Combating Chaos

Too much is happening too quickly, and every day I feel sucked into the chaos. This is a bad time to be a worrier.

On Friday evening into Saturday as the effects of the new president’s travel ban became apparent, I could not force myself away from the news reports. I could not escape the sense that I was witnessing all that I so loved about my country slipping away. The laws we enacted to protect the vulnerable are proving to be much more tenuous than we assumed they’d be. It’s been too easy these first two weeks for the new administration to annihilate laws. And there seems to be no one with any power willing to be a hero of the people.

By the end of the day on Saturday, my joints ached and my chest felt tight. All I wanted to do was cover myself with a blanket, have a stiff drink, and detach. And I’m not an immigrant or a refugee. My skin color is the same as that of the men who penned our Constitution. I will not be personally violated by the ban or the wall. But I am a citizen of this country, and I care.

I am a person who often feels too much. When I read about people being put on planes and sent back to dangerous places where they have no home or resources, I cannot be neutral. When I read about children unable to be united with their parents, I am reading as a mother, and I know the pain I would feel if I was helpless to keep my children out of danger. I don’t understand how anyone hearing these stories cannot feel this pain, how anyone can turn their back while people are being treated this way.

Being a person who feels too much makes it difficult to deal with chaos. I’m thrown off kilter. I forget to do everyday things that need doing. I realize also that I stoke the chaos by giving into it, by allowing it to consume me. I know I must become more disciplined at tuning it out, at least for long enough that I can maintain my equilibrium. I must find joy in each day despite all the sadness in the world around me.

It’s too easy to ignore my own goals when it feels as if the whole world is going to hell. It’s too easy to believe that the work I want to do will not be enough. It’s too easy to believe I should be doing something else, something more, especially when things are changing so fast. Writing takes thought and patience. Fast isn’t usually how the type of writing I want to do happens. I worry that by the time an idea is fleshed out, the pivotal cultural or political moment that inspired it will have passed.

In a blog post earlier this week, Dani Shapiro wrestled with similar doubts and concluded, “But there is another kind of protest, another way of refusing to succumb to despair. And so we sit down to write.” It is helpful for me to hear this from someone I respect as a writer.

We each must consider how we can best use our own talents and interests to cope with the chaos and to contribute to the cause of resisting the destruction of what we most value. There is a role for each of us in preserving our freedoms.

Because so much I care about is presently under attack, I must decide how I will prioritize my own fight. I ache for those being turned away by this administration. I fear we will become embroiled in another world war. I’m afraid for friends and family who are gay or Jewish or Latino or from any place in the world besides western Europe. I worry that my daughter and I will be marginalized because we are female, that my entire family will be marginalized because we don’t identify as Christian. I’m afraid that public education will no longer be available for my children. I don’t know how we’ll get health insurance next year, or if we’ll be able to afford it, or what it will cover. I fear that our National Parks, our waterways, our atmosphere will be irreparably damaged. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to publicly express any of these fears without the threat of punishment.

I cannot possibly focus on every one of these issues with the same intensity. None of us can. We would burn ourselves out. I must choose a path of resistance that will make the best use of my expertise, my interests, and my time, while allowing me space to recharge enough to keep going.

I cannot allow resistance to become all that I am. I must spend time disconnected from all the bad news, focused instead on what is still good in this world. On Wednesday, Rachel Maddow reported that the tea party movement has never had as much support as the protest movement that is going on right now. There is love, and there is hope.

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I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #5 of 52. 

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