“Forget what you are escaping from. Reserve your anxiety instead for what you are escaping to.” So says the master escape artist in Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.”
This has been my mantra today.
Last night, in solidarity with an encouraging number of people across the country, I went to a Keystone XL vigil. Wonderful as it was to stand beside other people who also feel their souls shredded when they contemplate the future if we do not change our ways, I found it a hard place to be. To be honest, I didn’t feel better about the future of the world when I left, walking home through the snow with a friend.
What lies ahead is enormously daunting. To hear that again and again is wearing on the hope of something different, even as the presence of others does buoy me up a bit. But, truly and culturally and practically and personally, how we wrench away from the cliff we’re careening towards…I can barely contemplate how or where to begin. My heart hurts, my palms break out in cold sweat, and I cry easily about all that seems to dangle by a thread. Even among others, even as comforted as I always am to see that I am not alone in my ragged hope of a different future, I felt as if I was standing in a sea of disappointment and anxiety. The first man I spoke to was blusteringly peeved because “more people should have come to this.” A woman got snippy with me when the pen I handed her wasn’t working on the snow-dampened sign-in sheet: "This is broken, completely useless, I can't use this..." These small acts, where blinders of disappointment remain glued on and blame must be meted out, even among a group of people who clearly have some of the deepest passions in common, this is perhaps the most daunting. We must look deeply at what we do have in these moments, rather than being sharp and angry at each other. We are all we have.
We are all scared and many of us worn thin in places with the overwhelming reality of what must be done. Let this fear be something that unites us, rather than something that divides us.
It was a huge comfort when the crowd turned inward, when we faced each other as a group, rather than facing the street and waving signs at the passing cars. We can hear each other, we must hear each other first. Even the structure of this was a huge step, looking across a circle and seeing the eyes of the people who showed up, showing them my own. Things got even better, closer to the galvanizing solace I sought, when regular people in the crowd were invited to speak, rather than just to listen to leaders and organizers. It is vitally important to remember our own voices, and the power we ordinary people possess. I have boundless gratitude for the organizers knowing this, and for those who spoke up.
But still, it was maybe 200 people on a street corner, all chanting “No” into the streetlights and snowflakes and traffic sounds last night. No being what we must urge our elected leaders to say about the Keystone XL pipeline. We want to stop the pipeline. We want to stop climate change. We want to escape from the sickening cycle of destruction and dependence. I want this better world as deeply as I can think, but I found myself unable to chant “no” with the fervor and passion that seemed to come so easily to so wonderfully many standing there with me. To think in terms of no and stop and against—it hurt my battered little heart and tears kept welling up when I tried to join in.
I am struck again and again by the uselessness of anger in all of this. I do not even know the right word for what we are doing, because I do not want to say that we are fighting climate change, that we are engaged in a battle against fossil fuel dependency. It is not that I am a dewy-eyed Pollyanna, thinking that we can all just get along. I simply do not find words of war and anger to be constructive. I have been angry, so full of rage and hurt and frustration that I barely speak. I have slammed doors, punched walls, yelled and whispered and written things that were momentarily true, but regretted for all the days that have followed. Even thinking in anger and opposition, my chest tightens, I close up, my mouth goes hard and my fists clench. Besides, in terms of building a good community of people to labor on this world saving with, to be howling “no” into the night sky—there are more welcoming, constructive ways to rally people.
I want to say yes. I want to start a simpler future. I want to be for a healthy world. I think of why I showed up, of what I was there for. I was there because I love too much on this planet to do anything other than labor for its healthy continuation. The grounding force of that, what I was there for, in support of, is larger and grander and deeper than anything I am against. Never mind, really, what we are escaping from—let us focus on choosing to live as we are escaping to.
The two go hand in hand, of course. But, I feel sad and small and scared when I think in terms of no and stop and against. When I can remember the sweetness of yes and start and for, the white hot righteous anger resolves into a much more sustainable and useful fuel—love.
How this translates to a movement to build a world where we are kinder to each other and to the planet, I find it easier to contemplate in those terms. How shall we make life better for ourselves, our friends, and our world?
By doing just that, by being better and kinder and truer. What brings you the greatest joy, the times and places and people whom your bones say “yes” to and where a sense of rightness and joy washes over all else—this is where we start. This is what we are escaping to. This is Yes.