I am a Citizen of the World, So This IS My Fight

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Claire Colvin -My Fight3

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.

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Claire Colvin
Claire is learning to call herself a feminist. She has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade. In 2013, her National Novel Writing Month entry was a science fiction story about a broken world where everyone was required to be as similar as possible. Claire wishes she could fold the world like a map so the people she loves weren’t so far away. She lives on a small mountain near Vancouver and writes at clairecolvin.ca.
Claire Colvin
Claire Colvin

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Claire Colvin
  • “It’s not my anger that will change things; it’s my action.”

    There’s so much here, Claire, thank you …

    And THIS: “When someone—anyone—claims that certain groups of people don’t matter, or don’t belong, it is my fight.”

    I love hearing the fire in your bones.

    • Thanks Idelette! I have never been so affected by another country’s election before, but I wonder if part of that is that I’m paying attention now and perhaps I wasn’t then?

  • Anger as the spark — but not the fuel! Not only is this biblical, I think it may be life-saving. We were just not designed to function well with anger chewing us up from the inside out, and you’ve said (and are doing!) this so well.

    • “We were just not designed to function well with anger chewing us up from the inside out, YES exactly. It amazes me that it took me so long to realize that it wasn’t the anger itself that was going to get things done. You can’t eat fire, you can’t live on it. And for a while there I think I was trying to.

      • pastordt

        Ah. No wonder you lost your voice. Sigh.

  • Lindsay

    I love this. I grew up Pentecostal, and they subconsciously taught me that to be active is to always be on fire. I found out as I got older, this only meant perpetual burn out and wear out. Yes, the Spirit gives us the fire to get started, but the Spirit also gives us the wisdom to do the practical, even and especially when that means self-care. Thank you for sharing, sister!

    • Lindsay, that’s an excellent point. I worked in a national para-church organization for years. They did amazing work, but burnout and staff turnover was pretty common. I think sometimes in church settings we struggle to rest when there are still people who are sick and dying and hungry and enslaved and incarcerated and and and. But that road leads to a lot of hurt people, loss of relationships, loss of the skills they could have brought if they’d just been given a place to rest. I’ve seen pastors burnout in five years and never make it back into the ministry and who does that serve? I wonder why it’s such a hard lesson for us to learn?

  • pastordt

    Amen, amen, amen. I’m re-learning this truth every few days it seems. BREATHE, pick up a crochet project, and . . . watch The West Wing on Netflix. I helps. A lot.

    • I keep relearning it too, and I’m realizing how often passion and fire have been treated as the same thing in my theological upbringing. It’s eye-opening to say the least.

  • Ah, The West Wing. If only Josiah Bartlet could be our real life president. I love this, Claire. And I have felt the same way. I’m glad you know yourself well enough to know when to step back and be silent. I’m still learning. The morning after the ban I immediately did some angry writing. This morning my husband and I were praying together and I had a difficult time when I started, “And I pray for President Trump…” My husband urged me on, “You can do it,” he said. It’s hard. This is all hard–and we’re glad non-Americans are with us in the struggle. Thank you for your words.

    • Josiah Bartlet would be great (especially if he also only ever had to deal with issues that wrapped up so neatly). There is a much longer, and much more-likely-to-cause-arguments version of this article that I think I need to write at some point, I’m just not sure that I’ll ever post it.

  • Helene Burns

    Sorry you had such a rough time with a cold Claire. I pray you are feeling 100% now.

    Your words bring hope in the midst of so much turmoil and pain… I, too am learning how to be angry and yet not sin… to be quick to listen, slow to speak and s-l-o-w to anger. I have been learning like you to turn off the TV and Social Media when my spirit gets too stirred in a negative way. Yet, I have found such hope in meaningful conversations with those who I agree with and with those that I don’t. I have so much to learn and I like your closing words… they speak right to my heart – ‘Do whatever it takes to catch your breath and then we’ll rise up again, together.’

    xx

    • Thanks Helen! Listening is so important, especially when our words are running hot. I am encouraged to think of all of the people working together toward justice. There is much that can be done.

  • This is what so many of us need to read right now, I think. Thank you.