The more we fight, the more we put at risk
I Am Somebody
I was reminded earlier today of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip by Bill Watterson. I don’t have permission to share the strip, so I won’t. I can describe it for you, though.
Frame one: Calvin silently stares at a night sky full of stars.
Frame two: “I am significant!” Calvin screams into the night.
Frame three: Calvin returns to the immensity of the night sky
Frame four: “Says the dust speck,” Calvin says as he walks away.
As I consider all that has transpired over the past few weeks, I find myself constantly navigating back and forth between Calvin’s two statements. With every dishonest and deceitful move made by the president and his administration, I ultimately am screaming, “I am significant! Listen to me!” Those may not be the exact words that I use, but the reality is that the motivation behind all our angst and anger comes down to the fact we feel we are being ignored and discarded by the people who are now in power. We march because we fear being thrown away, deported even though we were born here, or made to become refugees as we flee an unrepentant dictator.
Over the past three weeks, we have yelled, we have written, we have shared poignant articles, we have made phone calls, and we quite possibly have threatened to end a political career or two. We have been loud, persistent, resistant, and consistent in fighting the perceived evil at every turn and every tweet. We have called for hearings, called for investigations, and called for impeachment with more furor and frequency than we call for pizza.
And then, we hit the dust speck moment. We find ourselves wondering if anything we’ve said, any action that we’ve taken, ultimately matters. Sure, it matters right now. It matters that women have control over their own bodies. It matters that people fleeing war and famine and poverty are allowed to resettle in a place where they can feel safe. It matters that everyone has a fair and reasonable opportunity to vote. It matters that drinking water be free of contamination. Everything matters in the short term of our lives right at this moment.
But ultimately, when the story of this planet resides in some recorded history of a different place and maybe even different beings, will our actions now matter or are we nothing more than dust specks? Is there a chance that in all of our protests that we could lose more than we gain?
A moment of perspective
I identify as Native American. Neither of my parents would, though. If you ever saw my late father, his native heritage was obvious. When our address was Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Western band of the Cherokee, Poppa was frequently asked if he was a tribe member, especially when it came time to elect a new chief. He always said no. In fact, most the time he would tell people he was Black Dutch. Yet, as his eldest sister would remind him, he was very much Choctaw.
Mother, on the other hand, would tell people privately that she was Cherokee, and she was. She was very proud of that. Never mind that her skin was white as any European who ever crossed the Atlantic, Mom made sure you knew she was Cherokee—right up until there was a government form to fill out. Then, she marked that she was white. Every time.
Mom felt she had good reason for not claiming her heritage on government forms. Her mother’s family, the Bucks, had been forcibly relocated from their tribal land in North Georgia. A family child had died along the way and those that survived were ill. The family blamed the tribal rolls. The way my Uncle Windjammer put it, they had been told putting their names on the rolls would keep them safe and they had believed what the tribal elders told them. Then, those same rolls were used to round them all up and drive them all away. The message held in the family was clear: never trust the government and never admit to them that you’re Cherokee.
As I grew older, I found many native peoples who felt the same way. Distrust of the government was high. They did not expect to be treated fairly and they did not expect anyone representing the government to ever keep their word. The name of the president might change, but the lies to native peoples remain the same. Therefore, for many, one was better off publicly denying their cultural heritage and trying to fit in with the white man’s world. Native traditions might be kept at home, but no one was to know.
As a result, that heritage and culture risks being lost completely. I understand much less about our native culture than my mother did. Mother understood less than Grandma did. Hiding from the government has a cost: people lose the knowledge and understanding of who they are; where they fit in the cosmos. We become dust specks.
At least once a week, Kat loses her keys here in the house. It happens easily enough. When she comes in from the salon in the evening, she is immediately bombarded by both children and pets anxious for her affection. Anything in her hands, such as her keys, quickly becomes a hindrance. Sometimes she sets them on a shelf by the door. Sometimes she puts them in her purse. Sometimes she sets them on the couch that has a nasty habit of eating such things. Inevitably, as she gets ready to leave the next day, we have to search for the keys. We know damn good and well they didn’t become animated and walk off under their own power. There is limited space wherein they might exist. Yet, for several anxiety-filled minutes, they are invisible.
There is an interesting, poignant, and sometimes humorous article in The New Yorker about losing things. As writer Kathryn Schulz discusses the impact of losing everything from her wallet to her father, she uncovers some important facts about the emotion of loss. After ruminating about the inevitability of losing everything from keys to health to partners to wealth, she finally writes:
There’s precious little solace for this, and zero redress; we will lose everything we love in the end. But why should that matter so much? By definition, we do not live in the end: we live all along the way. The smitten lovers who marvel every day at the miracle of having met each other are right; it is finding that is astonishing. You meet a stranger passing through your town and know within days you will marry her. You lose your job at fifty-five and shock yourself by finding a new calling ten years later. You have a thought and find the words. You face a crisis and find your courage.
