Needing time out to consider the transition to the coming year and the next step in my blog. Happy Holidays to you all. I’ll be back the third week in January.
I watched and listened to our president’s press conference yesterday. For an hour and twenty-seven minutes (a record for him), he stood, often leaning on his elbow in that I’m only-talking- to-you stance. Barely hiding his fatigue, he laid out his thoughts, his regrets, his justifications, his strategies and not-so-subtle messages, to the president-elect.
I am/ have been/always will be grateful for president Obama’s dignity, intelligence, wit and compassion. Marv and I sat riveted— this press conference, after all, was reported to be his last. He was coherent and specific, detailed and ironic, witty and yes, sad, as he spoke of his term ending in 30 plus days. He noted, in particular, how sad he felt as he posed for a last picture with the U.S. Marine Military Band. His candor was refreshing; as president, he could not show tears in front of the Marines.
Obama is almost a decade younger than my own son, but now looks years older, the weight of so many decisions especially as he spoke of his legacy— what he faced when he entered the office, what accomplishments he leaves for his successor. I wondered if he felt dread the way I do, that all he has worked for, all he has achieved could be dismantled, brick by brick, by people with opposite values.
I came away oddly calm, hopeful with the thought that this steady and steadfast man, once out of office, rested, settled in a new home, the mantel and obligation of the presidency behind him, might continue to lead, to offer his opinion and ideas for maintaining our democracy.
As Obama prepares to leave, we enter the week of December 19th, when two events— the Electoral College vote and the winter solstice, the day with the fewest daylight hours— converge. In my present location near Boston, Massachusetts, the winter solstice is on December 21st at 5:44 a.m. On December 22nd, the light, imperceptibly, will begin to shift. Six weeks out, those of us in the Northeast will note a difference by day’s end.
Unlike the gradual return of light over the next six months, I cannot predict the future regarding our president-elect or the effect of his new cabinet on our country. Post election, in a comment on Facebook’s Pantsuit Nation site, a woman wrote that she had been on a conference call with President Obama. Thanking the group for their tireless effort during Hillary’s campaign, he promised that after he and Michelle had a few weeks rest, he would re-engage. “I’m still fired up,” he said.
I am grateful for hope that those now in office who, to the core, honor and live out our democratic values, will continue to lead in whatever way they can. On this day, 24 hours before the Electoral College vote, 3 days before the winter solstice, I am grateful for the promise of evolving light through the next presidential season.
December 12: Boston Globe headlines: CIA finds Russia Worked to Aid Trump: secret report sees ties to hacked DNC e-mails given to Wiki-Leaks.
Upon lifting the shade, I notice three red plump robins leaping about on the branches of the evergreens outside my bedroom window. The fact of their plumpness in early December, the question of what they might be foraging to feed such ampleness, gives me pause. The morning is chill-bone cold, the result of the Polar Express winds roaring through. The garden, the pond, the soil are frozen.
Within minutes, I notice more birds— blue jays in fast flight, their striated wings propelling them across the line of evergreens and back towards the front garden, out of my vision. Soon, there are more: grey and black chickadees, a small flock of black birds, all hurried, appearing excited, fleeting towards and away from the evergreens.
It is the lone red cardinal, on the ground, in flight across the evergreens to my neighbors yard and back again to the front garden, that propels me to a front window. He joins the fat robins, lights on a limb of the apple blossom tree loaded with small, fleshy red berries thawing in the low sun.
I am grateful to delay reading the stories behind the headlines, to resist flocking to the maelstrom surrounding the Putin/Trump bond, Trump’s cabinet choices.
I am grateful to focus on the wisdom of birds, their attraction to acts of nature for their nurture. According to Mother Nature Network, birds are attracted to fruit bearing trees and pick fruits that persist on the tree; the smaller the fruit, the easier it is for the bird to eat.
I dress, grab a coat and my I-phone. I am compelled to see the red berries, the branches, close-up. I face the sun, click on a hazy image, walk more slowly, the sun at my back, to take three more shots. The last, close in, is the best. I want to show the red wet, spongy flesh, like the cranberries I simmered in a wine sauce for Thanksgiving dinner.
In due time, I return to the headlines and delve into the stories. All day long, I flitter in and out of the news, attracted to the possibility of Russian involvement, its meaning in terms of the election, the electoral college, the authenticity of the results. I have lived through red scares—McCarthyism, the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War and now, the Cyber-insurgence, the war of undo influence.
This morning, the birds have flown, the evergreens are quiet; the grey squirrels are back. I am grateful for the lessons learned: to pay attention to the unusual, to take the time to pause, to notice, to dig for meaning. Sometimes, there is delight in red.
Most days in this post election miasma, I have to will myself not to worry like this past Thursday evening, the night of Trump’s first post-election rally, in Cleveland, Ohio.
It was shocking and reminiscent of front-page pictures of Hitler’s 1930’s rallies imbedded in my mind long before I could understand language, the wider world, or my Jewish parent’s worry.
December 3, on Facebook, Timothy Snyder, a contributor to The Dallas News, articulates what I knew in the deep core of my memory. In a commentary titled What You Can Do— Yes You—Can Do to Save America from Tyranny, he writes,
Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so. Here are 20 lessons from across the fearful 20th adapted to the circumstances of today.
There is beauty in Snyder’s words, seeds to be planted that offer possibility, a way to resist and stand up to the rhetoric of intolerance, greed, power and tyranny.
There is beauty in possibility. Some of the lessons he cites I recognize as my own. Several gave me pause and a direction to consider. I list them some of them. For full text, go to http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2016/11/21/learning-history-can-save-america-tyranny
1.Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then start to do it without being asked. You’ve already done this, haven’t you? Stop. Anticipatory obedience teaches authorities what is possible and accelerates unfreedom.
6. Be kind to our language. Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. What to read? Perhaps “The Power of the Powerless” by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev.
7. Stand out. Someone has to. It is easy, in words and deeds, to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. And the moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.
9. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on your screen is there to harm you. Bookmark PropOrNot or other sites that investigate foreign propaganda pushes.
10. Practice corporeal politics. Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them.
11. Make eye contact and small talk. This is not just polite. It is a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down unnecessary social barriers, and come to understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.
12, Take responsibility for the face of the world. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
14. Give regularly to good causes, if you can. Pick a charity and set up autopay. Then you will know that you have made a free choice that is supporting civil society helping others doing something good.
20. Be a patriot. The incoming president is not. Set a good example of what America means for the generations to come. They will need it.
I am grateful for this blog, the opportunity to seed and share the beauty of nature, the beauty of shared lessons and stories. I welcome your comments.