On this turn around the karmic wheel, one of the life lessons that I’ve had to learn the hard way — no, the really hard way — is that we just have to face unflinchingly how bad things are. We have to deal in facts.
In my defense (and I still want one of those t-shirts that say, “In my defense, I was left unsupervised and the moon was full” because that’s pretty much the story of my life), I grew up in a religion, on books, and on movies that had only one inescapable lesson for girls: “If you just love hard enough (sacrifice enough, believe hard enough, are pretty enough, work hard enough) you can change anything.
So, if you’re married to an abusive man, the answer isn’t to face how bad things are and to act (divorce him and start over again) based on those facts. No, the answer is to just love harder, try again, be prettier, give better head, cook more sophisticated meals, spend less of his money.
If you work in a toxic organization, the answer isn’t to face how bad things are and to act (get a new job) based on those facts. No, the answer is to just have a better Filofax, get more training, put in more hours (and more, and more, and more), network more, do more planning for meetings with your toxic boss, create more innovative business plans, write better briefs, read more cases . . . .
But now I’m an old woman and, if I haven’t accomplished much else on this turn of the wheel, I have learned that we have to face the facts as they are and then deal with them. Pretending that if we just lose a few more pounds, just get a better organizer, or just try do more interval training, that will fix everything — that pretense lets us put off the inevitable, but it doesn’t really fix anything or help us to move forward. It lets us do those things over which we think we do have control and ignore the fact that sometimes (too often) the universe is random.
So, I’m going to agree (with a caveat; see below) with several of my readers who’ve basically said, “Wow. Shit is fucked up and bullshit and I hate this.” Mrs. Whatsit wrote about this when she said, “I’m Not Going to Lie to You.” I think that I was trying to write about this in my Prayer for Imbolc (shepherds have to wade across flooded fields even when sheep are dying). Right after Trump was elected, people quoted Charles Schultz: “My idols are dead and my enemies are in power.” That was how it felt after we gave what we thought was our all to elect the most qualified person ever (who happened to be a woman) against the least qualified person ever (who happened to be a toxic male) and — lost.
And, then, putting our faith in our democratic institutions and norms, we all tried to ignore the facts and just move forward. We wrote (I know that I did) to every member of the electoral college, we went to the Women’s March, we registered voters, we created blue wave after blue wave, we ran for office, we called our reps, we wrote postcards, we protested, we donated money, we got our representatives to impeach him.
And. And, it wasn’t enough. The Russian blackmail saved him in the Senate and then he felt liberated. He’s firing patriots, intimidating judges right and left, appointing Nazis. Our idols are dead and our enemies are in power.
So, sure, we’re all having dark days. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We can’t believe that we’re still having to protest this bullshit.
I could send you to Wendell Berry . I could, and I will, quote Langston Hughes, who wrote:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.It’s had tacks in it,And splinters,And boards torn up,And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare.But all the timeI’se been a-climbin’ on,And reachin’ landin’s,And turnin’ corners,And sometimes goin’ in the darkWhere there ain’t been no light.So boy, don’t you turn back.Don’t you set down on the steps’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.Don’t you fall now—For I’se still goin’, honey,I’se still climbin’,And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
But more importantly, I’ll remind you, as Mrs. Whatsit did, that we are literally the survivors of those who survived. We are the souls and the carriers of the deep genetic code of those who kept on going through the ages when ice came right up to the cave entrance, who crept uninfected through the Black Death, who slipped unsinged through the Burning Times (we are the daughters of the women you didn’t burn — or whom you burned too late), who withstood the potato famine, who clung to life through the Civil War, who survived Dunkirk, who watched Viet Nam come and go, who lived through HIV/AIDS . . . .
What I’ve learned is that I can’t indulge myself in the myth that if I just love hard enough — have a good enough organizer, do enough yoga, meditate with enough pine-and-sage incense, work enough 80-hour-weeks — everything will be alright. I can’t just rely upon the norms of a 200-year-old democracy, donate enough money, force my arthritic wrists to write enough postcards.
In fact, we’re out here on untested grounds. Not since, at least, ancient Rome has democracy been under such stress. And, back then, it failed. The oligarchs took over. Then it all collapsed. Then, it took centuries for democracy to try again.
So what’s the answer? How do we go on? I recently asked an old apple orchard these questions.
And, you know, the answer is always the same: Face the facts. Do what you can. Hope that others will join the trip. Hold up your sisters. Do the magic you can. Wait for the other side to become overconfident and then seize the moment.
Guard the mysteries. Constantly reveal them.
Believe that we will win.
Even if we lose, we will live again in the blood of our descendants. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Don’t give up.