Here are some profoundly wise words from Toni Morrison: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work (talking of times of brokenness in our world). There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal … Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art.”
In the midst of a Thanksgiving family gathering as we feasted on Bodega Bay crab, I continued to speak my observations, my pain, and my struggles so I could understand how we go forward in a world that feels upended and sad. There are some sitting around the table that don’t want to hear those words and be reminded once more that America took a very dark turn on November 8. But I have always refused to silence my observations and questions, especially when I see that exploring them gets me closer to understanding the answer to “what next?” I’ve no wish to be combative, vindictive, or mean spirited, but I do wish to understand.
I was far away, traveling in Japan, when the American people voted to elect Donald Trump, and I felt some solace in the fact that I was at a remove from the massive grief and outbursts of violence that ensued following the election. This gave me a chance to process in my own way just what had happened, as well as learn what I could from the seemingly gentle, very civilized Japanese culture. Since coming home I have been reading the editorials and the news and slowly putting the pieces together in my mind. Thank god for a free press — although I tend to think our media landscape has been tainted to some degree by much of the shallow and untruthful offerings on social media. So I say again, thank god for the authenticity and longevity of the New York Times!
Beyond reading and digesting news, there is more to be done, as Toni suggests. There is work to be done, and for each of us, the work looks different. It might look like working on our story or book, or learning Bach – so as to offer up more beauty to the world, or it might look like joining community organizations to promote fair and reasonable ordinances or laws, or returning to teaching young people to write, or writing letters to our senators and congresspeople, taking your meditation practice into the prisons, deciding to become involved in human rights groups, or joining school boards to support a healthy and fair educational system. Or maybe, it simply involves starting a new painting or writing a poem each morning about one’s direct experience. Or making a new book of photographic images… Anything that forces us to be consciously in the moment, with our compassionate, creative brains activated, is what Toni refers to when she talks about “going to work.”
Many people, myself included, who slept comfortably in their self-satisfied bubble before November 8, are now being forced to wake up. Some will resist, they will continue to rant and grumble and boycott the news, but others of us will try to go to work in our unique way, to make this world we love a better place and to stand up forcefully and bravely for our ideals. This is where possibility lies. Throughout human history, people who have been tortured and jailed and made to feel invisible have nevertheless rallied and written or spoken their truth. Their spirit has prevailed despite horrific circumstances. Pablo Neruda wrote: “You can pick all the flowers, but you can’t stop the Spring.” Yes.
We must look inside and see our spirit, our ideals, our powerful love for fellow beings and this country, and we must be brave enough to let that energy come forth. No waiting, no wallowing allowed. Believe in the power of the human heart to effect change. Please.