It feels to me that things are falling apart, like Emily Dickinson’s poem: the center will not hold. We’re trapped in a socio-political centrifugal machine, where the heaviest mettle gets spun to the outer edges of society and separates into its most irrational component parts.
Last Sunday I drove into spring: down I-17, first past dun-colored hills and ghostly pale cottonwood trees, and then brittlebush blooming on the side of the highway. Spring’s still far off, I know, yet I got a preview of it as I descended to the desert.
In this period of confusion and sadness, seeing things turn green and come alive compels me to remember that the world cycles through growth and dormancy. With almost everything but worry dormant in me right now, I’m looking for any path through the troubled landscape.
Since the start of the year probably 80 percent of Americans are either trying to quit smoking, are on a diet, have joined a gym, or purchased a new workout wardrobe. Or they’re thinking hard about doing one of these things.
(Our Labrador retriever tells me that calendars are an artificial construct, and that humans are silly for endowing the start of a new year with special powers for self-improvement, but not everyone has the benefit of her wisdom.)
So since we’re in this season of resolutions, I suggest we all resolve not to make our political disagreements personal.
I am guilty of this. During the Dubya years I developed an almost physical revulsion to George Bush’s voice, after hearing him butcher the English language while attempting to explain policies I believed were ill-advised and possibly just plain idiotic. I let my aversion to hearing his voice on the radio keep me from listening to his words, which kept me from evaluating any actual flaws or good in his presidency.
I am also not a fan of Sarah Palin: I believe her rhetoric and her methods are counterproductive to actual discourse and pose a danger to a healthy society, even if they didn’t directly impact Jared Loughner’s actions in the Tucson shootings last week. I can’t even access her actual beliefs because I can’t get past the way she presents them, and my sense that she’s only in it for the fame and fortune. At the same time, I am trying to understand that the source of her rhetoric could be that she feels her deeply-held beliefs are under attack.
Sometime around 1975 or 1976, our family vacationed on the coast of Spain. My dad drove our VW bus from Belgium, where we were living, down through the mountains of Spain to a house near the ocean. My sisters and I all wanted to go home to cloudy Belgium with good tans. Bad idea for fair-skinned girls who didn’t yet know about sunscreen: I did major cell damage to my skin that week.
Hateful, ill-considered speech and lies—even when spoken in service to strong beliefs or desires—are destructive to both the teller and the audience. Like the way a serious sunburn alters skin cells, vitriolic and dishonest speech can cause deep, ugly and cumulative harm to the way we see the world. Those thoughts and beliefs become part of us. They impose darkness where there should be light.
I’m not saying we choose this, precisely. We’re all acting exactly the way we we’ve been programmed by our genetics, our education and our circumstances. Palin’s behavior feeds something in her, whether she recognizes it or not.
Someone once gave me a journal with a vintage-looking illustration on the cover and the caption, “She had not yet decided whether to use her power for good … or for evil.” With power comes responsibility for thoughtfulness and compassionate action, and not just for those who are judged “deserving.”
Every day we have to choose to act responsibly and use our powers for good, particularly when it doesn’t come naturally.
The third hardest thing about resolutions is beginning to carry them out. The second hardest thing is staying with them for any period of time.
And the most difficult part is to keep coming back to them after you’ve failed one or more times. But the word is re-solution. Re-solve. In other words, do it again and again, until you get it right.