We lost the election. We knew losing was possible but we didn’t expect it. We now fear losing much more. We fear losing the right to speak and, just as important, the ability to be heard and to have our voice given some respect. We fear that we might lose the right to decide for ourselves not what is right or wrong but what is best. We fear losing clean air to breathe. We fear becoming cogs in someone else’s machine. We fear a corporate takeover of our very lives.
We fear losing who we are.
I am significant, dammit. I won’t let some orange-tinged narcissistic ball of international embarrassment deny me my personal significance. Yet, as we face this crisis, and there’s no question in my mind that this is a crisis, where do we find our courage? Is courage something we can conjure up from inside us or is it, like Kat’s keys, cloaked in some mysterious veil of invisibility until suddenly, poof, there it is in that same place we’d already looked a dozen times before?
Remedies versus reality
Somewhere back about 30 years or so ago, I had a work acquaintance whose mother had terminal cancer. She was a sweet little old lady, the kind who would bake extra loaves of bread so she would have some to give away or send presents for children she had never met. She was not ready to give up on life just yet. When oncologists in the US said they had nothing left in their arsenal to fight the disease, she latched on to an experimental treatment in Greece that had shown some success. Obviously, her insurance wasn’t going to pay for the treatment. It took every bit of savings she had as well as substantial contributions from her children to pay for the trip and the treatment in advance, but they all assumed that life was worth the sacrifice. Off to Greece she went.
She died her third day in Greece. Ill when she got off the plane, she was never well enough to start the treatment. She passed alone, apart from her family, in a country she knew only from a brief taxi ride.
This is what happens when remedies meet reality. Everything sounds good on paper. The pictures are always pretty in the brochure. Reality comes when one actually tries to embrace the promise of a remedy, though, and reality often isn’t working with the same set of pictures. What one person promises to be the solution to a problem often doesn’t quite pan out when the project moves into execution. Reality delivers to us the unexpected, the unforeseen, and dumps it right smack in the middle of the plans we were sure would work.
Benjamin P. Hardy wrote an article for medium.com about the need to make course adjustments throughout our lives in order to stay on track. He compares our lives to an airplane in flight, constantly making course corrections to avoid problems like running into a volcano and killing everyone on board (which actually happened in 1979). After relating that tragic story, he says something extremely important:
“Small things — if not corrected — become big things, always.”
Hardy then proceeds to offer a very thorough set of remedies through a detailed set of questions. Seriously, this article is long. His remedy involves being organized, planning and investing, tracking metrics, reducing noise, and moving toward goals. There’s nothing actually wrong in anything he says. In fact, the same advice has been around forever and for people of a certain personality type, it probably works.
The problem is reality. No matter how hard I try, and I frequently try, I’m just not organized. My creative mind won’t allow me to be organized. I can get my desk all neatly arranged with a place for everything and everything in its place and 30 minutes later one would swear it had been involved in a train wreck. I try blaming the cats and the kids, but the reality is that my life is just cluttered and messy.
So it is when it comes to resisting this new political reality. I’ve read the guides and looked at the suggestions and it all makes perfect sense. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to successfully resist the idiocy that has taken over our government. We can do this. All we have to do is be organized, and plan, and focused, and keep at it.
But the reality is that resistance is exhausting and the folks in the White House know that. Their plan is to make sure everyone who opposes them is so exhausted that we give up. We’re only three weeks into this potentially four-year marathon and already we’re feeling consumed. Who do I need to call today? What’s the current hot issue? Where did I put the Senator’s phone number?
I want to be part of the resistance. I need to be part of the resistance. I cannot let happen here what happened in Germany as Hitler rose to power. The threat is real. Action must be taken.
But then, I wake up in the morning wondering who the hell am I? Is anyone listening? One particular Senator has yet to acknowledge my numerous atttempts at communicating with him. Am I getting through? Is anyone actually listening to the messages being left on his phone?
The reality is that more often I feel like a dust speck. A significant dust speck, perhaps, but still just a speck.
