I'm a little late this week, I know; last week's flu (which I do not recommend) dragged into this weekend, too, and rather than another skip week, I figured I'd just delay a bit. I trust you'll forgive me.
In all my conflicted thinking about gods and religions, I've always found the Christmas story moving, because of the idea of the new world being brought forth literally as a mother births a child. The lines from songs that make me shiver at Christmas have always been Mary did you know? and this seems such a strange way to save the world.
I've been struggling to keep my footing a little lately. The week-long illness didn't help, but there's a sense of futility looming over me that I've been trying very hard to fend off since the election. This heavy knowledge that the vision I have of what a good world looks like is even less widespread than it was fifteen years ago. Details aside, because although the details are important we're nowhere near that point yet, I want to live in a world where people need one another and recognize that need by showing up for each other. I do what I can to make that world, but all of what I can do feels very, very small right now. It's been tempting, honestly, to hunker down and hope the next generation figures it out. Trouble is, we don't have time.
One of the first births I attended as a doula was a young, immigrant mother with a toddler already in tow, and it was fast. In the time it took me to get to the hospital to meet her, she'd gone from just-barely-in-labor to pushing. I arrived just in time to take over for her husband so he could pick up their daughter from daycare. Contrary to what most people believe, ultra-fast births are often more difficult than average-length ones, and this was no exception. There were a couple of hours, while the mother recovered, where I was that baby's person. The only person he had ever known in daylight. He was not my baby; apart from those hours and a single photo in his baby album, I might have never been there. But for those hours, I was his person, and I felt an almost physical sense of the universe expanding to make room for the person he was and would become.
I thought of that rapidly-expanding universe again while we sat in the theater watching Moana. I thought of the long line of Disney movies with heroines aching for horizons, for the sea or the land, for great-wild-somewheres, for more reliable mirrors, while their parents or villages or cultures told them they already had everything they needed, that the way things are is just the way things are. The first act of Moana centers around her desire to go in opposition to her people's fear of the open water and their trust that their island can provide for them, except that it can't. It's falling apart. And so they send a child into the unknown, send her out to face their fears. They send her out alone.
It's hardly fair, really, even though she wants to do it. And yet I can sympathize with the temptation to send the dreaming powerful girl full of potential out to change the world. We've got roots now; it's harder to follow the wind. The problem with the stories, though, is that while the narrative follows the hero who finds the solution, we don't get to see many examples of the people who stay behind, trying to figure out the way through it, not knowing if it'll ever get better.
My thoughts keep coming back to a line from Marge Piercy's "To be of Use," which I've referenced in this newsletter before:
The work of the world is common as mud.
I think what I'm coming around to, as I usually do, is that the world needs both. We need the people who stand tall and speak truth loudly, and we also need people who
[...] harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
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