Sunday, December 11, 2016

Invincible Summer



In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.--Albert Camus


It's still there.

I turned on the patio light to check, and at 6:30 a.m., December 11, 2016, after a snow storm with 50 mile an hour winds, followed by freezing rain, a thaw, and now more heavy rain, the single blossom is still there, vibrantly orange, a small defiant splash of color in a time of deep greyness.

It can't last forever. Eventually, wind, rain, and chill will cause the rose to wilt, its color to fade, its petals to drop. Like all the other roses in the planter, it will be tucked in for the winter, done with this stubborn display of resistance to the darkest time of the year. Eight weeks from now, I'll cut the roses back, preparing them for their spring growth spurt, and starting in May, they'll shyly begin to show their colors once more, until in June there's a rainbow riot going on that will last all through the real summer.

For now, though, it's vitally important to me that there is a vestige of summer hanging on behind our house. For a dark winter is ahead of us, dark even by rain-drenched Pacific Northwestern standards.

I could say it began November 8 when our hopes of a third term of Democratic leadership were stillborn. But as hard as the shock of that night was--remembering it still causes my eyes to water, a sob to catch in the back of my throat--the gathering darkness goes back to the first triumphant year of the Obama administration. The Tea Party phenomenon revealed a deep, oozing pustule of racist anger in the heartland of this country, and the decision of the Republican Party to exploit that anger rather than tamping it down laid the groundwork for what happened a month ago. There was power in that bigotry, power that could be aggrandized into taking over state legislatures, using them to gerrymander Congressional districts, passing voter suppression laws, taking both chambers of Congress, and choosing again and again to obstruct rather than compromise with the White House. When it turned out the anger was insufficient to elect a moderate Republican in 2012, the party doubled down, and the campaign for the 2016 Republican nomination became a competition to see who could pander the most to the increasingly racist party base.

November 8 was a double loss for us: not only did we wake up the next morning knowing the system had failed us, and that a minority of votes had elected a manifestly unqualified and execrable candidate President; we also had to accept the reality that so many Americans, even in our deeply Blue part of the country, had preferred this monster over a highly qualified progressive, in large part for exactly the reasons we so hated the very thought of him: misogyny, racism, xenophobia. In the days since the election, every large pickup blasting its horn at us for blocking its driver's desire to roar down a residential street at 50 miles an hour, every tabloid depicting Trump's grinning face while continuing to peddle conspiracy theories about the Clintons, every newly assertive white guy in the locker room is a reminder that these people are living in our neighborhoods, sending their kids to our schools, shopping and working out an worshipping alongside us. It's a very dark time to be an American progressive.

"How do I do it?" Amy asked me yesterday. "How do I get through this?"

I pointed through our living room window to the solitary orange rose stubbornly holding on. "Invincible summer," I said.

It took me a month to remember that quote, and it was the amazing tenacity of that rose that finally triggered the memory. It was published in 1952, at a time when the apocalypse that had been World War II was still a gaping wound in the memory of every European. Camus had lived through the Nazi occupation of France. He had seen the swastika flying at the top of the Eiffel Tower, had experienced government by Nazi collaborators. Tens of millions had died horribly, sacrificed to the maniacal vision of one man, harnessing the angry bigotry of a defeated nation. How did he make it through the occupation and the austere years that followed Allied victory?

Invincible summer.

In my former life as a preacher, I often spoke of spring as proof of resurrection: however cold and dark the winter may be, the light always returns, bringing with it warmth, color, new life. My other recurring theme was my understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven: that each of us builds the Kingdom in our own little corners of the world. I'm not a preacher anymore--at least, not from a pulpit--but I do continue to believe in these truths, and to practice them in my life. And that is how I am going to live through the Trump Era.

Even if, my some miracle of electoral legerdemaine, Trump is not inaugurated a month from now, we live in the Trump Era. There is no avoiding it: too many Americans voted for this man for us to ignore them any longer. Their anger and ignorance have to be addressed. When Trump is finally defeated, as he inevitably will be, whether it is next month or however many years from now his regime finally collapses under the weight of its own corruption, we will still be sharing space with those people.

That tells me we've got work to do, and not just in making sure a Democrat wins the next election. For those of us who work in the teaching, helping, and caring professions, we just need to keep on doing what we've always done: showing our students, clients, and patients we care about them, helping them become more generous, caring people themselves. In other work places, it's a matter of treating coworkers and customers fairly and compassionately. There's nothing new about any of that: it's what I was preaching years ago about the Kingdom, a teaching that goes back to John the Baptist and many who came before him.

And what if our work doesn't touch people's lives in these ways? For some, it's what we do after work that can make the difference: giving time and money to causes that promote justice, equity, and compassion; volunteering with agencies that work with children and teenagers; organizing with other concerned citizens to amplify our voices and get elected officials to pay attention; working to restore voting rights to disenfranchised citizens, and to redraw Congressional districts in more equitable, less partisan ways. At the most micro of levels, we can go on using LED bulbs, reducing/reusing/recycling waste, converting our homes to cleaner energy sources, choosing public transportation whenever possible.

That's all boilerplate responsible citizenship. Let's personalize it: There is someone you love who is afraid. It may be your spouse or partner, a sibling, one of your children. Perhaps it's your college roommate, a workout buddy, someone you play Mah Jongg with. This person is afraid because people have changed and are acting more aggressively, letting their bigotry out of the closet, threatening people who are different from them. This person has good cause to be afraid: either Donald Trump or one of his surrogates has promised to use the power of the Presidency to victimize her in some way. Maybe he's afraid his grandparents will be deported. Maybe she was harassed on the train for wearing her hijab. Perhaps the way he cuts his hair led a homophobe to make rude jokes. And here's the scariest part: if this person has any knowledge of history, that fear is completely well-founded. Whoever this person is--and there are many of them, beginning with the 51% of the population who were born female, before we even get to matters of skin color, sexual orientation, faith, or national origin--it's up to you to make their world a safer place, to let the invincible summer shine from your countenance, to carve out a corner of the world where truth, justice, beauty, and compassion reign.

For my part, I will continue to write, teach, perform, parent, and in every sphere of my life, to nurture the spark of summer within me, until finally the Trump era proves itself to have been no more than a season in the life of our nation. However bitter, cold and dark the winter, warmth and light inevitably return. That is the hope I will keep alive for however long it takes to make it a reality.

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