Oh happy day

It didn’t really sink in until I was out, around other people. I’ve been needing a pair of slippers, something warm to wear around the house with a sole that can go outside. Frustrated by the too many choices that my feed started feeding me once the algorithms realized what I was in the market for, I decided to go to a local shop in a southeast Portland neighborhood and get whatever version of it they have available there.

It was raining when I left the house, but the sun was breaking through by the time I got there. I bought the slippers quickly and easily (fewer choices is so often a gift, isn’t it?), and then Cane and I went for a walk in the neighborhood.

Walking neighborhoods is a thing we’ve been doing for years. Some people get out in nature, but we like to get out in communities. We study what people do with their yards and homes, we muse about what homes can tell us about their inhabitants and our collective history, and we talk about what’s going on in the world. It’s a thing that’s remained constant in spite of all that we’ve lived through in the past four years: separation, kids leaving home, moving, pandemic, and the Trump presidency.

It was that constancy–and the contrast we could both feel between the walks of the past year and yesterday’s walk–that made the meaning of yesterday finally sink in. The very air felt different: lighter, brighter (in spite of the clouds). It came from the people we passed by; everyone seemed to be carrying themselves differently, and I could sense the smiles behind the masks.

At one point, a rainbow emerged, and we stopped to take a picture of it. Everyone we could see stopped, too, pointing with their hands or their phones. A woman driving by noticed us and stopped her car in the middle of the street and just looked at it, smiling.

It felt like magic, like a gift, like a poem.

Later, I watched video of the celebrations around the world, bells ringing in Paris and London, and I felt the weight lift even more. It was further confirmation that it hasn’t been just me, just us–these thoughts and feelings we’ve been carrying for years now. What we’ve been living through has been real. The despair was real, the injustices were real, the threat was real, the trauma was real. When you live for an extended period of time at the mercy of a gaslighter, in the midst of those who confirm the gaslighter’s version of reality, it becomes easy to doubt your perceptions, and even easier to lose hope. To know that people the world over were celebrating, too, was to know that it’s all been real. It felt like the kind of relief you feel when you finally get a diagnosis for an illness: yes, it’s terrible news, but it’s not all in your head.

I spent far too much time yesterday joyscrolling or hopescrolling (it seems the collective hasn’t yet landed on a term for the opposite of doomscrolling), trying to take everything in. Because I am me, I don’t find myself in the place of giddy relief I often saw others in. Don’t get me wrong: I feel tremendous relief; however, my relief is tethered to my understanding that this is only a reprieve. It is a chance, a reason that hope is not an unreasonable thing to cling to, but what’s happened here is not over. Not by a longshot.

We got lucky. I say that not to discount the tremendous amount of hard work that so many, many people have done over the past four years (because yesterday would never have happened without it) but if Trump hadn’t been so atrocious and if the pandemic had not laid bare to so many of us how inept and dysfunctional our government has become, I doubt we could have roused the majorities we needed to win in a system that is so obviously designed to uphold minority rule in our country. And that system remains in place, abetted by a media landscape that allows propaganda and disinformation to flourish unchecked in a population with so many who don’t understand it or know how to navigate it (or, perhaps, don’t care to).

This view of mine can take me quickly to a dark place. What can I do to change this system? I mean, really: I am a white, late-middle-aged woman with no special talents and no significant resources, authority, or influence. Changing the system feels like the work of those who have more of all those things than I do. As I watched those who have led resistance efforts of all kinds express their relief and joy and feelings of vindication, I wished I could have done more, felt able to do more to make the results of this election happen. To be completely honest, though, for most of the past four years it has felt like it’s taken everything I’ve got to function well enough to keep working, care for those who are mine to care for, and remain informed enough to know what’s real and what’s not. I haven’t known how to do more, or felt able to.

Luckily, somewhere in all the scrolling of the past few days, I saw words that Jena Schwartz shared from Omkari Williams that hit me right in that feeling of powerlessness and inadequacy that I hate when it comes up in me:

“Today it is so clear that we are not there yet. How do we get there? How do we begin to move the needle towards that vision so that we never find ourselves in this situation again?

I think it begins with starting close in. I believe that we need to go back to square one and do the hard work but with a different energy and focus. I believe we need to take stock of who we are as individuals and look hard at where we aren’t living up to the values we espouse. Then we have to have the hard conversations. The conversations where we don’t put being “nice” above being honest. The conversations that so many of us are raised not to have…

We need to notice and challenge the places in ourselves where we don’t stand up for what’s right. We need to stop accommodating people who are in the camp of let’s just keep this civil and things will change eventually.

