It’s the terrible convergence of rampant guns, racial inequality, resentment, hostility, and fear. These elements have been with us for so long, there’s almost a disturbing inevitability about the events of this last painful week, even a sickening sense of deja vu. We were already heavy-hearted about the two senseless shootings of young black men in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, and then came the horror in Dallas, heightening the tragedy, exacerbating the anger and the anguish, and rendering peaceable and cooperative action more difficult. There is a cyclical nature to these kinds of things, and I do believe that a renewed momentum for positive change will follow, but we all need some time to absorb this.
Everything has felt so divisive lately. There are so many worlds within the world, so many conflicting realities, so many elsewheres even within the here. The current presidential campaign has made unity seem particularly tenuous, our national identity one we hardly recognize and do not feel proud to claim.
“World is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural,” wrote the poet Louis MacNeice. It cannot be denied. Maybe the dynamics are as they have always been, but with greater populations, deadlier weapons, and the unprecedented power of media, social or otherwise, to render us relentlessly aware of it all–in this age we must bear witness, no matter where we are.
But in addition to unleashing shock and sorrow, rage and escalation, or the despair and shutdown that comes with overload, is it possible that these extraordinary media capabilities can help us find common ground? Can heartbreaking knowledge yield greater compassion? Can disturbing information push us toward enlightened solutions? We must make it so.
I am one of the lucky ones, a semi-invisible white woman of a certain age and means. I can probably just keep my head down and no one is going to bother me. But those of us who aspire to be good people and lead meaningful lives cannot ignore what’s going on. And I realize that being sad is useless, but I don’t know what to do.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be big. I know people who work with children in need, plant trees, grow gardens, serve their local communities in tangible ways. Maybe we start just by acting with decency and integrity in the circles in which we happen to be. We find our particular gifts to give, and we navigate with kindness. We learn to truly listen (which I especially need to work on) and see the humanity in one another.
But we must also educate ourselves and speak out when it matters, vote intelligently, and demand reason and courage of those who would govern. Projecting it onto a bigger screen, it seems to me that measures to curtail the insane proliferation of guns in this country are crucial. We also need to take real steps to acknowledge and mitigate institutional racism, revisit police training, and in the bigger picture create better and more equitable economic opportunities and access to education. And of course we must make sure that we do not elect Donald Trump in November, a candidate whose reckless, egomaniacal candidacy specializes in vulgar insults, taps into misdirected resentments, and proliferates tribal kinds of hatred.
I often feel like I am walking around balancing two trays…one very heavy and awkward and piled high with spilling-over sadness, and the other gleaming with the goodness of the world. Sometimes I succeed in holding them both adeptly, even managing to cover the first tray with a napkin and ignoring it for a while, but even then I’m vaguely aware of it. Learning this balancing act is crucial to being human. We must somehow hold onto loss and sadness and the knowledge of mortality without losing our enthusiasm for living or capacity for joy. I mean it in both personal and global ways. “Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere…” wrote the late John Gilbert in his Brief for the Defense. But also, “We must risk delight.”
Here in my own world within worlds, the canyon wren is back, and wind is howling through the pale grass. Yesterday I went to a baby shower for a young woman I am fond of, the kind of person who does good things in a gentle quiet way and will be a diligent loving mother. We sat beneath a canopy hung with balloons and prayer flags while she held up tiny baby clothes and bees buzzed about platters of zucchini bread, grilled veggies on skewers, and watermelon chunks. Earlier in the week, I walked on the beach and saw dolphins at sea and a crab doing a scuttling sideways dance on the sand. I thought the crab an utterly comical creature until it suddenly spread out its claws and twirled, in an instant becoming both beautiful and fierce, seemingly even proud of itself. “The drunkenness of things being various…” to again quote Louis MacNeice.
All is not lost. Human contributions include music, poetry, agriculture, and good ol’ messy democracy, which deserves more of our best selves. Maybe I’m whistling in the dark, but hope is as contagious as apathy or despair. Unimaginable innovations are yet to come, and some of them will be wonderful. We are the same species that just this month managed to get a solar-powered spacecraft into Jupiter’s orbit, 365 million miles away. We can do better, right here. We will. We must.