BY JUDITH WALCUTT
November 17, 2016
Children of my flesh and bone and children of my heart and soul—
Today, the rain falls on Honeymoon Bay in big, heavy drops, like the tears I’ve been crying since that Tuesday, when the color went out of the world.
The sky and the water are indivisible from each other and from where I sit and write you now, I cannot see through their blank grey veils. And I think to myself, if I cannot see beyond that concrete emptiness, just outside my own window, what can I say to you now, in words, that can offer solace, meaning, hope in a world picture that feels so bereft of truth, beauty, kindness, mutual respect, possibilities for the future—all the good things we, as parents and elders, want for you. How can I say to you: Don’t give up, when I feel so close to that edge myself?
I can say this:
Because of you, I will not give up. I am standing with you; I am grieving with you. My broken heart breaks with yours. I will not desert you. I will stick with you, I will defend you in any way I personally can, from the bullies in the schoolyard, in the neighborhood, in big or small business, and in the highest offices of government.
Especially when the bullies appear to run the show—I will stand up and call them out. I will not be silenced by their intimidations, their threats and rhetoric of interruption and deceit, their racism, their misogyny, their bigoted mindsets. I will call it out every time I hear it, see it, experience it—I will not let the bully pass unnoticed; I will bear witness. I will call out injustice with you and for you, in any way I can, until I die.
I can say that to you.
And I can share this with you:
In the past few days, since the end of the world as we knew it, I have been cycling through the stages of grieving and expect to do so for several weeks to come. Here’s what to expect, if these mental states are foreign or new to you, as I expect they might be.
Death of a loved one, death of a dream, death of an ideal or dearly held belief—we do not ever expect that stranger at our door, telling us the sad news. Young or old, death of any kind is always a surprise. Even when we are watching it, day by day, as elders pass away before our eyes or civil rights, in the course of a lifetime, in the so-called name of “civil liberty,” are vanquished before our eyes—Death is always unexpected.
More than 50 percent of the country is experiencing this state of grief. More than 50 percent of the people who voted, that is—since only 50 percent of the population exercised that most essential civil right—we who did are together in the group mourning a loss that feels like 9-11 all over again. A metaphorical jumbo jet slamming into the side of our country, our poor beleaguered, divided, confused country—leaves us stunned and reeling with its improbability.
We are grieving and have the right to do so. Here are the stages (from recover-from-grief.com), in case you need a list to cross off as you go along or, more likely, check all that apply:
1. Shock and Denial
We can’t believe it. We don’t believe it. We keep thinking it’s a dream and we’ll wake up and it won’t be true. In my particular case, every possible conspiracy theory I have ever conjured seems more than likely to apply.
2. Pain and Guilt
We can’t believe how bad we feel. How responsible. Or irresponsible, as the case may be. I feel very guilty that this seizure of our democratic process has happened out of my control, and I feel somehow it is my fault. That is also part of the grieving process—repeating mantras of regret: if only, if only, if only…
It is OK to let yourself feel that, too. Let it be a stimulus not for self-denigration, but for self-motivation, to galvanize yourself for what is next. Determine to do the right thing, no matter what. In the smallest details of your life, do what you know, in your heart, is the right thing. Think of the butterflies brewing hurricanes—feel a super-storm coming? Four years is not as long as you feel it is right now. Two years, when midterm elections take place, is even shorter. Many of you I am writing to now were not old enough to vote. Most of you, in four years, will be. Don’t forget to.
3. Anger and Bargaining
Yes, we are mad. Of course we are mad! What do we do to balance the rage we feel?
Keep our cool. Keep our dreams. Keep our hopes. Point our eyes up to the sky, not down on the ground. Share our fears, pursue their roots. Keep it together, together.