This is not about violence, in word or deed. This is about clarity; clarity of understanding, clarity of conscience, and clarity of intention.

The path to a just world is clearly one that includes that righteous destruction of the unjust systems that we currently have. We, each of us, needs to take a stand. We need to make a decision about who we are and what we will stand for and then actively live that out each day. No time off. No letting things we know are wrong slide by with an excuse from ourselves or others. We need to speak the truth as clearly as we can and as often as it’s needed.

The lines have been drawn. There is no middle ground. It is time to stand for what we know is right, justice and freedom for all. Start close in and then expand out. Let’s get to work.”

We all have different resources, talents, and limitations, but it seems to me that what she is asking is something that each of us can do: Be clear with ourselves about who we are and what we believe in, and then show up as our authentic selves in this world, in the spheres we inhabit, in the opportunities that come to all of in the simple acts of living our lives.

I am not going to make structural changes in our formal systems, but I can–along with millions of others of us–make cultural changes in the community I inhabit, simply by being honest and open about who I am and what I stand for, even when it’s not comfortable to do so. Those acts that can feel so small in a moment can ripple out in ways we’ll never know, and those cultural changes we can all influence are the things that eventually cause our systems to either adapt or collapse, allowing something more aligned with our culture to take their place. That adaptation/collapse happens through bolstering the efforts and resolve of those who do have that other kind of power, and in times–like this past week–when we all have a chance to directly impact what happens to us.

Each of us can look for where we do have talents, skills, and interests and focus our energy there, trusting that if enough of us would just do that, change can happen. I think I realized my limitations at a pretty early age and decided that I would focus the talents and skills I had into being the best teacher I could be. I knew I wasn’t going to directly change the world, but that I would have influence on what kind of world it might be. I had faith in the ripples.

In recent years I have felt as if (obviously!) that wasn’t enough. But maybe not. Maybe not. This election is the victory of only one battle in a war we’ve been waging since Europeans came to this continent and began taking it and its people over. Maybe the best thing to come of it will be a renewing of hope and faith that will bolster all of us regular folks to keep doing what we’ve been doing, only maybe a bit deeper and harder.

For me, the challenge going forward is two-fold:

  1. To remain engaged in the world. Because of the privileges I have, it would be easy for me to simply shut it all out, to tell myself that the fights are for those younger than me or more powerful than me. I need to resist that feeling.
  2. To be more authentic in the world, especially when doing so threatens my own comfort.

I’m not gonna lie: This sounds easy but will be a challenge. I so easily get discouraged with this country and my fellow citizens. It’s easy for me to go to a place of feeling that what I do doesn’t really matter, that the systems are too big and powerful, that people are too uneducated (by design) or too traumatized (through injustices of all kinds) or too spent with all it takes too many of us to simply survive in this world to make different choices than the ones we are. Maybe the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, but sometimes it looks like something stuck in an endless loop, in which every step forward is pushed back, over and over and over again.

Maybe that is how it is, and maybe how it will always be. But so what? We are all alive here, and now, and even if the gains we’ll see come January disappear in another four years, well–it matters that for the upcoming four a lot of things will be better for a lot of people. And maybe one of the gifts of the past four is that a lot of people like me will be less complacent and more hopeful and better able to be strong in the ways that we can and need to be, and maybe this lighter time on the loop will last longer or have deeper impacts. Or maybe it’s not a loop at all, but a spiral that just feels like one. Maybe each time we circle around, we have to go past suffering and ugliness again, but it’s a continual climb upward, rather than forward.

Near the end of our walk yesterday, I saw something that stopped me:

Flaming leaves were everywhere, so thick I almost didn’t see the flowers poking out among these. They look like spring flowers–and I saw bulbs with new shoots poking out of the ground, too–and I know that’s all kind of wrong, but it’s also beautiful, too. Just like us: All kinds of wrong, all mixed up, things just as they’ve always been at the same time they are profoundly different, a weird and horrible and wonderful kind of gorgeous.

20 thoughts on “Oh happy day

  1. Kathy says:

    “Welcome Back, America.” – President Macron

    We have a seat at the table again. Let’s make room for everyone who has been left behind.

    • Rita says:

      Yes, and I guess I feel what I feel because I don’t think we got that clarity. Wish we had. I hope there will be healing and a whole lot more rationality.

