Peace In A Storm: Wind Chimes In A Storm
The past months have changed my world, and the world of many others. Almost everyone I know, on either side of the political and cultural divide, is struggling to deal with it. Some people are angry, some frightened, some embattled, and others endangered.
A friend asked me today how I was dealing with it, and I said I felt I was finding peace in a storm. She was surprised, disappointed, I think, she said it was for her like living in a nightmare. She was outraged at the people who are being harmed. Everything she believed was under attack or threatened with radical change. Why wasn't I angrier or more upset at all of the people who were suffering now?
I don't really argue my political beliefs with people, not on Facebook, not in my life. I sensed a real talk with my friend would have led to argument, she was talking, not listening, so I said we would have to talk about it one day down the road.I know I cannot take in the suffering of all of the people in the world, that would destroy me. I have to make choices.
But I did think about it afterwards.
My idea of peace is internal, not external. No President or presidential candidate can bring me peace, not in winning, not in losing. That responsibility is mine I don't cede it to anyone, not the left, not the right, not people on Facebook. There is nothing that I am more responsible for than for the equilibrium, peace of mind and spirituality I bring to my life.
I covered politics as a reporter for some great newspapers, and I loved doing it, I loved political science and the ugly grinding process of democracy.
I also have very realistic expectations for democracy. It is one wave, then another wave, one tide coming in, another going out. It is never settled or static, most often democracy is a piece of raw meat all the hungry animals are fighting over. When a dog dies, I ask myself, what did I expect? That they would live forever? When an election does not go my way, I ask myself, what did I expect? That everyone would see the world the way I do?
The Trappists believe that everything that hurts or costs them is God's will. I believe that everything that cost me is the way of the fates, a challenge and a gift to me.
Democracy makes a lot of noble noise about itself, and it is, to me, the best form of government yet invented. But it is far from perfect. Democracy is an ugly, grinding, divisive and difficult thing, the founders understood this by making change and the acquisition of power difficult and painful. Nothing is accomplished quickly, easily or without bitter conflict.
What survives triumphs. We tend to romanticize democracy in the same way we romanticize everything, including dogs and animals. It's what we do, we seem to need it.
We have this idea of the rational, thoughtful and well-informed masses speaking up, but the truth is tougher than that. The masses, wrote H.L. Mencken, most often have taken in almost nothing, "they are responsive only to emotions, and their emotions are all elemental – the emotions, indeed of tabby-cats rather than men (and women.)"
Fear is the chief emotion, he wrote, and fear is the tool of the demagogue. The demagogues, said Mencken, are the professors of mob psychology, they make fear the cornerstone of their exact and powerful science. "Politics under democracy," he wrote, "consists almost wholly of the discovery, chase and scotching of bugaboos. The statesman becomes, in the last analysis, a mere witch-hunter, a glorified smeller and snooper."
For me, the past six months have been a gift, and I am wary of saying it, I say it with keen awareness of the fear and anguish to many people are feeling. My side did not win, and I'm not talking about candidates. It is impossible not to see and feel and hear it, without living in a sealed cave.
Compassion and empathy, two of my most sacred values, are on the line, in trouble.
The irony for me is that the November election has been a gift in many ways. I am awakened, patriotic, working to accomplish small acts of good. I am relevant, I am writing and thinking better than I have written and thought in a while, I feel especially alive. Rather than argue, I am using the tools I have to do good, and doing good feels good. It is important that I get up in the morning and do my work. That I tell the story of my farm, but also advocate for the voiceless, for the embattled farmer, the undocumented agricultural worker, the refugee and the immigrant, for the elderly in their institutions.
I have raised a lot of money on my blog, something unimaginable to me even a short while ago. My blog, my creative alter ego, is doing good.
I am a proud member of an Army of Good desperate to make a difference. My values have been aroused, I feel very much a patriot, I want to be a champion of liberty.
I get to sometimes make a difference, and what more could any writer want in his humble life? I am no saint, for sure, but I feel good about myself, I like what the past six months has done for me, even if this period has disturbed and frightened so many others.
I am at peace in the storm, I have my work to do, and I will do it, rather than argue about it. I will listen rather than shout. I will think, rather than argue.
To me, this is not a political issue. This is simply a matter of accepting life, and everything in life is a gift. You give some of the gift to others, if you can.
Thomas Merton wrote that "one should be able to share things with others without bothering too much about how they like it, either, or how they accept it. Assume they will accept it, if they need it. And if they don't need it, why should they accept it? That is their business. Let me accept what is mine and give them all their share, and go my way."
That is surely not the creed of the left or the right, but it is to me, the essence of liberty.
That is my ethos, my moral choice, the way in which I work. I do not care to be labeled, or need to be agreed with, or loved. I care to be thoughtful and honest and civil. Politicians have no say in that. I care to work hard for the values I have, and if people don't need it, why should they accept it? That is their business. Let me accept what is mine and give them their share, and go on about my business.
I have long believed that my life is not an argument for others, it is a matter of accepting life and accepting me. I hope that is helpful to some. I am, in fact, at peace in the storm. I count my many blessings every day. I wish to live nowhere else.
My eyes are open, I hear the cries of the powerless and the poor and the frightened. I will do everything I can to make a difference, and accept the limits of my life.
No one else can take my peace away from me, even as the storm rages, it is one my most precious possessions.