Where I’m Turning to Be Comforted and Challenged

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 5:30 am

Where I’m Turning to Be Comforted and Challenged

It’s been a month.

In this moment of no small amount of desperation, I have been turning to history. I want professors and old ladies to tell me how long life is, how slowly the world turns, how far we have come. It makes me believe that this too shall pass, and that there are unforeseeable forces of transformational love that will be fueled by the corrosive hate.

I can’t stop thinking about what Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, told Krista — that there were 12 generations of slavery. Twelve generations! No wonder we are still clawing our way out from under the muck of exploitation, confused and covered in the stuff. If our memories were longer, we’d realize that if we can confront a moral abomination of that scale — albeit too slowly, too timidly — we can surely confront one tyrannical blowhard.

I have been imagining myself at 80 — alone so much more and surrounded by more quiet and my books and my old, creaky husband, and looking back at this moment and knowing that it was when things turned in such a frightening, fascinating way. My 80-year-old self is glad I was alive now. She wants me to be brave. She wants me to have, if not faith, at least a sense of my bigness and smallness simultaneously.

I have been turning to children’s books. I am taking comfort in the gigantic panda bear in my daughter’s storybook, Zen Shorts, who tells the little boy that the good is all mixed up with the bad, that you cannot think yourself so smart as to go around labeling things lucky or unlucky. When the man falls off the horse and the neighbors sympathize with his bad fortune, he simply says, maybe. When the military recruits come, he can’t join the fight because his leg is broken. Maybe Trump is our fall off the horse. He’s woken us up. He’s made us terrifically vulnerable. Maybe, just maybe, our undeniable, collective injury will be the start of something that never otherwise could have healed. Maybe.

I have been wearing a wool hat, made for me by my sister-in-law, and pulling it over my eyes sometimes when the brightness feels too much. I have been scrolling through Twitter looking for a loophole that never comes. I have been drinking coffee in the rain with friends who feel equally enraged and lost. So many of them are thinking about switching jobs or moving states. I have been taking long showers and never feeling quite clean.

I have been listening more. I have been wondering about the limitations of listening. I have been wanting to talk to people unlike me. I have not been wanting to turn those people into animals that I am observing in some kind of zoo. I have been trying to find a voice within myself that is neither intellectual nor cloying, a voice that is simple and true about what I will and won’t tolerate. I couldn’t find it when the Orthodox Christian Ethiopian cab driver told me that he doesn’t like Obama because he believes that homosexuality is an abomination. I will find it next time. I promised myself. I promise you.

I have been sitting on airplanes in the dark and letting myself feel things that I can’t feel when I am on the ground, in the middle of my kitchen, sneaking spinach into the smoothie for my three-year-old or wiping the runaway milk off of my four-month-old’s giant cheeks or listening to hold music while I wait for the health insurance company to tell me if my application went through. I cry on the airplanes, but not in the kitchen. I’m trying to make my girls feel safe.

It’s weird to be a mother right now, because in some fundamental way, I feel like a small child again — wide-eyed, confused, looking around at all the adults and wondering how they can be so full of contradiction and so dysfunctional. Is it really so hard, this angry-little-girl part of me wants to shout, for you all to get your shit together? Is it really so hard to see that this man is an egomaniac who doesn’t have our best interest in mind?

But I’m shouting at myself too, now. I am, supposedly, a grown-up, and yes, turns out that I am full of contradictions and oh, so dysfunctional. I don’t have my shit together. At least I know that now.

I know I need art right now. More than I ever have in my whole life. I need art to cut through the noise. I need it to be the fact-check from hell. I need it to disrobe the emperor in a way that all the pundits in the universe cannot. I need it to knee me in the back. I need it to humble and embolden me simultaneously. I need it to paint new worlds that help me understand this one. I need it to yank me out of the haze of the Internet and plop me smack dab in front of another human being staring into my eyes and making me uncomfortable. I need it to reacquaint me with truth. I need it to put marrow back in my bones. I need it to be fearless and maybe even earnest and I need it to come from that same place that I struggled to find in the cab — a place beyond strategy and semantics, a place of calm indignation, a place of spiritual redemption. I need art to remind me of the immediate danger and convince me of the safety available in collective rebellion.

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is a columnist for On Being. Her column appears every Friday.

Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, explores how people are redefining the American dream (think more fulfillment, community, and fun, less debt, status, and stuff). Courtney is the co-founder of the Solutions Journalism Network and a strategist for the TED Prize. She is also co-founder and partner at Valenti Martin Media and FRESH Speakers Bureau, and editor emeritus at Feministing.com.

Courtney has authored/edited five books, including Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists, and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women. Her work appears frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Courtney has appeared on the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, MSNBC, and The O’Reilly Factor, and speaks widely at conferences and colleges. She is the recipient of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and a residency from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre. She lives with her partner in life and work, John Cary, in Oakland, and their daughters Maya and Stella. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.

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  • Sue Johnson

    “Maybe Trump is our fall off the horse. He’s woken us up. He’s made us terrifically vulnerable. Maybe, just maybe, our undeniable, collective injury will be the start of something that never otherwise could have healed. Maybe.” Courtney, this is exactly what I keep saying to myself and friends, to help us keep the faith. Most people I know have CERTAINLY woken up and are being vigilant about what is going on in OUR white house, as much as we can…politicians are a sneaky lot, and not just those that reside in the house of white currently. Speaking of currently, there is a bill recently introduced relevant to banning abortion that women need to keep a keen eye on: H.R. 490. Be aware, ladies. Much more than usual.
    As always, thanks for being Courtney, Courtney. My best, SueJ

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