Handling the truth is getting to be more difficult.
I am in the process of writing a piece about sin, the Biblical kind, but that topic is so deep and so complex, and one that I am not really qualified to write about (because I’m not much of a sinner, really), that I decided to write about “the truth” while I wait for more “sin-spiration”.
Sometimes I write about serious topics, like the patriarchy (or sin), in a light-hearted way, but the truth is, I’m terrified. And furious. And none of this is at all funny.
Everyday I take my morning coffee with a dose of outrage, anxiety, sadness, or all three. Headlines from just the past month:
“ICE raids food company in Mississippi, rounds up 680 undocumented immigrants, leaving their children to fend for themselves”
“Another mass shooting, no wait, it was two. Or maybe it was even three if you count that shooting in Chicago that everyone forgot about”
“Once again we learn that white mass murderers are mentally ill and not domestic terrorists.” (I keep forgetting that)
“The whole world knows we’re messed up, and they don’t know what to do about it either”
“Trump, the racist-rule-changer-in-chief, decides that ICE can basically stop anyone, demand proof of citizenship, and deport at will. So watch out, especially if you’re not white”
“Trump encourages crowd to chant ‘SEND HER BACK’ and then lies and says he didn’t really approve of those nasty chanters”
“GOP enjoys a picnic lunch while Trump tells 4 duly elected congresswomen to go back to where they came from (which is here)”
(keep in mind that I take liberties with the headlines, but you knew that)
“Pence goes to detention camps at the border and compliments the guards”
“Federal court seems to kinda like the idea of repealing the ACA”
“Another woman accuses Trump of rape and no one said a peep”
“Trump tells staff not to cooperate with Congress, proving once again that he doesn’t want to uphold the Constitution.”
Every day he’s playing us, he’s creating fear and chaos, he’s inciting violence, and he’s getting away with it.
That’s the truth.
I’m thinking about the truth of children in detention camps. The truth that the ACA may be repealed. The truth that Russians interfered in our elections and no one in charge has done one thing about it. The truth that women will start dying from illegal abortions, and that The Handmaid’s Tale is no longer just dystopian fiction. The truth that families are being ripped apart when ICE comes to deport. The truth that we are in a climate crisis and no one in charge is doing much (nothing) about it either. It’s the never-ending story with no plot but an abundance of evil-doers, destruction, and chaos.
The phrase rattling around in my brain is from the courtroom scene in “A Few Good Men” in which Jack Nicholson screamed at Tom Cruise “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”
It’s hard to live with the truth of how rotten things actually are. In fact, should we just go ahead and call the US a shit-hole country? Is that where we are now? When do we admit that we aren’t as exceptional as we thought?
Head-in-the-sand is a fully human and understandable response. Turn off the TV. Stop reading the news. Quit Facebook. Quit your friends who are “too political”. It’s too damn much. I get it.
I’m trying not to be an ostrich.
They say the only way through hell is through it. Can’t go around it, over it or under it. In fact my horoscope from today said “Try not to tense up when you’re afraid. The most effective way to deal with your fear is to move through it”.
But it’s just so awful. Sometimes I scream “WTF WTF WTF”. Sometimes I put my head in my hands and cry. But mostly I try to sit with it and get used to this feeling, because it isn’t going away anytime soon. We can’t cross our fingers and hope that there will be some final over-the-top horror that comes out of the woodwork and nails the coffin, to mix metaphors. There will probably be no impeachment (I hope I’m wrong about that, there should be impeachment). Robert Mueller is definitely not our savior.
I’m learning what it means to live here, at this time, in this country, and to live in this body that is screaming “STOP THE MADNESS!!” or “BRING OBAMA BACK” or “WHEN WILL THIS NIGHTMARE END?!”
So aside from practicing being more zen, what does it mean to “handle the truth?”
There is a lot out of my control, but there are three things within my control that I can do.
First, I can learn.
Good Lord I feel so ignorant. They say that “the truth shall set you free”. Jesus said that. And Gloria Steinem came up with the-better-than-Jesus variant:
“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
I didn’t create a goal for myself called “The Education of Becky on the Horrors of Our Country’s History and What We Should Do About It”, but that’s what is happening.
In school I didn’t learn that colonizers committed genocide of native people. I learned about the slaughter of the buffalo. I didn’t learn about systemic racism, the patriarchy, or white supremacy. I learned about Lincoln freeing the slaves and I was a kid during the Civil Rights movement, but I didn’t learn much about all the shit that happened in between (if you want to know more about the shit-in-between read “White Rage” by Carol Anderson). I learned that women got the vote in 1920 but never learned that that didn’t include ALL women. I couldn’t tell you exactly how US policy in Central America got us an immigration crisis. This list goes on and on too.
