On What it Means to be Human in the Midst of Political Crisis
May I call it a political crisis?
Is it fair to say that the current political climate that We the People find ourselves in is one of crisis? It feels like that to me. Perhaps I lack perspective on the whole thing. As this will be only the sixth Presidential election in which I have been eligible to vote. Maybe I just haven’t lived long enough yet; but this feels like a crisis to me.
From where I sit, on my perch at the northern border, peering over the frost on the 49th parallel into my second country, I am biting my nails. I’m worried, profoundly worried about the state of a nation I called home for a decade and a half, the country in which my children were born, and where many of the dearest and best people I know are fighting for the future of their land, their society, and perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to say, the world. It’s not the first time in my adult life that I’ve been worried, but this time it’s scarier feeling than it’s ever been.
Those I love are shouting at each other over the two polarized choices in front of the American people. Folks who made thoughtful, careful, reasoned arguments against Hillary 8 years ago now sport snappy, “I’m with her,” buttons on their Facebook pages. And some of the most wholesome people I know are denigrating themselves and destroying the moral high ground on which they’ve always stood as a result of carefully lead, intentionally crafted lives of kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self control, and love, by justifying the absolutely indefensible immorality of Donald Trump. I am baffled. I am overcome with worry and sadness. I am wondering what happened to my people, never mind my country. I am sorely tempted to be afraid.
Has anyone else noticed that any attempt at kindness in these matters has all but disappeared in the vast majority of people?
The weight of all of these things was overwhelming as the sun set last night. I watched my Facebook feed fill up with venom. Self righteousness. Anger. Fear. Everything but a reasoned response or an answer to a question. I noted the few exceptions. People who would give their thoughtful reply and then leave without further debate. I focused there, and remembered to have hope.
The Man poured me a glass of someone’s homemade wine and rubbed at the tensions in my shoulders as I settled into one of Jeanette’s antique chairs. I noticed, as I always do, the thickness of the stone walls of the ancient farmhouse and was warmed by the low light and the ruby red walls. I felt the ghost of my younger self pass through the room, laughing with a childhood friend, and I smiled.
Closing my eyes, I let the sound wash over me, her high sweet voice layered over his soothing tenor, held up by the deep resonance of the cello. The roll and tumble of a fiddle tune. Lyrics about life and death, love and work, nature and our place in it, the ebb and flow of life in the music. As with all things, a bridge leads from stanza to chorus; there is movement through a story, and resolution. In the silence between we breathe together and hold open the space with our hearts until the song begins again; sometimes with an explanation, sometimes not.
In this way, I was reminded, again, what it means to be human.
I need to be reminded sometimes.
Our humanity is found in the experiences that form us, in the moments that nourish us and in the ways we choose to reflect those things within our communities and our world.
Jeannette and Melanie do this through crowding all of the chairs into the front room of their farm house and inviting musicians to play for their friends. It is a kindness, and a gift of self and time. It’s also an investment; in the enrichment of lives, the preservation of the arts and the support of people who give themselves to the expression of life through sound because they believe that this is important to humanity. In community.
Our humanity is found in bottles of homemade wine; months of effort to warm one particular evening. The light in Judith’s eyes reflects it as she tells the stories of meeting her new granddaughter in Amsterdam over a month long visit. And the kindness of a guitar player (who reminded me, ever so much, of an Australian friend of mine) to discuss his music and his motivations with someone he’ll likely never meet again. The investment of time and interest, this is what it means to be human.
“Thank you… You’ve reminded me what it means to be human…”
I wanted to say this to him, but the words stuck in my throat. I couldn’t articulate it yet. This would have required an explanation, and I didn’t want to dredge ugly things into a room filled with so much light and beauty. Instead I hung near the end of the table, watched him sip the wine without asking who had made it, and floated on the hope and happiness in his eyes as he told me about his music, his travels and his passion.
Our humanity is found in connection to each other, and perhaps that is why I’m so troubled by the current political climate: it seems determined to tear us apart. In the face of the serious business of choosing the leader of the free world (something I have definite opinions about) it’s feeling urgent, even more urgent, perhaps, than casting a vote, to hold each other close, nurture the connection, feed the common ground, treasure what is already great, and build, build, build together so that we are strong enough, collectively, to bear the great tearing down.
While the hurricane force winds of the next month beat against the shutters we must not evacuate or hide in storm shelters. We must meet around dinner tables and in parking lots, at children’s events, and in community spaces. We must ask, like Jeanette did of me last night, “How are you? You look a little tired. Have you recovered from your trip yet? Can I get you a glass of wine?”
We must remember that life is made up of hearts and souls, art, music, beautiful poetry, breathtaking colour, laughter, good food, and hope; not just politics.
My personal commitment in the coming month is to practice kindness.
Like I practiced piano as a child: daily, consistently, whether I feel like it or not.
I will practice it like I practice yoga, not just for myself, but for the good of others, because working on my own heart oozes over into the hearts of others.
I will practice it like I practice parenthood, with the tenacious belief that no matter how hard it is and how much it sucks in a given moment, there is a greater good being served and the opportunity to give a gift to the world that is beyond compare.
I will speak kindly, most especially, to those I disagree most profoundly with. Even about the hardest things. And I won’t avoid the hard things, because we can’t afford to do that right now. The storm is very real.
This election has already stolen so much from us as Americans, in terms of time and focus, integrity and honor. I will not let it steal my humanity, or the humanity I have the opportunity to contribute to within my community. While this is a national election, the building of anything worthwhile, (or the destruction, for that matter) including a nation, occurs at the neighbourhood level. Tiny bricks laid, not landslide votes predicted.
Humanity is measured in moments.
There is something beautiful about sitting quietly with generations worth of humans you only kind of know in honor of shared pleasure. Knowing that each of these people made and effort to leave their homes to participate in community. Some of us missed ferry boats and arrived late. Others came early and helped the ladies of the house redecorate. The musicians came on faith alone that strangers would love them enough to support their work.
There is something strong and centering about shared breath in silence before a sea shanty fills a stone room. Teenagers lurk around the margins, little children curl up like cats in their mother’s laps, one girl, with hair the colour of flax dancing between her shoulder blades asks if the tea is green, because she’s only allowed green teas this close to her bedtime. Preference in seating is given to the aged. The house dog presides from his prime spot, right at the feet of the fiddler. A cat listens, perched on the white wooden stair case. The warmth is created by bodies and breath. The wine is homemade, and the cookies are store bought. The pile of shoes at the front door is a testimony to the paths walked to get here and the deeper importance of being together, even when some people’s shoes stink with what they’ve walked through. The bushel basket of apples by the front door: local nourishment, patience in edible form, take one if you need it.
“We’re the Bomadils… the guitarist reminds us… ya know… named after Tom… in the Lord of the Rings… the one who was always singing. We wrote this song at an artist’s retreat in Banff, Alberta. We had this little hut in the woods, there was a piano in it… and a desk… nothing else… and there was snow all around. There was this elk that would walk by the window…. We went out there to write music, and in this amazing place this song was written… I hope you like it.”
And just like that, with a fiddle and a bow, a guitarist’s fingers and a cello that played it’s lady beautifully, humanity was shared by us all.
As an act of commitment to celebrating our shared humanity, you could buy their music. I did.
Photo Credit: <oo-jel-lah>