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Not Ready for Hospice

There's plenty of bad news — more than enough: peak oil past the peak, air pollution beyond hope of reversal, looming food and water crises. Meanwhile, not content with two mercenary wars, the U.S. government is slouching toward Tehran to birth a third.[1] Pick your poison.

On a personal level, it's fall where I live, and the changing weather makes me ache in every joint — even in my typing fingers. Mornings are dark, and evenings come too soon.

This is the season of grief and memory and fog. It's easy to get lost in past and present pain and fear of the future — to be "half in love with easeful death,"[2] so that some sort of hospice is appealing. Strong drugs and tender care, but most of all the shared recognition that we're near the end, so it's okay to make things as easy as possible.

Nah. We're nowhere near there yet. We're in the time of struggle, when the unchartable interactions of our will may yet stop the wars, heal the air, nurture the trees, feed the hungry, change consciousness, change outcomes. I was taught that magic and intention are all very well, but then we have to act in accordance.

Little and Big Ways
The smallest actions carry weight. Patricia is replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. Mary's matching wills with invasive wild parsnip. Madelon's holding space for her daughter's desires, however different from her own. Sage and I are rubbing arthritic knuckles and typing, typing. Each of us does what she can.

I'm very familiar with this line of thinking. In my Catholic youth, the patron saint I chose was St. Thérèse, the "little flower" of the "little way,"[3] the humblest, meekest, most self-sacrificing of saints. She practically subsided into the convent floors she so willingly scrubbed. As a brand-new 70s feminist, I found her horrifying, a patron saint of self-abasement. Later, as I grappled with the idea that the means are the ends, utterly inseparable, I caught a glimmer of Thérèse' approach — though I still didn't want to sign up for it.

My heroes have always been the ones who were living their lives of small, everyday actions, until something overmastered them. A woman I met at a writer's group vanished from the city soon afterward, because suddenly it wasn't enough to write about San Salvador and Nicaragua; she had to go there, interpose herself between the combatants. That imperative flung her out of her everyday life and into a fast-moving river of change. What she gave up, what she learned, what she accomplished I've never known, but she's remained in my mind as one of the "women of strong purpose" Judy Grahn wrote about, who passed through, making "everything else try to follow."[4]

In a time of struggle, each of us has to choose, over and over, the "little way" or the overmastering imperative.

In a time of struggle, each of us has to choose, over and over, the "little way" or the overmastering imperative. The trick is knowing which, and when… or recognizing that it's time to do both and all. We have a peculiar responsibility to perceive what is, work change according to our will, harm none, and go on acting in accordance — in a time when these activities can range from unpleasant to near-unbearable.

Perceive What Is
I'm more than willing to attend to the winds; I hate attending to the news. But to pull the truth from the spinning flood of fiction, we have to poll the radio, the journals, the online reports, the emails our friends circulate, whatever we can find — and then, sick and dizzy, we have to figure out what to focus on.

Work Change According to our Will
In spite of hopeless overwhelm, we need to take our magic more seriously than ever. Write our spells with exquisite forethought. Fuel them with all the energy we have. Choose our trajectories with courage, not fear.

Oh — and just for now, we need to stop wasting our time hating and fearing each other. This is no easier for me than anybody else; some of the scariest people I know are women I've circled with. But in a time of struggle we can't walk away from important work because the woman across the circle was once an unreliable friend, a cruel lover, a manipulative leader. Or sexist/racist/classist/ageist/ableist. Or conservative. Or male.

Harm None, and Act in Accordance
Thinking about "harm none" I sometimes want to lay my head on the table and go to sleep, because this one wears me out. How do we fight/combat/win over the violent, transcendent haters without using their language and their polarizing techniques and becoming them? If I say "transform" instead of "fight," does that make enough difference?

I heard on the news[5] about some women in Zimbabwe who are practicing civil disobedience right now, today. They sit down. The police beat them, and they don't respond. They don't lift their hands to protect themselves. They are dragged off to jail, to filth and more violence. They keep on doing this, in a country where other political opposition to the ruling dictator has fallen apart. These women don't know how it's going to turn out, for them as individuals, as a group, as a country. They're doing what they can.

marching protestersIn my youth I was a rationalist and a cynic in a time of war. I marched, yes, but I wondered what earthly difference a bunch of kids in the street could make. One of the most profound surprises of my life came when the Nixon tapes were released, and it turned out that the kids in the street had scared the men in power and changed the course of events. Intention did matter.

As a marcher today, I'd be hampered by the bad knees of middle age, but not by cynicism. So it may be my job to dust off the pamphlets on nonviolent protest and go to D.C. soon, when it's time, using my non-disposable income to rent a scooter or supply bail money. Or, for me, would that be "fighting the last war," as the military analysts are wont to say? Given that the mainstream press can turn even a massive event into patches of fog, it may be more powerful to demonstrate on the web, by donations, by long-life fluorescents.

The best answer I have so far is to do everything I can think of and keep looking around for more "little ways." To challenge my own and anyone else's desire to pretend everything's rosy. To stay alert for the overmastering imperatives and to respond when they come.

I wish us all the health, strength, will, and perception to stay awake in this time of the growing dark, when the veils are thin and the newly dead are so clamorous. Thank you for the work you do, holding your own intentions and supporting ours.

Graphics Credits #D22929

  1. Sidelong reference to Yeats, John Butler. "The Second Coming," The Dial, 1920. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Second_Coming_(poem)
  2. Keats, John. "Ode to a Nightingale," Annals of the Fine Arts, 1819. Available at http://www.bartleby.com/126/40.html
  3. See "St. Thérèse and her Little Way" and "Saint Therese's Little Way demands Love in Action"
  4. Grahn, Judy. "A Geology Lesson," first published Amazon Quarterly, 1972. Collected in Work of a Common Woman, The Crossing Press, 1977. Available at https://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&docId=30528627
  5. "From Zimbabwe, Peta Thornycroft (Still) Reporting" Fresh Air from WHYY, 10/31/2007. This information is in the audio version of the interview, not on the web page text.

Graphics Credits

  • stop killing our children, courtesy of ali
  • protest, courtesy of Kevin Rosseel
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