4. Depression, Reflection, Loneliness
Trust me, you are not alone in your feelings. When a death in the family happens, which this election is to me and every person I know, we are pretty sure no one is as sad about it as we are. Look around. Grief-stricken faces are everywhere. Take comfort: you are not alone. The time for reflection is the time to find the thread of connection. Reject the abyss. Swim hard. Feel like you are drowning in sorrow and self-pity? Kick harder to stay afloat. There’s no future in drowning! Resist the urge to give up, to give in, to throw away the gift of your human life. Be more alive than ever. See, feel, learn from everything—even this.
5. The Upward Turn
Here’s where I’m at with this stage—I am trying to find the right boat to row to get there. The day after we saw that red door and wanted to paint it black, it was a friend’s birthday. He was celebrating his sixtieth, and we drove to South Seattle to join him and others with whom we knew we could sigh, cry, and even, at one point, share a primal scream. Among those in attendance were people who have actively worked, the majority of their lives, to make a better world. There were people there who have put their money where their mouth is—for environmental protection, community-building, youth empowerment, and the alleviation of suffering—all on both a local and global basis. How lucky I was to have such a deep-hearted community to turn to in this time of crisis.
You out there, my kids of all kinds, my beloved children near and far—pull yourselves together, for and with each other. Decline the urge to hurt yourselves, each other, or unknown others. Choose to hold steady to your course, to your dream, to the details of your plan to make progress, moment by moment, day by day, in the ways you can, because this is what we have right now—this and only this moment. Each moment is embedded in the next. When crossing the narrow mountain pass from who we were to who we are becoming, don’t be shy about speaking your mind. Don’t be cowed to silence. Scream if you have to. Be heard. I am listening. Others are listening. Please—listen to each other and refrain from harm.
6. Reconstruction and Working Through
Apparently, when you reach this point, your mind will begin to function again, and you will start working on the problems you had before all this grief came down around you. And you know what? That is the best solution of all. Pick up the life you were working on before all this happened and keep working on it. Remember—no one can take your dream from you. Your dream, your aspiration, your goal is yours. Don’t let anyone—most especially bigots, racists, misogynists, etc.— take your dreams and aspirations away from you. Just don’t.
7. Acceptance and Hope
I know it seems hard to imagine, at this exact moment, that we can accept this state of affairs and that someday we will find something to be hopeful about, for what lies unseen, unknown, on the other side of the concrete sky.
But that’s just it. We don’t know, and so we have to imagine and in imagining, we can find the juice to carry on. When things have been bad in the past—and they have been personally, nationally, and globally bad for many for quite some time, we have had to remind ourselves that just like the weather that blows across our field of vision, the sky will change. All of this will change. And at any given moment, we are only seeing part of the picture. We have to hold out for a longer, broader view.
For me, I look forward to pursuing the work I believe in, no matter what, even more than ever. That work consists of working tirelessly with others who are working tirelessly to do what we can, to say “yes” instead of “no.”
No one yet has been able to stop another person from having an idea or from holding onto “the thing with feathers,” the Hope we had and will have again.
We can continue unabated and uncensored, to have ideas which lift us up instead of cast us down, ideas which light up some huge part of the brain, because the internal chemical reaction of human invention and imagination cannot be stopped once it gets going. Each time we have an idea of our own, we are generating our own fuel to stay afloat, to do our lifetime justice in how we spend it.
I think often these recent days of H.H. the Dali Lama. I think of the many years—the majority of his lifetime, in fact—that he has born the theft of his homeland by the bully next door. He is both a good man and a great moral compass for us all to follow. In these recent days since November 8, I find myself reading and rereading this quote of his which, yes, gives me hope and the will to go on. Now. More than ever.
“Never give up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country is spent developing the mind instead of the heart
Be compassionate not just to your friends but to everyone
Work for peace in your heart and in the world
Work for peace and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up.”
Judith Walcutt is a writer, a youth mentor, and a recommitted social activist living on Whidbey Island. She is working with the Center for Progressive Reform to create a national radio program addressing issues of good governance and environmental protection, health, and safety.
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