Maybe We’re All Afraid—But of Different Things? (17)

I keep thinking I need to go to a big demonstration—for immigrants, for human rights—but when I hear recordings on NPR a part of me recoils. The chants feel too intense, too assaultive, beating against “them.” It isn’t what I want to be. It doesn’t feel nonviolent. People say Mother Teresa refused to go to anti-war demonstrations, but if we ever held a rally for peace, she said, she’d be there. I want that, a sea of humankind, all swaying and singing “Give Peace a Chance” (hippie osmosis from my childhood). What happened to Gandhi, to King? What happened to peaceful resistance? Can’t we make up songs to sing instead of screaming angry chants? Songs that connect us, singing together in the streets, on freeways or tarmacs, our voices carrying across cities, drifting across the sea. I read that in the wake of the havoc and vitriol President Trump scattered across Europe earlier this month there was a music festival in London. Paul Simon and James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt were all there. Each one of them spoke up. None of them named the president, but every one of them voiced messages of encouragement, messages of love. I’m comforted to know these musicians who I’ve loved all my life were over there, counterpoint to our president’s chaos and hatred, letting people know there are other voices in the United States. Voices that want the world to know we aren’t all ugly and mean. We aren’t all afraid of women, of Muslims, of all the dark-skinned peoples of the world, or foreign tongues, or English spoken with a Mexican accent. We aren’t all afraid of gay marriage or body ink or people in wheelchairs. We aren’t afraid of learning to include all genders, all sexual preferences, to stand up for the rights of children and for a woman’s right to choose. What we are afraid of is losing our humanity inch by inch, of letting what binds us all together be whittled away little by little until it’s too late. What we are afraid of is allowing another holocaust. I wish I’d been in those quiet crowds at that music festival, singing along, soothed. I wonder if James Taylor sang “Shed a Little Light“?

[Editor’s note: Looking at my title now in the light of day—”We Aren’t All Afraid”—I think I might need to change it. Because maybe we ARE all afraid. We’re just afraid of very different things. And some of the same ordinary things, too.]

What a Wonderful World

This is the note I wrote to go out with my Christmas cards this year. They have a colorful tree and the words “What a wonderful world” on the front of the card. I thought I’d like to share it here with all of the rest of you, too. Happy new era. Happy holidays.

image of ornaments on a tree

I first reached for this card because I liked the cool, artsy tree, the newsprint and paint. Texture and color pull me. The words on the cover conjure Louis Armstrong.
“I see friends shaking hands,” he sings in his rich, unmistakeable voice, “saying how do you do. They’re really saying, I love you.” The song was released the year before Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. But you can hear the love in Armstrong’s voice. He was courageous enough, large enough, to believe in us, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. So when the phrase makes me pause, makes me wonder if it’s okay to choose this card given all the violence, all the hate, all the tragedy in our world, I can’t help but think there’s something wrong with that, something wrong that I should hesitate. These things don’t make the words untrue, do they? It is a world full of wonder—big sky, palo verde trees, grackles, people helping. It’s the world my father saw, the small wonders, a person’s profile in that gnarl of tide-washed wood, the magic bean sprouts he brought for my dog Sanji when she was dying, the label he made on his old manual typewriter still taped to the jar, crisp in memory, a cherished item when he died just weeks after she did. It makes me want to cry for him, for both of them gone now these 27 years. But it’s layered in me, the way they loved me, the way I’ll love them always. They are composted in me, rich, fertile soil, my carpet, my gifts, my wonder. And this is the time to look to those we love today, remember they are our diamonds, our emeralds, to run our fingers through them, these gemstones of ours, to spread them out in the morning sunlight or kiss the fire of their facets in the shining of the moon. Bring warm scarves, bundle them forward in the quiet almost-winter afternoon, count ourselves lucky. What a wonderful world.