  2. Kate says:

    I, too, didn’t find myself rejoicing yesterday but I realized I have been partially holding my breath for years and finally had the ability to fully exhale. Watching his speech last night, I sighed and cried, but we still have a long way to go.

    A long way to go, but I do feel hope. I look at how far *I’ve* come in the last four years and I know it’s possible if we do what you point out – live our lives in our communities and speak out honestly about what we see – to really move justice forward.

    Your rainbow picture IS a poem.

    • Rita says:

      Yes, that sense of exhaling. That resonates for me. And I appreciate the reminder about change. I’m certainly in a place of different understanding than I was four years ago. I need to remember that more often.

      I also got teary during the speech, especially when he talked about teachers. It surprised me, but in a good way.

  3. Marian says:

    Although there are some Canadians who admire(d) Trump, I think the vast majority of us are feeling incredibly relieved. I have to admit I’m still afraid that Trump will find some way to stay in power—that he’ll be able to convince some judge that there was fraud, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to rest easy until Biden is sworn in. That probably sounds like hyperbole—Trump was never *my* president, after all—but sitting helplessly on the sidelines is also a form of trauma.

    I, too, feel powerless and inadequate when I read those words of Omkari Williams. Showing up and speaking up—which so often means going against the grain—is an incredibly hard thing to do, especially for introverts. I truly hope you’re able to find ways to stay engaged and authentic, to actively stand up for what’s right, and that when you do, you share it here. Perhaps that will inspire me to try again.

    • Rita says:

      Like you, I don’t think I will feel entirely easy until Biden is sworn in and Trump is out of the White House. But I do feel better today than I did a week ago. The chances of things going wrong are fairly small, I think. And I understand your feelings. Trump has incredible power in the world, with the ability to impact life for people in other countries, too. To know that but to have no power over whether or not he remains in office has to be incredibly frustrating and stressful.

      I’m thinking about what you’ve written about speaking up and being an introvert. I don’t know if it’s introversion so much as anxiety (speaking for myself, who is both introverted and often anxious). I think we can find ways to take a stand that feel manageable. Writing here is one way for me. It’s one way to show up in the world. I do want to work on being able to do it face to face more, though. I hope you can find ways that work for you, too. You have such valuable things to say.

      • Marian says:

        You’re absolutely right—introversion and anxiety are two separate things. I know several introverts IRL who are not only able to speak up, they’re also extremely good at it. Like you, I’m an introvert with anxiety; unfortunately, my anxiety has become so severe it’s now debilitating. Thank you (and Kate) for telling me I have valuable things to say—that means a lot to me.

        • Rita says:

          I am so sorry that you’re experiencing this, Marian. Sending you love and my wishes for relief. I have some experience with chronic, debilitating conditions, and I know how hard that can be.

    • Kate says:

      I feel this unsettled feeling too. And will finally start to truly unwind when/if Trump concedes, when/if the Republican leadership show they will support the will of the people, and when he’s out of office.

      Also, I agree with Rita. You do have very valuable things to say. I hope you’ll continue to say them – even if the reaction isn’t alway what you want. I know you’ve helped me see/change certain behaviors.

      • Rita says:

        What Kate said is true for me, too. Because of your writing (on your own blog and through commentary on others), I’ve also had shifts in both thinking and behavior. You and an IRL friend both speak passionately and knowledgeably to me about environmental issues, and I do quite a few things differently now than I did 4 or even 2 years ago because of both of you. And that, I think, is an important thing about this idea of making change: It happens over time and within the context of loving and trusting relationships.

  4. Robin Leja says:

    I’ve already started working close in, by questioning dear hubby when he doesn’t like so and so on the left. Every time he does this, I now ask “Why not? What is it you don’t like about them?” I’m asking him to check for systemic sexism or racism, and to simply check if views that he has internalized from his family are still valid in his heart. Of course, I’m working on my own heart also!

    • Rita says:

      Yes, I think that’s how we do it. I hope that lots of people are having these conversations. I think they are probably most effective with those we know love us and are committed to having a relationship with us. They’re the people we’re most open to listening to. When I have those kinds of conversations, I always grow from them, too. So much room to grow here. 🙂

  5. TD says:

    I’m so glad to read that you enjoyed a happy day, Rita! I love rainbows, so magical!! The autumn leaves are beautiful. Best of well wishes are the season changes.

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