We’re still going to win. It is slow, it is painful, and the lightness I increasingly feel about the state of the world and our abilities to make it ever kinder and better, is suffering a deep ache following Typhoon Haiyan. It seems wrong to chirp about the world becoming a better place while tens of thousands are living in grief and squalor.
But, simply, I do not wish to live in a world where such grim horror is, increasingly, the reality. If you are reading this, I doubt that you do either. Or that you are willing to take the lives of strangers as the price of progress, the inevitable cost of consuming what, living how you are told and sold you should.
I am not willing to do this.
And I’m trying to take the white-hot rage that flutters at my nostrils at these times and turn it within, to forge something like flexible steel from my heart and my bones. Rage and sadness, these alone are not good tools or materials for building a better world, for joining a revolution. They are not enough—rage covers sadness, sadness covers fear. If we admit we are afraid, then, we’re part way there. It is fine to be afraid. I am. I do not want to lose the world I know and love.
But, in order to win, in order to have the revolution we need, we need to believe it is possible. This revolution cannot be thought out by students in dirty garrets, singing the songs of angry men. Nor do I look for protests in the streets, violence against anyone. Please, let no one else set themselves on fire. Onlookers, grab the matches, bring water and aloe and bandages. Wrap your arms around the singed, tell them they are worth more alive.
I do not deny the crimes committed against our world, against our selves. There are many. If you start to list everything that is wrong, the weight of it all will crush your heart. I spend long days struggling with all the wrongs—student loans and carbon emissions and violent political theater to secure oil and a representative government that does not and a broken education system and all the sadness this life of overconsumption breeds—and I’m sick of it all. The Wrongs collide into a many-headed Hydra and I am tired of feeling constantly bitten.
I do not ask for an uprising, peasants with torches and pitchforks. Nor do I seek peace with the powers that be. Instead, I wish to walk away, to refuse to play this game anymore. The revolution I want is not against anything, explicitly. If we’re demonstrating against something, protesting against the many things, those things still have power. We need to deny them their power over us.
We’re each stuck in our own version of the rat-trap of the world. Expectations and commitments, lies we’re told of what we need, who we need to be and how we should look if we want to be loved, milestones “they” expect us to each tick off, a narrow and inflexible definition of success, and an abyss of doubt and failure if we do not follow along. This all is what we, each and collectively, need to help each other escape. Our escape from these fanged—entirely invented—specters, this is our revolution. It is, merely, zigging where our hearts and feet want to go, instead of zagging where we “should.”
I don’t pretend it’s easy. Hearts and feet want different things, different days of the week, hours of the day. But give yourself a little time to see what stays constant. You will know. Build off those littlest stones of certainty.
Last weekend, a dear friend handed me a copy of Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crowe. “Here,” he said, “read this. It is one of my favorites.” Indeed, he has built his life in that book’s image as much as possible. I started to read and, less than ten pages in, was teary-eyed with wanting to change my life to something more like the barber of a small town along a big river. That feeling only grew stronger as the sunlight shifted outside the windows and we read and read, stopping now and again to feed the woodstove, refresh our mugs of tea, or to watch the geese pause in their migration. It was the sort of beauty where I’m tempted to say my heart stopped, when really, it was restarted, recalibrated, rerouted.
It may not stop hurricanes or typhoons, this yen of mine to become a librarian in Port William or Grover’s Corners. And those towns are hard to find on most maps, I know. But I’ll take those fictions in place of the ones I’m usually offered. Regardless, I find my reassurance that we’re going to win from the steel-strong piece in my heart that is awake and wanting to live quietly among good people, growing things, and wildness. That is my revolution.
(Photo is of the mountains, my "come to Wendell" moment was on the ocean, but there is a resonance between the places. The grasses are the same color and the wind feels similar and that is more than enough for me.)