Photo: What is more precious than little toes? Little feet that wander the world? They scream of potential. Oh, you have so much to traverse. So many places to go. They are also still clean. Unsullied by the dirt of the world. We kiss little toes and little feet because they haven’t known the true grime of the world. Not yet. But they will…
I have spent the last few days feeling many feelings. Mostly heartbreak. A bit of bitterness. I have spent them trying my best to stay away from the rending of shirts and the gnashing of teeth on Facebook, the various doomsday predictions from my favorite legitimate media outlets. I tried to stay away, but it’s hard to keep your eyes away from the wreckage. The brain just must see it, know it, comprehend it… you can’t really look away.
Because Mom is a journalist, she talked me off the edge a few times. Journalists tell America’s story, and it’s a long one with many narrators. We’ve done this before and we survived, she said. It hurts, but you should have mourned this Supreme Court nomination on election night. It’s done now. We’ve got to fight past it, she said.
A History teacher in my past life, I remember that ours is a history that is relatively short, but it’s full of tumult and this isn’t our first crisis of conscious or identity. I also remember that History takes the long view, that memory is interpreted but not forgetful. It’s all still there. It gets covered and uncovered, “discovered” and reinterpreted constantly. History is alive, and it’s always trying to tell us something. There will be a time when we will look back and clearly see the heroes and the villains. As a History teacher, I remember that we don’t have to be kind when we look back.
As as writer, I went searching for words. Words for this post, mostly. I wanted words that would give helpful comfort, maybe even a bit of inspiration and a glimpse of mission. I wanted, with this post, to recognize how awful this week has been, but to turn your face toward the horizon with something hopeful to hold on to.
But the thing is, I feel like I’ve been writing the same thing for the last few posts. Do something. Anything. Be not overwhelmed by the fire’s intense heat and light. Fear not. Simply keep on.
I am not so adept as to keep repeating the charge with fresh language. I’ve got soul, but… I’m not a soldier.
I went looking for the wisdom of those who know something. I found some wonderful contemporary thoughts and I found some thoughts from my favorite poet, the great Langston Hughes. I came across Freedom’s Plow while reading a bit of poetry to the boys and was amazed by how perfect it is for this moment.
Land created in common,
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on!
If the house is not yet finished,
Don’t be discouraged, builder!
If the fight is not yet won,
Don’t be weary, soldier!
The plan and the pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
into the warp and woof of America:
ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.
NO MAN IS GOOD ENOUGH
TO GOVERN ANOTHER MAN WITHOUT
THAT OTHER’S CONSENT.
BETTER DIE FREE,
THAN LIVE SLAVES.
—a portion of Freedom’s Plow, by Langston Hughes (The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes)
Keep your hand on the plow! Hold on! Don’t be discouraged, Dear Reader!
History tells us this often. American narrative, be it fiction or non, repeats the sentiment again and again. There is no room for despair, while there is always, always room for hope. We have woven into the very fabric of who we are as individuals and as a nation the idea that hopeful, willful, unrelenting fighting for what we believe in will yield from the soil of this life great fruit that will nourish the generations. Our dreams have always been the seeds, our hands and our hearts and our backs have always been the labor (willing or unwilling, which is another thing for another time), and the soil is this place, our neighbors, this democracy, and our collective history. If we despair, if we give up the plow, we give up the opportunity to plant the seeds of our dreams in this damn good soil.
We take for granted how good the soil is, how coveted it is, how it seems to be able to do anything… be it in the hands of a master or a monster or monster alike. All the more reason to keep your hand on the plow! Hold on! If you know the monster is sowing, your charge it to be sure to sow that must faster!
All soil has rocks and roots, tunnels dug by critters, places of clay and other undesirable material… a focused sower knows to keep working the plow, moving the soil, seeking the ground that will yield. This is the work. Keeping the vision, learning the soil, moving it and training it so that it will yield. The ground needs work so that it’s ready to receive. The only person who can do that work is the sower, the person who has an invested interest in making that soil yield. This is the work.
The stanza that follows the one from above is so perfect for this:
Who said those things? Americans!
Who owns those words? America!
Who is America? You, me!
We are America!
To the enemy who would conquer us from without,
We say, NO!
To the enemy who would divide and conquer us from within,
We say, NO!
To all the enemies of these great words:
We say, NO!
Who is America? You, Me!
We are America!
This is our story. We are living just one small chapter of it. This is the “dark night for the soul” portion of the narrative. It’s an invitation to collect, regroup and emerge. This is the part of the story when every lesson we’ve ever learned begins to click, giving us the tools we need to defend the people and things we love that are in imminent danger. We declare for ourselves a future and pull it into this world. We make it so, with gritted teeth and gripping fingers and muscles burning to the point of giving way. We choose to disregard the rules that aid and abed the oppressor. We choose to write new rules that reflect a world worth living in.
If you’ve lost sleep this week wondering what happens next, where do we go from here, what do we do? Let this post be your answer: You grab hold of the plow. You begin to do the work to till for better soil. You move the earth to make it better. You prepare the way for a world worthy for all the dreams you’ve been dreaming.
You do the work.
The world that you want cannot be created without your work.
Keep your hand on the plow, Dear Reader! Hold on!
I am away again for one week as I celebrate the first days of summer vacation with my two precious boys. Believe it or not, school just ended on Wednesday! We need a break. We need time to do our own re-weaving. I’m looking forward to giggles and sleep and making things. I’ll be back on July 9th and expect to be here for a long stretch without stopping. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ll leave you with one more bit of poetry reminding you that you are the light against the darkness. What you do matters. What you choose to do in the coming weeks, months and years will matter. This is the work. We have to do it together if we want to stop being pulled into this deep, dark hole. It will take all of us, giving more than we’ve given. Choosing discomfort. Deciding that what we value is worth what we’re giving.
From Let America be America Again, by Langston Hughes:
O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land gain,
Until the 9th: Shine on, Dear Reader. Do something. Take good care.