On Being the World Changers

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.

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
15 comments
  1. Yup, yup, and more yup. Being affiliated with the United Methodist Church and its continued refusal to accept LGBTQ persons as full members of God’s amazing technicolor creation has left me scratching my head. And, yes, the flame fanning of “them” and “us” is positively mind boggling☹️. I appreciate your Voice in the world and hope that I can use my Voice for Good in my little corner of the world.

    1. Thanks for saying this. I grew up in the UMC and am heartbroken.
      And fed up.
      And speaking out.
      Waving in the dark to a spirit sister.

  2. It makes complete sense, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I love every word if this. Tha is for putting it out there!

  4. Waving to you, from a twilight-y Montreal, Canada. Our provincial government (equivalent to a State) is trying to push through new legislation that no civil servant may wear any religious symbols while at work. So teachers, lawyers, nurses, doctors — all will have to forfeit their crosses and Stars of David and any kind of head covering. Except, of course, that our governmental head office has a giant cross on the wall. Meaning this is nothing more than thinly veiled racism against Muslims — a.k.a. the Biggest Baddest Other we can dream up at present. And in this Lenten season I’m joining with John the Baptist as “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” and begging someone to help us find our way out of this Desert of Hatred…

    I’m also growing rage-ier and heartsick-er and faith-full-er as I age. Makes all of this harder to live with but also easier to see how our common goals may just win the day. <3

  5. Thanks for the info in your second paragraph!

  6. You distilled the tension I’ve been holding and resisting and trying to sit with. Thank you for always reminding us we’re not alone. Xo

  7. I feel you. But for what is worth this inclusive farm you’ve started really lifted my spirits out of an angry, dark (tiredful) place. You are making a difference. You go girl!

  8. What you write is not “weird.” You speak with grace and power and compassion. I would encourage you to “own” it. No apology or qualification necessary. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me this fine morning. I will pass them on 🙂

  9. I just wish that people would be able to separate ideas from the person who voices them. It would also be helpful to stop grouping people to make it so easy to stereotype a person who may hold one quality or idea into a vilifiable offensive person to persecute one way or another. Our nation would not be so divided if we could all just be adults and hold a mature and productive conversation to perpetrate change. Nothing will change if we cannot act like adults when confronting these issues.

  10. Lovely thoughts, and it makes perfect sense. Every time we live in is weird, and it’s the people who want to change the world are usually the ones who do. I’m one. And it’s damned near impossible to keep fighting the good fight (especially when someone – me – works for a newspaper), but we keep on. And we support one another, for not to do so is folly.
    Come writers and critics
    Who prophesize with your pen
    And keep your eyes wide
    The chance won’t come again – B.D.

  11. Oh WOW!! You are right. I had never thought of it this way. I’m not sure if it’s comforting or terrifying, but thanks for giving me a lot to think about. XO

  12. Last year I read the March series of graphic novels by and about Rep. John Lewis, and just today I finished A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren, both of which gave me insights into what it is like to be on the front lines when you don’t know whether you’re going to make a difference (and some of the things they did didn’t succeed, or didn’t feel like they had at the time). However, they also talked about the people who could not be on the front lines but who supported their efforts in some small way, with money, time, or encouraging words. That helped me remember that many people each doing a little bit can make a huge difference.

    I’m subscribed to the Americans of Conscience Checklist, which distills the most pressing issues down to concrete steps you can take to help. I don’t do everything on the list, and some weeks I don’t do anything on the list, but I know that every individual thing has the power to make a difference with others working in concert. I think sometimes finding one next step you can take, and know that others are taking the same step with you, can help us all keep walking through dark times.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing these resources, Jessica!

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