Go back to what Mr. Hardy said: “Small things — if not corrected — become big things, always.” This feeling of lostness, of being only a dust speck, is a small thing now. Yet, it has to be corrected. Now. A momentary sense of misdirection or confusion is one thing. If we just blindly keep going, though, if we keep following “the plan” and don’t check ourselves, we risk ending up so impossibly off course that we’ve lost any sense of who we really are. At some point, we will look up and, for better or worse, the resistance will be over. Maybe we win. Maybe we lose. But when we get to that point will we still know who we are or will we have lost our identity to the cause?
One of the biggest challenges anyone faces is changing realities and no one experiences that more harshly than do the dear people who serve in our military. They volunteer, every last one of them, to give their lives in the protection of all we hold dear. They leave. They fight. They experience challenges to their existance on a level that would make most of us soil our clothing. They put everything they have on the line.
Then, they come home and things are different. Suddenly, they no longer need to worry about who or what might be waiting around the next corner trying to kill them. No longer is there a very real chance that the child asking them for candy is a distraction while someone else plants a bomb in their car. Reality has changed and with it comes the need to adapt. Not everyone is successful. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is the third most prevalent psychiatric diagnosis among veterans. Some get help and eventually do okay. Some don’t. They lose their identity as an individual and some never get it back. Ever.
To a much lesser extent, we all risk the same thing anytime we commit ourselves to something that is wholly consuming of our time and energy. Fighting the good fight is necessary and admirable, but when it eventually ends, when our service in that war is no longer necessary, do we still know who we are? Can we still function in society without looking at everything as a challenge that must be addressed with protests and marches?
We need to start asking ourselves these questions now, making course corrections while still injoined in the struggle or resistance, or else we risk losing who we really are.
When one presents a problem one is supposed to propose a solution, correct? Yet, as we’ve already discussed, remedies too foten run afoul of reality and when my reality is different from your reality I question just how valuable a solution might be on a universal level.
Maintaining one’s identity is rooted in having an initial udnerstanding of who we are and since that is obviously different for every person the so, too, must be the solution. If one does not already have that secure foundation in who they are, then the danger for them is perhaps even more acute. One is never merely a member of a cause, no matter how noble that cause might be. We are significant in our individualities, not just because we belong to a group.
Nonetheless, perhaps a generalized framework of loose-knit suggestions isat least marginally appropriate at this point. Adapt these to your reality as you feel appropriate.
- Keep doing what you do. Don’t lose site of what you’ve already established in your life. If you take pictures, keep taking pictures. If you chase kids around all day, keep chasing kids around all day. This is part of your core. Don’t give it up.
- Love somebody. I don’t necessarily mean this in the romantic sense, though if you are fortunate enough to have someone with whom you are intimate this is all the more important. The challenge is that being committed to a cause can keep us away from people we care about. Don’t let that happen. Make time.
- Make time to play. The weather in the Midwest was beautiful yesterday. Even with a very heavy schedule of fashion shows, I took time between shows to go out in the yard and play with the kids and the dog. Sure, it was just a few minutes here and there, but it was enough to remind me of what really matters.
- Try to avoid stress eating. I said try. There are good days and there are bad days and when my AP feed is going nuts or when major fashion shows are stacked one on top of another the stress of just trying to keep up sends me reaching for the chocolate. By the handful. This isn’t healthy. You and I both know it isn’t healthy. If you’re going to stress eat, at least try to make it something that won’t kill you. Avoid Taco Bell®.
- Sleep. On a normal day I’m able to get in an afternoon nap before the little ones get home from school. This nap is necessary given the early hour at which my day starts. However, I’ve been missing my nap of late and it is really starting to affect my attitude and my behavior. I’m much more short tempered, less tolerant, and have to work harder to not write something that would get me a visit from the FBI or Secret Service. Yes, there’s a lot to do. Resisting tyranny doesn’t happen with your eyes closed. However, fatigue is the shortest path I know to unreasonable actions and expectations. Sleep, dammit.
- Remember, this won’t last forever. Whether our efforts prove successful or not, there is an end to every campaign, every protest, and every cause. Resistance is not long-term. Your life and your individuality are. Don’t let the cause block your vision of who you are.
There is nothing the president and his staff can do that takes away our significance. While we may be dust specks in the overall perspective of the cosmos, we are each important to the here and now of this planet and this life and there is absolutely nothing or no one who can change that.
I had a high school acquaintance try to convince me yesterday that resistance is futile, that the president is the president and that this reality was not going to change. I took his words as a challenge to prove him wrong. Reality is what we make of it and I’m not willing to blindly accept tyranny. I will resist with every fiber of my being if necessary.
But in doing so, I will still be me. I will still take pictures. I will still scream at people running stop signs. I will still enjoy my morning coffee with Kat.
Grab hold of who you are. Don’t let go. Be you.