COMMENTARY: Searching for a way forward

How do we live in these times? One step at a time, I tell myself. Try hard. Don’t give up.

I can’t fathom living in a country where most women don’t have reproductive rights. I can’t fathom living in a country where those very same justices obsessed with protecting “preborn humans” don’t want to protect actual humans from a deranged person with an assault rifle. I feel sick about the hypocrisy of it all.

Will the U.S. Supreme Court revisit Citizens United in search of a common law basis for corporations as persons with free speech rights? I don’t think so. This is our reality – that the fate of this country is, to a very large degree, in the hands not simply of constitutional originalists, but conservative zealots.

Where do we begin? I feel overcome by my distractibility, my inability to stay focused and determined. Last month, I researched gun control groups. This month, I’m trying to figure out what organizations are best able to get women abortion medication, which ones provide transportation, lodging, and other support to women and girls forced to travel hundreds of miles for a simple procedure.

And of course, hanging over all of this is the existential crisis of climate change, more real and frightening than ever for what it portends. Here, too, I try to find a way: Consume less; use the bus; fly infrequently. Band-aids on a gaping wound.

Dear friends are expressing a kind of defeat. One friend, in an email to me, said he was focused on his family, his friends, his personal passions – he simply can’t take in the enormity of what we’re facing right now. Another said she is at a complete loss, overcome by a feeling of helplessness.

Mary Pipher, an author and psychologist who spoke to me decades ago with her book, “The Shelter of Each Other,” gave voice to this feeling in a piece in the New York Times last week: “As we are pummeled with daily traumatic information, more and more of us shut down emotionally. … We are not apathetic. We are overwhelmed. Our symptoms resemble those of combat fatigue.”

The next line in this piece should be a call to action – here, friends, is the way forward. But I’m not smart or visionary enough to offer that up. I know I will continue to try hard. It’s in my nature. And maybe I will find a path forward that feels meaningful and hopeful. Maybe I’ll join an underground railroad of activists helping women get access to health care. Maybe I’ll become part of a brigade supporting firefighters tackling the raging fires spawned by climate change. When I retire, I tell myself. Then I’ll do more.

I just finished a novel about the French resistance, about people who risked their lives so that others could live. Would I have had the courage to be a part of such a movement? And what does resistance look like today, when the “enemy” is a kind of zealotry that has taken over not only the Supreme Court but state houses, governors’ mansions, evangelical churches, entire communities?

How do you fight zealotry without embracing another kind of zealotry? And is that what we’re left with?

Right now, like so many people, I’m reeling. I still wake up in the morning and relish the dawn chorus – the symphony of birds alive in the forest. My garden is a happy profusion of color. My family, my friends, my community, the natural world – all are sources of deep joy.

But a cloud hangs over me, darker than any I’ve ever experienced in years. How do we live in these times? One step at a time, I tell myself. Try hard. Don’t give up. On my best days, that’s what I do.

Leslie Brown is the former editor of The Beachcomber.