Joe Ford, of Louisville, Ky., responds to my recent posts, offering paths to hope and joy during this holiday season. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
My family occasionally hosts an activist who lives in Nicaragua. I think of her now, and her adopted country, and her regional neighbors in El Salvador. They have lived through what we imagined in horror would be Trump unleashed: a government that does not serve its people, but rather suppresses and murders them. How is it she and her circle survive? How is it they remain activists, remain the opposition, after decades of repression? They do not give up hope. I do not know how. But perhaps that is the mantle that we need to take on.
It appears that we in the U.S. have faced down that threat…for now, although there is a formidable group of elected officials who still support those authoritarian impulses. But where is our collective hope? Our shared, spontaneous joy? The bonfires and front-yard dances that erupted in my neighborhood the day the election was called?
Perhaps that jubilation has been muted as we continue to confront a second, physical menace. Each day COVID-19 steals thousands of Americans from their families, each one a cruel separation amid devastating national loss. Nonetheless there is hope even there, borne of the vaccines, if we can remain cautious and disciplined for another half a year or so.
At my workplace, a few of us were asked to gather some best practices for dealing with the stress of being an employee, parent, nurse, cook, spouse, and caretaker for elderly parents all at the same time, all from our home office at the kitchen table—while also striving to remain stable, confident and supportive to all (when we really have no idea what is going to happen, when the pandemic will end, when our kids can go back to school, when we can go back to work—or if we will have work). The most common advice:
My plea to you is to not lose joy, to continue to find pleasure where we found it before. Things may seem hopeless and dark, but as my wife, the anthroposophist, reminds me, the shortest day of light has already passed. The light—and hope—will gradually return.
Many of us who read this blog are confessed bibliophiles. So pick up a book. I’d suggest The Secret Life of Trees if you want to be reminded that the rule of nature is not survival of the fittest, is not red in tooth and claw, but is rather the way of mutual cooperation.
Next, perfect a recipe for a drink. A Hot Toddy, or a Manhattan. Something that promotes reflection. Not beer. Maybe port.
Then set aside an hour or two each night to read and sip your drink. Post a comment to this blog with your choices. Let us in on your secrets.
I’m going to choose To Kill a Mockingbird, because it’s been a few years. And I’ll continue my ongoing experiment with the classic Manhattan.
If you cannot do both, do the reading. Do not just drink. :)
Merry Christmas to you all.
2 shots Rye whiskey
1 shot sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 twist orange peel, or a dash of orange liqueur or orange bitters
Mix liquid ingredients together in a glass with a single ice cube. Stir 30 times.
Twist the orange peel over the glass and drop in.
Garnish with a cherry and add a few drops of the cherry juice.
In cold weather, remove the ice cube.
I’ve used up all my words. Whatever I was allotted in 2020 has already spilled on the page. It seems I’ve ranted and wondered and proclaimed all year, and now I have nothing left. Language fails me. My usually active mind is dull. I feel defeated. Lifeless.
While others finally see a glimmer of hope, I remain shrouded in despair. Is it the incessant darkness of winter in Kentucky? The cumulative exhaustion of the last four years? The overwhelming sense of grief engulfing so many across our country?
Having lost the ability to express myself, I, too, feel bereft.
For a few moments this past week, however, I felt the sap gurgle in my veins. A classmate from long ago invited a few of us to walk the paths he had cut through his pastureland and wander the woods along Sharp’s Branch. The sky was still gray, the leaves under our feet damp. But we were instantly silenced by the talkative stream, seemingly full of joy and purpose, and by the slender trees shielding us defiantly from the atrocities of the man-made world nearby.
Quietude settled lightly on our shoulders.
As I try to recapture the serenity of that place, the words still do not come. But I feel a wan smile creep across my face. Perhaps there is hope in me yet.
This past week the pain of the pandemic finally took me down.
No, none of my family members or close friends has contracted COVID. Since the death of one former colleague in early spring, I haven’t lost anyone dear to me to the disease. I remain healthy. But everyone around me seems to be suffering.
They are suffering because they have been around others who have learned they were carrying the coronavirus, and now they don’t know whom they can safely see or whom they may have already infected, pending more testing. They’re suffering because they have family members in extended care facilities and the lockdowns are expanding once again. They’re suffering because they have family members who have recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and they know the road ahead will be further complicated by the demands of growing numbers of COVID patients and overburdened health care workers. They’re suffering because family members have recently died from other causes, but during those illnesses they had limited access to those who were ailing and now they are mourning without the physical tenderness others could offer.
They’re suffering from the prolonged isolation that has finally overcome them.
Throughout this year I’ve made a point to follow the news about the danger of the pandemic and its toll and to read the tributes to those who have lost their lives to this insidious disease. I wanted it to be real for me as I continue to hunker down in the safety of my home. I railed about our collective lack of action combatting the disease. I fretted that more Americans couldn’t do the simplest things to keep everyone safe. More recently, I privately admitted that I wasn’t feeling the fatigue as keenly as others, because I was so comfortable in my own protected space.
But this week it finally overpowered me. I broke down when I read about the untimely death of Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk. I never met Mr. Caulk. I have, of course, read about his efforts to address the inequities of education in Lexington’s schools. I knew a little about his background. I knew he had survived a serious battle with cancer when he first arrived in Kentucky. Today we only know that he succumbed after a brief illness. But that he should lose his life at 49 after displaying a lifetime of courage and after having done so much good, necessary work just seems unbearable. I send my sincere condolences to his family.
So, it appears I too have been broken. I pride myself on my toughness. I want to be a bulwark for others. All my life I’ve told myself that my early losses made me more empathetic, more sympathetic of the suffering of others. But now I feel there is nothing I can offer to all my friends who are reeling.
All I can do is share these words.