January 22, 2017
Sunday Morning~ Blantyre
Akulu ndi mambo mozimira mota. ~ Elders are the swamp where the bushfire goes out.
When I was in high school, my part time job was at Irene’s Stitch It Shop; a little tailor shop in the masonic block in downtown Maynard. Irene Mayberry started taking in sewing to support her family when her husband was too incapacitated to work. He was an alcoholic long before there were treatment programs. She told us stories about sneaking Antabuse into his drinks. She’d spent Sunday’s going from the mental hospital to the prison–––one to visit her husband, one her son. She’d had a hard life but was the most upbeat person I’d ever met. Her husband died and she remarried a local businessman who adored her. She wanted for nothing and her successful business flourished. It was a time when people had their clothes altered, their jacket zipper’s replaced, and their pants hemmed. Her shop was as busy as the cobbler’s. Irene was a devout Catholic and wore it on her sleeve; she said it was what saved her. Whenever we couldn’t find a customer’s item she’d say, “Everyone! Stop what you’re doing and say a prayer to St. Anthony!” And it always seemed like minutes later we’d find it. She’d lived through the depression and the war and we’d listen, captivated, by her stories. She was very funny. When one of us was upset about something, she’d listen compassionately and say, “Never a cross without a resurrection!”
So, maybe I was thinking of her when I thought praying might do some good. I was wrong. My prayers weren’t answered, at least in the way I wanted them to be. He was laughingly sworn in as president, as if the bible or any promise he makes means anything to him. I had made myself believe there was some ace Obama hadn’t played yet.
I couldn’t sleep Thursday night. Friday, I went to work as groggy and depressed as I was the day after the election. “We’re seven hours ahead”, I kept telling myself. “It hasn’t happened yet.” I tried to focus on the evaluations I was supposed to be doing. Tried to work on my next lecture, which was ironically: End of Life Care. I wanted to be home with my tribe. I wanted to be with my daughter and my friends. I wanted to march with them all. I needed to be with people who were as upset as me and wanted to do something about it. I want to be part of the movement. I was anxious to the point of panic that there would be violence against those peaceful protesters marching for justice and truth. The universe may bend toward justice, Dr King, but how wide is the arc?
I’m reading a book, Iron Curtain, The Crushing of Eastern Europe, by Anne Applebaum. It’s not an easy read but I’m trying to get through a few pages every day. Friday morning I read this passage:
Szymon Bojko, a Pole serving in the Kosciusko Division, the Polish division of the Red Army, arrived in the last days of the Uprising, and watched Warsaw burn from the other side of the river. ‘I had a feeling of disaster inside me,’ he remembered later: ‘Nothing political. Just foreboding.’ In the words of the historian Andrzej Friszke, the failure created ‘a deep gloom, a crisis of faith in the West, ….’. p. 104
I thought the foreboding was exactly what I was experiencing and had the panicky thought that the passage was some kind of prophesy; we are heading toward the fate of Eastern Europe. They didn’t think it could happen either. We didn’t think this inauguration could happen, but here we were. So who knows where we are heading? Then I saw a headline saying the New York Times had information about Russian influence on the election months ago but agreed not to make it public. I was shaking. Could that possibly be true? The NYT was complicit? What year is this? How bought are we? I don’t know what’s real anymore. I googled “gaslighting” and read about that. I got no work done.
I always thought the fear of Russia was a remnant of my cold war childhood, and was never really warranted. I never got why McCarthy had so much power. I remember hearing a reporter say, “I’m not afraid of Russia. I’ve been to the bathroom there.” I never heard of our ballerinas going over there to defect, so what was the big deal? So why did knowing about their influence in our election scare me so much? Am I more afraid of the fact that he is actually president or that so many people in my country voted for him? Or am I afraid that being an American overseas will make me a target now? And whenever I am fearful I think of Miss Manock saying, “Every fear is a fear of death. So wear death on your shoulder. And if you are fearful, you turn and ask death if it is your day? If the answer is ‘No’, then there is nothing to be afraid of.”
I was pulling out all my mentors. Where were they and why weren’t they making me feel better?
Someone organized a solidarity gathering here in Blantyre to coincide with the march at home. I was so relieved to have someplace to go; to have our numbers counted; to be with like-minded people. I was desperate. I was grateful. When I could get on-line I watched the number of marches grow and flickers of hope started rekindling in my heart. I resorted to reading trolling tweets on a staged photo of him “working on the inaugural address” with a tablet and sharpie. The comments are hilarious. It felt good to laugh but I also felt a little sick. I couldn’t believe how low we’ve sunk, (while considering how very many funny people there are in the world. Very clever. Very quick).
So it happened on Friday. The world didn’t stop turning. I stayed away from the news, not knowing if that’s good, but it was self-preservation. Reviewing the stages of grief for my lecture I went back to denial for awhile. It felt better.
I woke yesterday morning unable to hear in one ear and dizzy when I stood up. Not sure what this is, but I had a hard time getting through the day. I made it to the solidarity gathering, but had a hard time hearing people. I didn’t stay long and spent the rest of the day lying down glued to Facebook. The images coming in from around the world lifted me. The signs made me laugh. The comments were eloquent and spiritual and powerful. The air is electric with this energy and I feel in my bones now, the resurrection is coming. This doesn’t scare me anymore. We’ve collectively woken up. We’re getting organized. We’re not going away.
I started taking Chichewa lessons this past week and our first list of vocabulary included akulu, which means “elders”. The Chewa culture is very respectful of elders. It is an honor to grow old and elders are highly revered. The teacher put the word into a sentence and gave us the proverb, Akulu ndi mambo mozimira mota and translated it for us. We were perplexed, knowing how important the elders are here. Elders are the swamp? “Yes”, he said. “When there is a commotion, the elders are the ones who put an end to it. Children will stop fighting when word gets to the elders.” And I thought, yeah, I like that. We use swamp as a negative, as in drain the swamp. Here, it’s a godsend. So let this march be the swamp where the bushfire ends.
We’ve got some replanting to do and spring is coming.