Two and a half years ago, completely unexpectedly and seemingly overnight, triggered by who-know-what autoimmune response, arthritis descended upon, or emerged from within, my body. I no longer recognized myself, my lack of energy and ongoing experience of defeat and despair. It took a full year to get an accurate diagnosis. Now, I live with pain, learning to lean into it, challenge it, refusing to let it take over my life. Some days, I want to lie down as soon as I get up, the worst response of all—no response, giving in, giving up, allowing this negative development to take over my life. Experimenting with anti-inflammatory diet, apple cider vinegar and turmeric, foam roller and exercise bands and physical therapy, I am stretching, stretching, stretching—both my body and my mind. I am a work in progress.
The parallels to the 2016 election are striking to me. Some of us stayed awake watching the unexpected, overnight descent into what feels like madness, while some woke up to the pain of living in an America we feel we no longer recognize. From my position as a white, heterosexual, cisgendered woman with arguably too much education, a financially secure household, and health insurance, I have been privileged to be dismayed and depressed by the increasingly entitled expressions of racist, misogynist, homophobic, anti-other anger surging in my country, and by this seemingly sudden confirmation of the power of these diseased symptoms. This was not news to too many living among us, whose otherness is easily identified, worn on their bodies, experienced in an ongoing succession of daily, disheartening interactions. Jon Stewart said it well when he pointed out post-election that America is not “a fundamentally different country than we were two weeks ago,” or when we elected Barack Obama, twice.
Our body politic is living in and with pain, experiencing migrating manifestations of pain in different limbs and locations at different times. I was heartened when President Obama himself, who surely feels this pain acutely and personally as few of us can—as a gracious, intelligent, pragmatic man of integrity who has done his best to lead our country in a positive direction as our first African American President, against unprecedented obstructionism and rising racism—gave us permission in an interview to grieve through Thanksgiving. And we have been grieving.
But this wishfully symbolic national observance of thanksgiving and cultural cooperation is over, and we must stand up, lean into the pain, experiment with every plausible approach we can think of to treat disease, stretching our souls and our minds, exercising and extending our capabilities, and work to heal our afflictions. I am in awe of those who are already out on the streets, the social media groups that have formed, offering proactive, constructive, often-easily-implemented ideas for expressing our collective dismay and opposition to the intentions of the newly-elected leaders of our evolving future. We are still, with any luck and a lot of hard, thoughtful action, a work in Progress.
Mary Peckham for The Poplar Grove Muse