I remember watching videos of Nazi Germany when I was in school. My friends and I would giggle at the way they marched. “Goose stepping”, it was called. It wasn’t until much later that the horrors those videos depicted were fully realized in my mind, but once they were, they stayed.
To see similar ideologies expressed here, at home, scares the ever-loving tar out of me. Reading the self-assured words of this parody of a man who has managed to somehow secure a tangible hold on our country is disheartening, to say the least. I refuse to mention his name. The thought of my words showing up on some search results page, adding yet another ego-stoking reference…well…I can’t even.
I’d rather focus my energy on people like my friend, Janet. Of course, that’s not really her name. But this is really her story. Twelve and a half years ago, Janet was a mother of three beautiful children. She’d been sober for many years, and she was a beautiful picture of recovery. In June of 2003, her eldest child and only son had just turned thirteen. He went to his usual hangout by the lake with his usual pack of buddies, and he drowned. This June, he will have been gone from this earth longer than he was here.
When I get too worried about what’s going on in Washington, or about what the future holds for the citizens of our great nation, I will myself to think of Janet. Because she was one of the best people I’d ever known before living through a mother’s worst nightmare, and thirteen years later, she still is. She walked through the loss of a child, and she held tight to her sobriety. I can’t even imagine what that was like, but she is hope to me. She is courage. And she’s not the only one.
As a woman in recovery, I’m constantly forced to re-examine my beliefs after witnessing some human somewhere pushing what I thought were the boundaries of possibility. I’m cool with this, as I am aware that my brain is not capable of realizing what people are truly capable of. Not yet.
A college buddy of mine used to say, “People shock the shit out of me every day.” She generally said it, deadpan, after witnessing an unbelievable act of stupidity or a complete lack of self-awareness, and she was always hilariously on point. We really cracked ourselves up in those days.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I find that I am equally shocked by man’s capacity to be courageous during times of adversity, and by the way people can treat others with such complete disregard and absolute cruelty. I wonder if a day will ever come when we truly view others as equals. And I mean all others. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Ask yourself sometime: Do I really see all people as equals? I have to remain ever-vigilant and mindful that I treat everyone the same, and still I fail. I just keep trying to do it better.
Sometimes, it feels like a hopeless hope. Narcissists and sociopaths seem to be reproducing exponentially in our society. They hide in plain sight and charm us until we hold no more use for them. We are left to shoulder the consequences of their cowardly actions, in the midst of often devastating chaos. And I feel like there will always be cowards among us: People who are willing to sacrifice another person’s dignity to protect a public image; people who lie to avoid taking responsibility for actions they willingly chose to take; people who just don’t give a damn. They seem to be everywhere, spreading hatred and fear. They seem to be consuming us.
But then, I see someone walking through something that seems impossible, and doing it with unimaginable grace. Those people always seem to say, “It’s not like I have a choice.”
But they’re wrong. There is always a choice. If there were no choice, those who lie, and take, and evade would not exist. Cowards are just people who made a different choice.
Courage, to me, is a person’s refusal to choose an alternate route around fear, or pain, or grief. These people don’t acknowledge that they could do anything but face reality head on.
Here’s a funny thing I’ve noticed, though: Almost every person I’ve seen bulldoze bravely through the darkness as if it were the only available path is a person who once chose differently. At some point, each one chose the coward’s way out. These people I respect so deeply have pasts, and reputations, and sometimes even rap sheets, and they tell their stories without shame so that others can avoid walking the same painful path.
They are proof that people can change: All people. They are proof that evil can be overcome by good. I’m so grateful to know each and every one of them. Because when I witness the miraculous resilience of the human spirit, I believe we are capable of anything.
We have a long way to go, but maybe that gives us a whisper of a chance.
If we all decided to talk about the miraculous every day wonders we see, instead of expending energy ranting about the countless problems we can’t seem to see past, don’t you think the hue of the whole world could change?
If we all stopped saying his name, or listening for it…what then?