Being Present Among Harbingers of Doom
I’ve been overwhelmed the last couple of weeks with the social interactions required to be an activist and volunteer. I found myself saying well, when this is over then I can retreat…Except that it’s not going to be over for a very long time. The times and years ahead look to be very bad ones in terms of politics, economics, and violence. We are at the simmering point in our society. Things are going along as if nothing has changed, but in the last few years, it feels as if everything has changed.
There is an awareness of this moment that runs through my brain. Summertime. There is food in the stores and in our fridge. The heat finally broke for a few days of rain and cloud cover. We can still go to the doctor or hospital if we need to. We are able to go outside after dark. There are no armored vehicles on the streets. My daughter and I can go places unaccompanied, wearing whatever we’d like. Our neighbors don’t report us to the authorities.
I think about the days when my husband and I will be old and infirm and wonder if we will reminisce about abundance and cool temperatures. Will I miss books? Will he shush me, afraid that I’ll be overheard, when I whisper my angry protests about the evil that people do? Will I remember long ago poems and songs and recite them under my breath? Will I kill someone defending my family against scavengers and marauders? When I die, what kind of world will I leave my beloved daughter in?
Part of fighting for change or resisting bad policy is the impetus of doom. It’s seeing the precursors and imagining what comes after and after and after. It’s knowing enough history to know where things begin. There is a confluence of dangerous events – natural disasters relating to climate change, the rise of autocracy in America, the weakening of our national will to be innovative and inspired, the unpreparedness for biological disaster and warfare, the jellyfish spines of people who have spent too long being entertained into mindless drones, pecking away at our smart phones.
But then there is now. If disaster is on the horizon, then what do we make of now? If the times that are coming will be of scarcity and secrecy and savagery, how do we live now?
We’ve been chicken-souped and memed to death about living every day as if it is our last, but what does that mean? And how is living on the razor’s edge sustainable? I don’t know how to work towards a better world, without imagining the bad things that could happen. I suppose part of retaining one’s drive is to focus on positive outcomes instead of the river of fear that flows beneath them. But even that misses the moment. We focus on the future either way.
There is always a call for balance, but I’ve come to believe that it is not the balance of the moment, but the balance over a week or month or a lifetime. It is difficult to step outside oneself and see if there is an equal number of tick marks in every column. What is balance for one person, is not for another. Some people can stay fired up and inspired for years at a time. Some of us can only manage an hour here or there.
Much of this questioning involves a constant recalculation of our locus of control; the measuring of the time between our actions and the results of those actions. What is the value of the time I spend with my family now versus fighting for the time it may spend in the future? In this moment, should I write another letter to another congressional representative that will be tallied and shunted aside or should I take a long walk and refresh my senses? The meaning starts large on my end, but means relatively little on the other. Just a number. Just a moment.
There is, at the root of these little arguments I have in my head, some core values. I believe in service to others. I believe that we are responsible for the damage we inflict on the planet and its creatures. I believe that we are defined by our choices. I also believe that we are weighed down by the fears we carry. Perhaps being present is when we lay down those burdens, if only for the moment. Perhaps it is the time when we get to remember what it’s all for.
These days, joyfulness sometimes eludes me. Prone to depression, desirous more often than not of solitude and quiet, I am outwitted by my impulses. I am perhaps not well-suited to activism, to recruit others to a cause, to lead a charge, but I can’t seem to help myself. I’ve come to accept it, but have not learned how to do it without feeling hollowed out after a time.
So I approach the moment with humility. I remember that I am not the solver of all things, the fixer of the world. And I come back. There are things that bring me back. My family. The garden. A passage in a book. A conversation with a friend. The reservoir refills and I straddle both worlds again. Balance is an illusion.