Sickness and Resistance
So writing this, on the eve of the 2017 inauguration (surely if you know me, you know I'm not getting up in the morning to write!), I've spent the day sitting with and taking care of a sick kiddo. Puke, aches, the whole nine yards. Which is a long way of introducing that I have been thinking about sickness and resistance today.
When I was about her age, I came down with the same sort of miserable bug. As I tended to, I spent the time I was awake reading, and then half dreaming processed those stories into my fevered memory. One of these stories was Mischief in Fez by Eleanor Hoffman. It's a story inspired by her travels and supporting herself by buying and selling Moroccan rugs in the early part of the 20th century. Mousa is a young boy who, in the way of many tales, has lost his mother. His father meets and weds a new wife and all sorts of troubles start befalling their household, for which Mousa is blamed. He knows he's innocent, and so goes to the market to consult a wise man about how to figure out what's going on. There are djinns involved, including one disguised as a tiny fennec fox who helps him. I've finally found that this is available again and bought it a few years ago and read the entire thing in two hours - lost again in the story.
There was another story in the anthology in which I originally read Mischief in Fez that I am still trying to find. It was the story of a young princess who ventures into a part of the castle she has been told not to go into and finds a beautiful old woman there. Turns out it's her grandmother, there's something about a rose... water spray? scent of roses? and in the end, the King and his mother, are joyfully reunited and the princess is allowed to visit her grandmother. When I'm sick, I can almost smell the vivid roses from this story.
Stories are important -- they help us explore the range of human experience. They help us understand who we are. They help us transmit wisdom and knowledge, literal and implied. And in times like these, they remind us that resistance is important, that it's possible, and that with perseverance and creativity, you can get quite a long way. In real life there isn't always a happily ever after, but there is always the journey.
Jospeh Campbell posited that there is a Hero's Journey behind all story arcs - there are seventeen stages in his 'monomyth'. There are, of course, variations on this theme, such as Maureen Murdock's Heroine's Journey, among others. This can be a useful framing as we move through our own stories as a reminder that we will not always be in 'the ordinary world', waiting for a call to adventure. That we won't always be stuck in testing and trials (as much as it seems like this part lasts forever and comes up over and over again). Eventually even our stories come around and begin again. And along the way we learn what questions to ask, we learn our lessons or have to relearn them, we learn how to defend our values. And hopefully as we wrap up each phase of our stories to begin anew, we come away with new found strength, and at the very least, a good story to tell about the time when, once upon a time, a long time ago...
Now is the time to look to stories, of real people, and of wild and improbable fictions, to help us find ways to exist, to resist, to find ways big and small of doing the right thing in a time when the world seems turned upside down. And also a time to remember as a few other voices out there are noting that this too is part of the human experience, history travels in waves and tides.
As I look towards the next four, eight, ten years, depending on how any multiplicity of variables play out, things will be potentially very ugly, even uglier, or maybe just sort of uglier for some. While the realist in me acknowledges this, the optimist also has some hope that there are now, more than ever before, sane knowledgeable people (that's us), in bigger numbers than ever before who can stay engaged and actively participating in a civic life that is truly so broad that it can be overwhelming. That we can find our meaningful niches, and working together, that we can swing the pendulum away from where it seems to be headed now. Finding inspiration in the tales we learned as children and in history, in our friends's lives, finding empathy and connection across what seems to be uncrossable chasms.
The world feels sick right now. May the immune system of the civic body be up to the tasks and trials put to it in this stage of our journey.
With love and curiosity (and resistance and hope),