelled to make sense of what’s happening for my sons, yet I struggle to make sense of what’s happening for myself.
We’re trying to figure out how to speak, and with the awareness we will not always be right, but that we will continue working to get it right.
I sway between optimistically seeing our collective pains as part of a birthing process for something more, an opportunity to learn, grow, get it right. And the distress and sense of powerlessness over seeing those entrusted to serve us as leaders falter time and time and time again under the push-pull of their own egos, fears and moral stances in quicksand.
For a time, we did not tell our sons about a lot of what was happening in the news. They still are only 8 and 10 years old now. And then came 2020.
When a virus told them they no longer could see friends at school, and, “No, we can’t have them over to play, either.” When those charged with leadership in the country so horribly and, it often seemed, willfully failed (and still fail) to protect us, or encourage us to protect each other, or even just to get out of the way.
When politicians in an election year targeted our sons with ads on YouTube, and without our awareness until our boys started asking us questions about what they were being fed, about what was real and true and what we believed about it all.
And when protests and violence erupted across the country in the wake of yet another murder, effectively a public lynching, at the hands of those entrusted to serve — and then more and more and more of those murders while those who did the murdering went insufficiently or even wholly unpunished — it became extremely clear it was time to bring our young sons into the loop.
It became clear that at 8 and 10 years of age they no longer could be shielded from the ugliness that long has existed among us and around us. But up to that point they had been protected from it, due to the privilege of who they’d been born to, because of who we’d been born to, because of who … was born and born and born to.
I’m struggling to even be able to draw a coherent collection of words out of the chaos in my heart and mind, and make something meaningful with them.
It was beyond clear that the time had come to address the concepts and history of not only racism but, more importantly, anti-racism. These hadn’t been issues in our house, we’d thought, because we’d already made a conscious point to raise them in a house of anti-sexism, anti-racism and all-around anti-otherism.
We thought, as parents, we’d been doing well. On some level we were, I think. But not well enough, I now know. So we’re listening and learning. And we’re trying to figure out how to speak, and with the awareness we will not always be right, but that we will continue working to get it right.
When we see angry, virtually all white hordes of people, some of them armed, and some of them off-duty police officers and current state legislators, besiege the capitol building of our nation’s capital, as they did two days ago, and be treated better than peaceful protesters from the so-called radical left, and protesters (or even non-protesters) of color …
… and following the years-long incitement of hatred, fear, violence and otherism by a demagogue in the White House whose responsibility is to do the opposite, it is not lost on us that we have a role in speaking against these wrongs.
I know I don’t have certain answers; I don’t think any individual does. And I’m struggling to even be able to draw a coherent collection of words out of the chaos in my heart and mind, and make something meaningful with them.
I am trying to take time to process and come to a clear-headed and -hearted place from which to take action, to not let anger or fear or despair rule. And it feels impossible to be able to say anything without risking the reactive wrath of others, quite possibly others who do not take time to process and come to a clear-headed place before lashing out. But we must.
Though on some days I feel despair and frustration, and I feel like giving up and withdrawing, I know that what I need to do is to continue creating and shining light.
We must start speaking, and be willing to be imperfect in it, and be willing to have the angry and the reactive and the self-believing certain try to shout us down or correct us or dispute us. We have to be willing to take steps toward getting it right.
And it starts within, as individuals. To go within and figure out who we really are, what we’re really about, and to address our thoughts, words and actions at the roots, before we swing them wildly and, potentially, damagingly.
I think it also is worthwhile to be open about that process being in motion and evolving, rather than wait for some future date of arrival when we think we’ll have the answers in crystallized and irrefutable terms. (Won’t happen.)
To keep the work hidden allows our silence to condone the existence of what needs to be fixed. It allows the appearance of indifference and detachment. It allows all … this … to keep going.
Often what others need, in order to consider their own work, is an example or sense of social permission. To simply hear, see and be aware that the work is worth pursuing, and that others are doing it. Our actions ripple.
Though on some days I feel despair and frustration, and I feel like giving up and withdrawing, I know that what I need to do is to continue creating and shining light, nurturing connection and oneness. Publicly.
Like right now, even without concrete answers. To just acknowledge that though I am flawed and I do not have the capacity to say all that is needed with intellectual perfection, I see the need for the work, and the need for me to be an active participant in our collectively working to get it right.
Daunting as that task is, and as unsure of where to start as we might be, the words of William Wordsworth, which my friend Jessica Patterson reminded me of seemingly too long ago now (pre-covid), offer all the advice we need:
“To begin, begin.”