It’s not yet 1:00 in the morning on November 9, 2016. I’ve been to a bar, where I had a glass of wine and waited, trying to ignore the sinking feeling. I came home and did the shot that I was hoping would be celebratory before falling asleep not too long after my usual 9:30pm bedtime. Insomnia, my usual friend, woke me at a usual time and after a period of back-and-forth of the relative merits of knowing/not knowing, I got up and hit the Google App icon on my phone. Google knew what I wanted to know. The results were sitting right there. I didn’t even have to type.
I find myself thinking of a different time in my life. South Boston. I was an early adult, floundering my way through my first post-college job, managing pretty well with the bills and the brick-a-brack of day-to-day living and completely failing at actual life. Aside from my boyfriend, who had bounced back to his suburban home with his parents, I had no friends close by. I went to work with people much older than me who were nice, but remote. I still hadn’t gotten used to the standoffishness of New England (and maybe I never did.) The social connections I now have over the internet weren’t a part of my life and I was intensely lonely and depressed.
I spent a lot of time thinking about end times, and contemplated becoming a plumber because I figured when things fell apart, plumbing would be one thing that was maintained the longest. I saw so many signs that society was going to collapse, that this could all be over tomorrow. It was a terrifying prospect: the end of everything. It was an exhilarating prospect: the end of everything. I wanted to end.
The library, as always, provided solace. There was a branch library two blocks from my house and I went there and to the big Boston Public Library in Copley Square. Like all libraries, there was programming and so it was that I clomped down the stairs in green L.L. Bean barn boots one cold winter evening to see David Macauley give a talk.
I remembered David Macauley’s books Castle and City and Motel of the Mysteries from my adolescence and I went to see him because I admired how he broke down complex things from the past into small details that added up to a bigger whole. He was awesome that way. But also I went to see him because I’d never seen an author of any book talk before. I marveled that this was a free event.
David Macauley had no idea when he came to discuss his drawing process, but his talk was exactly what I needed. It seemed that the author and I shared a similar period of growth. He also felt lost and alone and like society was falling apart all around him. And for Mr. Macauley, that period of his life coincided with a year of study abroad in Rome.
Rome. I can still remember the look of peace that came over his face when he said the word. Rome was comforting to him because everywhere he went, he was standing in a place where people had lived for more than two-thousand years. Rome had been sacked and occupied over and over again and yet it still remained. Society had collapsed, and collapsed again and Rome still stood. Rome lives.
Things would remain bad for me for several years, but I walked out of that reading with a signed copy of his picture book Rome-antics and a feeling of hope. Rome lives.
A few years ago, when the 2016 presidential campaign was in a very embryonic period of its longer-than-an-elephant’s gestation, I made a solemn vow. I had read yet another letter to the editor about President Obama and his raging ego and his crazy decisions. Like all the letters of that ilk, this one left me befuddled. Obama’s policies were clearly not to this person’s taste, but overall, the president struck me as a pretty normal dude, trying to get things done. What was up with this person’s venom?
I then recalled my frothing-at-the-mouth denunciations of Obama’s predecessor. Ah. This letter writer was expressing sentiments I’d also had when faced with a president I didn’t agree with on very many levels. It was at that point I took a solemn vow that whoever was president, I would dispute any policies I disagreed with, but I would leave the person him/herself out of it. I would see the president as also a person.
I’ve thought of that vow often during the campaign. I’ve noticed how incredibly odious I found the Republican candidates for president, so much so that it was difficult to focus on what I didn’t like about their policies. As Trump’s campaign raked in win after win, I wondered how, exactly, I was going to keep that vow if he should win.
And he has. So I’m going to find out.
I guess it starts with what I believe.
I believe that this is my country; I have no plans to relocate elsewhere. I believe that there is good in every person. I believe that small acts of kindness should be done as often as possible. I believe in saying hello to the people I pass in the streets. I believe that everyone has the right to be who they are and love the people they love.
I believe that we need to make room for the marginalized voices to speak, and be heard. I believe that everyone has the right to food, shelter, an education and healthcare and it’s our job as a country to provide them. I believe that we work better collectively, rather than spending time hopping around in a corner tugging at our own bootstraps.
I believe in speaking up when I disagree and I believe in listening, no matter how hard it might be. I believe in thinking on things. I believe that changing my mind is something that happens when new information is digested and new understandings reached.
I believe that the phrase “be kind and have courage” is a good way to live your life. I believe that things are getting better.
I’m very far away from that floundering post-college person I was. I have friends near and digital, a home in a city I adore, a man that loves me, two cats and a job where I feel like I make some small difference in the world. I will keep my vow. I will not get caught up in petty denunciations of personalities. I will not make fun of anyone, not even people with whom I cannot find a sliver of common ground. I will read and listen and speak. I will live my life as I have every day for my 42 years: I will get up every morning. Hopefully when I go to bed I will have done my part to make someone’s life better. The sun will rise tomorrow. Rome lives. So will we.