Or maybe I learned ALL of that and I just forgot it all, or ignored it because it didn’t affect me, or because I thought it was all in the past. There’s that.
Second, I can get out of the house, at least a tad bit more.
I am an introvert, tried and true, one of those people who secretly cheers when parties are cancelled and who is adept at conjuring up excuses to stay home. What I know now is that I need to be with people who keep me sane and who also keep me motivated. I need the people in my life who call me up and say “wanna go to the protest?”, or “I’m going to the DFL training, how ’bout you?” Being with people who are in the thick of it gives me hope, and honestly, it just makes me feel better. The truth I can live with is that there are so many good people in this fight.
Third, I can act.
Sometimes all I can do is just show up. Hang out with the people who are going to rallies, holding signs and chanting (which is something it never occurred to me to do before November 2016). I’m finding my niche, my thing, my way to fight back and help move us forward, because we all have at least one way to contribute to this cause. We all have some way to contribute.
Like the bumper sticker I saw recently – – “I was always a voter, you made me an activist”.
Never had I used the word “activist” before Trump got elected. I probably could have defined it, but it certainly didn’t apply to me. I still am not sure it does, I’m just trying to be a better citizen.
A couple weeks ago I attended the NOW (National Organization for Women) Convention, which was held in the Twin Cities. Among all of the outstanding speakers, like Catharine MacKinnon, Erin Murphy, and Eleanor Smeal, there was one “storm-trooper”, State Senator Pat Spearman of Nevada. Nevada is the only state in the country that has a female majority in both houses of their legislature. Turns out she’s also an ordained minister, so when we she told us we were in the middle of a storm, she was preaching, and it was true, and when she said that we could choose to sit it out in the calm eye of the storm, she was preaching, that was also true, and when she said “We Are The Storm!” in unison we leapt out of our chairs and cheered. That preaching is truth that inspires me, and gives me hope.
By contrast, though, the truth that cuts my inspiration off at the knees and causes my hopeless meter to rise is the the lawlessness, the blatant fuck you to the institutions we thought were solid, the values we thought we shared, the norms that we thought made us a civil society. Out the window, all of it. Make way for all of the the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and cruelty you can handle (or not). Gone are the days when you had to hide behind a mask of politeness for fear of being banished. Let’s use every trick in the book to restrict voting rights, says the GOP. Gerrymandering ain’t so bad, says the Supreme Court. Let’s scare people into not completing the census (and worse), says Trump. Let’s make some in our midst hate immigrants so much that they are willing to commit mass murder.
We aren’t just mourning the loss of our country, we are mourning the loss of what we thought are country was. We are afraid of what it is, and of what it has become. Some of us always knew, some of us are just catching on.
We are living with the thought (or reality) that we’re being lead (or pushed) toward fascism, or the truth that we that we might be living under a dictatorship ALREADY and we can’t even get our heads around what that means because we’re swirling in the chaos. We are recognizing that we are living under a system of white supremacy and patriarchy. While Trump didn’t create these systems, through his words and actions he is making us painfully aware of their existence, if we are paying attention.
But here’s here’s the kicker – – I can walk away.
I CAN WALK AWAY. THAT IS THE TRUTH.
We all know about the “fight or flight” response. I can flee if I want and my life wouldn’t change that much. I can turn off the TV, quit reading the news, disengage. I can sit in the calm eye of the storm, hunker down in my root cellar, and wait it out. Because after all, we’ve been here before and this too shall pass, right?
I am not going to get stopped by ICE and asked to produce my “papers”. I won’t get deported. Or evicted. Or need an abortion. Or get pulled over for a broken headlight because of my skin color. And then shot. When Trump tells us to leave if we don’t like it here, well by god, maybe I could actually do that. I have a passport, the borders are open to me.
I’m white and whiteness means privilege and protection. If not for my liberal-feminist views, my advancing age, and my fondness for nature, Trump might actually like me. I could easily be confused for Barbecue Becky (the white woman from Oakland who called the cops on a black family having a barbecue in a public park).
That’s a different kind of truth to handle, isn’t it? Some of us can walk away, or sit in the calm eye of the storm and wait it out.
I vacillate between optimism and fear, between the idea that we will fight our way out of this mess, and that it is hopeless. For now, I’m not waiting it out. I can’t.
After the latest shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Barack Obama posted:
“…But just as important, all of us have to send a clarion call and behave with the values of tolerance and diversity that should be the hallmark of our democracy…..And it’s time for the overwhelming majority of Americans of goodwill, of every race and faith and political party, to say as much – clearly and unequivocally.”
I looked to his post for hope and comfort, but what I found were the words “all”, and “an overwhelming majority”. We can’t rely on a few activists, a few politicians, or a new president to save us. President Obama was telling us, all of us, as he has before, to get into the storm. To be the storm.
We are the storm.
© Rebecca Larson 2019