I’ve begun to wonder lately what it was like to be a woman in 1918 fighting for the right to vote. Or an abolitionist in 1862. Or a civil rights advocate in 1962. I’ve begun to wonder what it was like for them before they knew they’d win — at least legally — and how they felt, beyond what we can research. Beyond their rousing words. Beyond their determination to stay the course. Beyond the paragons they’ve become in the annals of history.
What what it really like for them? What thoughts plagued their minds? How did their bodies feel? How many times did they wish for resolution?
I always see the World Changers as strong and courageous — probably because they are — but I also wonder, were they weary beyond words? Did they doubt their voices mattered? Did they long for a Saturday to sleep in, and an end to jaw clenching and tension headaches? Were they heartsick over being misunderstood and labeled Angry and Aggressive and Bitter and Shrill, and did they have to practice deep breaths and mindfulness or read smutty vampire novels to escape reality a while?
Did they put themselves to bed early because they were Unable to Can? Not even for one second more?
Did they sit in the bathtub until they were wrinkly because it was a good place to hide?
Did they grieve, all the time, under the surface (and on top of it when they couldn’t hide it), the families and friends who cast them aside? Did they think constantly about the disphoria and dissonance of being excluded from the institutions and clubs and churches and parties that insisted the World Changers were the problem, instead of the diseased subculture that rewarded complacency and compliance?
Did they eat whole packages of Thin Mints or equivalent in the car on the way home because it was soothing, and they chose on occasion Any Kind of Soothing even though they knew it was temporary?
Did they mourn the way their kids had to pay the price for their parents’ Loud Voices and Refusal to Accept an Unjust Status Quo? Their kids’ loss of friendships? Their kids’ lack of intimacy with extended family? Were they proud of the way their kids innately understood the fight for equality and championed their parents and rallied to their parents’ cause because kids aren’t yet marred by Cultural Expectations and still innately understand the Way of Love?
I used to wonder whether there would be a profound cultural shift in my lifetime. A rise of evil so great we’d have to act.
I’d read about Jesus’ fight against the Pharisees with their rule-bound faith and checkboxes and narrow lists of Who’s In and Who’s Out. I’d studied the Holocaust and mass genocide and the way whole countries stood aside to wait, even after they discovered the atrocities. I’d researched Women’s Suffrage, and Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I wondered how Good People could stay on the sidelines, silent. Claiming “civility.” How could they willfully refuse to see the injustice and cruelty perpetuated on the vulnerable on their watch?
I’d read about it all, but, as a privileged, white, middle class human, I wondered whether I’d ever face my own Moment of Truth when I’d have to pick between What is Right and What is Comfortable. And in the meantime I (willfully) failed to see the injustice and cruelty perpetuated on people of color, and people who experience disability, and people who experience poverty, and sexual and gender minorities. I lived through the vilification of folks who are LGBTQ during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. And I was complicit in their suffering because I was comfortable in my own life — untouched by their trauma, assured of my own righteousness — and, therefore, silent.
Then 2016 happened, and Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Hatred and Exclusion and Fear and Xenophobia had a mouthpiece aided and amplified by the White Evangelical Church. The vulnerable were afraid, which should always be a red flag; a canary in the coal mine. When the vulnerable are afraid, SOMETHING IS GRAVELY WRONG, friends. <— This is how we know we’re fucking things up. And then, the (White Evangelical) Church I had loved split because it could not love, welcome, and include folks who are LGBTQ.
It occurred to me recently — like, yesterday, at noon — that we’re all living through collective trauma, those of us who are awake and listening to the sets and subsets of society who are crying out for help. We’re in our own societal crisis. We’re living through our own cultural genocide where the goal is to eradicate the vulnerable groups. To minimize the suffering of people of color. To belittle those who are LGBTQ. To vilify the immigrants. To dismiss heartache and hurt. To make sufferers “other” rather than “us.”
I don’t wonder anymore when evil will rise in my lifetime or when it will be time to fight. It’s risen. It was here long before I recognized it. And the time to fight is now. And yesterday. And tomorrow.
To be honest, I feel inadequate for the task ahead. I’m no MLK, Jr. I’m no Son of God. I’m not tireless; I’m tireful. Full of tired. And also, full of Thin Mints. But I have a voice. And I’ll use it.
We’re living through a collective trauma, and we’re unsettled the same way I bet the Suffragettes were unsettled, and the folks who ran the Underground Railroad were unsettled, and Luther was unsettled when he nailed his 95 theses to the church doors to protest corruption by the Church. I’m starting to suspect being unsettled is part of it. Part of change. Part of reformation. Part of slowly turning the ship of cultural norms toward compassion.
Which means we’re World Changers, too. Feeling the same aches and agony and uncertainty World Changers have felt for centuries. Eons. Feeling the same inadequacy and carrying on regardless. Which is what it takes to be a World Changer, I bet. Seeing the trauma. Saying out loud it’s not OK. And wishing for more time in the bath.
So here’s to the World Changers, friends. Me. And you.
And here’s hoping we all get to go to bed early.
Waving in the dark,
P.S. IDK if any of that made sense, but I’m putting it out there anyway. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I figure, it’s a weird time we’re living in, so it’s OK if what I put out there is weird, too. Yes? Yes. Thx for understanding.