I started 2017 in silence. I caught a monster cold and lost my voice completely for the first two weeks of the year. I am a talkative person, and I felt the loss keenly. I started to get bits of my voice back the third week of January, but even now, weeks later, I don’t sound like myself and I’m just starting to get my singing voice back.
I know there are benefits to silence but I struggled against it, especially at a time where politically I had so much to say. It’s strange watching American politics from north of the 49th parallel. I am Canadian, so it’s technically not my fight; but as a citizen of the world it is my fight. When someone—anyone—claims that certain groups of people don’t matter, or don’t belong, it is my fight.
I am someone who follows the rules and I expect others to follow the rules, so you can imagine my frustration watching the news these past weeks. Throughout the election and in the days that followed the inauguration, I could not keep my silence. I had to speak up. I felt a responsibility to bear witness, to stay informed and not just throw up my hands in despair. Not giving in to despair has been a harder than I expected.
The other day someone I care about told me, “You can’t stay this angry. You’re going to have to find a way.” And at first I recoiled against her words. How could I let go of this anger? I need to be angry, that’s the point. But she had a point too. The anger was burning me up. It curdled my stomach and stole my sleep. It consumed me.
I thought my anger was necessary, that it was the thing that would change the way things are. But I’m learning that’s not true. It’s not my anger that will change things; it’s my action. I needed some fire at the beginning to count myself among the discontented, but this is likely to be a long battle, not a quick skirmish. I cannot survive on fire alone.
Anger can be the spark, but it can’t be the fuel.
If my resistance is going to last, it has to be rooted in love. It has to start with loving the people I’m closest to, some of whom don’t share my politics. Because I love them, I don’t post political memes on Facebook. I try not to pick a fight about every little thing so there’s space to have conversations about the big, important things. The call to love means finding practical things I can do. And it means practicing some self-care and making sure I have a safe place where I can discuss every little thing so I don’t implode.
A friend of mine had to stop watching the news because it was triggering a mental health issue and that’s okay. It’s important to know our own boundaries. Loving well in adverse times means finding a balance between fighting injustice and becoming so overwhelmed that we’re immobilized. Sometimes the idea of rising up feels like a burden we can never set down, but it’s not supposed to be like that. We’re stronger when we rise up and learn and rest and rise up again.
When the travel ban went into effect and people who had risked everything were trapped in the airport, I got to the point where I had to stop. I turned off the news, put down my phone and picked up a piece of embroidery. I put on The West Wing to listen to and I decided to sew until I felt settled again. I stitched for seven hours.
During that time, I did not bear witness to what was happening. I didn’t post on Facebook. I didn’t read the source documents from the White House. I didn’t add to my mental list of All The Things. I let my heart rest. And the next day I got up, and began to read the stories again.
It’s okay to breathe. It’s a privilege to be able to turn away for a while, and I know that. But this is likely to be a long fight and we can’t do it if we cripple ourselves right out of the gate. So breathe. Pet a dog. Drink really good coffee and rage with friends. Do whatever it takes to catch your breath and then we’ll rise up again, together.