Yesterday, a woman with Bible verses all over her Facebook wall commented in response to a political news story my boyfriend shared. “Go back to where you came from,” she said.
Along with his many other skills, my partner writes beautiful songs. They fall out of his fingers through pianos, guitars, computer buttons, basses, drums, and lyrics scribbled on napkins, they arrive on the doorstep of his unconscious mind from I know not where. I think a lot about the unknown and probably divine sources of creativity. I keep thinking about the fact that you never hear beautiful songs with refrains saying things like, “Go back to where you came from.”
No, love songs are so much more abundant. Coincidence?
Like most Americans, these days I am thinking a lot about truth—where to find it and what to do with it.
Last night I watched a movie that captured my imagination. I was transported—not because the world it depicted was very different from the one we’re living in now; on the contrary, the world was quite somber, chaotic, and realistic. But the film presented ideas about time and possibility and the universe and memory and perspective that lit up my mind. It was like remembering how to take a deep breath after only breathing from the neck up for weeks.
“Remember,” I said to my partner, “we used to talk about these cosmic wonderings all the time.”
“We still do, don’t we?”
Sort of. But in the last year and especially in the two weeks since a new American president has stepped into power, something has happened to our imaginations. Of course I know it has been in the context of great privilege and comfort that we have ever been able to practice art, to ask big questions, to daydream. I have only ever intermittently had to answer to the squeeze of a survival mindset, and I do not forget that so much of the world is not so lucky.
But maybe that’s why it’s very relevant to note how the thought patterns in our privileged dreamer household have changed.
Fear is already at work here. It’s glued us to the news. It’s flattened our thoughts. Every day we wake up to find out what else and who else has been threatened. It has us scrolling through feeds seeing photo after photo of a deeply troubled tyrant signing papers, making speeches. He is in almost every conversation. So far the policy changes have only touched our minds, but our bodies are already in a constant state of reactivity.
My similarly-positioned friends are all asking the same question, “What do we do?”
How will we get out of this? How will we get through it?
Even before it became abundantly clear that North Carolina senators had been paid off and would vote for the completely unqualified and problematic nominee for Secretary of Education no matter how many people called begging them not to, I saw the amount of energy expended by my friends urging everyone to call and fight, and I thought…even if we win this one…then what? We can’t possibly keep this up.
Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want to do is discourage or discount existing methods of civic engagement or protest. After all, even if the outcome is not the one we expect or hope for, there is no way to say that thousands of phone calls or gatherings of hundreds of thousands of protesters don’t have an effect. I believe that they do.
I also believe that a sustainable resistance, like deep change, will require prioritizing a greater, divine imagination.
I use the word “divine” here mainly to differentiate between something that resonates on a higher plane (whether you believe in a higher power or not) than the inventions our minds might come up with when someone is polluting them with fear in hopes of controlling us.
Is it a coincidence that one of the first things assaulted in dark times like these is the health of our imaginations? Is it a coincidence that the organizers of January’s inauguration had such a hard time finding artists to participate? Is it a coincidence that the National Endowment for the Arts is on the chopping block despite the tiny fraction of the federal budget it occupies (and the $135.2 billion the arts generate every year)?
Our higher, mysterious, connected imaginations want to lead us out of the sick grip of greed and control if we will let them. It’s time to listen.
Something that has come to me over and over through the years when I listen to the “still small voice within” is this phrase:
“You can be sad, but do not be afraid.”
Let us be disappointed; let us be disgusted; let us understand the gravity of the situation; but let’s not allow our imaginations to be perverted or starved by fear. Not now when we need them most.
We’re going to need inventive ways to communicate with each other. We’re going to need genuine expression to fuel our own inspiration and energy. We’re going to need vision and improvisation to build new systems and structures that work.
No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, I’m not sure that anyone would argue with the statement that our current system is not working. Could it be that following structures built centuries ago by white men of certain social standing who prized logic, debate, and business above all else has steered us into corners we can’t argue our way out of anymore?
What qualities are lacking that could bring us better into balance? What new paths could we imagine to write ourselves out of these corners if we allowed ourselves more tools, more voices, more room?
At the risk of plagiarizing Gandhi, I urge you to consider again his “be the change.”
Right now, our lives should be radical experiments for how we want the world to transform.
I’m going to try to turn my most bleak and helpless feeling moments into the energy to take big, imaginative risks. Who knows what will happen?