January 10, 2022
January has started with a couple of especially cold days, below minus 20 degrees celsius. More cold days are in the forecast for this week.
These cold winter days are reassuring to me. The world still is as I remember it. Granted, it’s not as cold as my growing up years in central Alberta, and it’s not as cold as it used to be in southern Quebec as documented in all those history, historical fiction, and biographic books I’ve read.
So it’s different but also the same. The sameness is encouraging on one level. Climate change seems less threatening when the weather feels normal. Bright and cold January days are a source of deep comfort for me. But the sameness of living during a time of curfews and case counts is discouraging, to say the least.
Where I live the provincial government has instituted a curfew, again. Curfews are a tool of authoritarian governments, and should be reserved for extremely rare and unique circumstances. I never imagined myself living in a place and time that would warrant such restrictions. It follows that if I didn’t imagine this, and the on-going inexplicable compliance of citizens in response, what else will come to pass in my life?
Here in Quebec, we’ve been under a continuously renewed “declared state of emergency” for almost 22 months, wherein the government can use “emergency” power to override legislative procedure, including debate, and make all kinds of unilateral decisions, not permitted during non-emergencies.
When will we ever leave this interminable pandemic behind? When will these measures lift? I fear we won’t ever leave the damage of this time behind, and that we’ve given up freedoms we will never regain.
I fear many things this winter.
When we moved to Montreal six and half years ago I was at the bottom of a deep well and to help dig my way out I did a lot of journaling, writing (published to my blog and still in drafts), self-assessments, CBT hacks, and list making (things the make me happy; personality traits; things that are working for me, things that aren’t; etc…).
These tools needn’t be reserved for times of crisis, but I haven’t used them as consistently since.
January, a season of layered knits
As I’ve turned the corner into a new chapter of my life - the post-homeschooling, find my way into a new career phase - my self-reflective journalling activities (the lists, color coding my life goals) have decreased in frequency.
I made a plan and now I’m doing the plan.
It would seem, now that I’m working the plan, there should be less “who the heck am I? where am I going? how will I get there?” But in truth these questions still gnaw at my psyche all the time, especially during intensely reflective seasons like December and January. Especially as I live eyes wide open to climate change. Especially as I wake up to my privilege. Especially during the on-going apocalypse of the pandemic.
The things revealed in the past two years about our society, our climate, our government and the systems we depend upon, have sent me back to the drawing board of my life and decision-making. I am re-calibrating all of it. (I feel that my friends in the States got a jump start on this process with the election of Donald Trump, and then a turbo boost of awakening with Black Lives Matter and the infamous Capitol riot last year on January 6th.)
A fair chunk of my base assumptions about how the world, at least my little corner of it, should and does operate have been upended in recent years. Hot on the heals of my personal religious deconstruction and parenting teens, which are upending events all their own.
I’ve been privileged to live in a lot of ignorance and naivety about the fundamental structures of our society, both malevolent and benevolent. Leaving the malevolent elements aside for now, I’ve believed in the immutability of democracy and the safety of our social security nets, including our health care system. I’ve put a lot of faith in these because I’ve had no reason not to, until recently.
The fact that I could trust these systems till now speaks so strongly of my privilege it causes me shame.
It also speaks to my religious heritage which had a strong dose of magical thinking about the future in spite of the fact that the central character of our tradition is freakin' murdered before his resurrection. Sure there’s “magic”, or whatever you want to call it in that resurrection, but there’s no bypass around death to get there. That death, of ideas, health, relationships, humans as the apex species on earth, etc… may be more than we bargained for. And we do not know what kind of resurrection, if one exists at all, awaits us on the other side. (This is a faith after all, not a certainty.)
I wrote an especially self-reflective piece for the blog last month. A 46th birthday gift to myself. The tone is more assured, energetic, and hopeful than I can muster right now. I didn’t get it published before the Christmas holiday and I’m hoping the ideas it contains won’t pour like so much sand through my fingers in the next couple weeks, rendering it all un-true. It was true a month ago, it should still be true now. Right?
But what was true one month ago is not necessarily true now. Sure, facts remain but the retelling of facts, our interpretation of them, how we engage with them, changes, all the time. I’m not a complete relativist when it comes to Truth but so much of what we call Truth is just “how I see the world”. And sometimes, philosophical discussions of capital T truth aside, things just change.
I ended 2021 in grief and deep sadness; feeling loss, disappointment, and uncertainty about the future. I let myself feel it. I named it. (I also read and watched TV to escape it.) I shared it with my husband in a late evening rush of tears, snot, fear, and anger, as he coaxed the words from me.
I didn’t want to talk about it, I still don’t, but he invited me to and held the space for me. And even though those deeply raw and honest conversations can be sources of pain for one another in the sharing (it’s hard to witness your loved one’s suffering and I’m always scared of what I might say that can’t be unsaid) they also bring small measures of hope in the solidarity.
To be loved this much is such a gift.
A small aside: I love my husband’s ability to see things from a different perspective than my own. We engage with, and experience the world in fundamentally different ways. I appreciate this diversity.
However, once upon a time I thought his perspective was better than mine, due, in no small part to being raised in a patriarchal religion (& culture). But also because he’s super technical and analytical, traits deemed desirable in a science-orientated society.
We had to go through a lot of marital pain to break free of my enculturation around male “rightness”. And I’m still on that journey. Once upon a time (instances may even be recorded here on this blog) I sought hope and answers in Damien’s way of seeing the situation, and I would have tried to wear those glasses myself, even though they were poor fit for my head.
Now, when I share these most difficult emotions with Damien what I gain from the encounter is the solidarity of sharing. I don’t expect easy answers. He’s not going to fix it for me (oh, he sure tried early in our marriage). But he listens, and just in the listening the burden lightens a bit.
Back to present circumstances.
A lot of things I’ve taken for granted, assumptions about reality that I’ve built my life upon and that have informed my decision-making, feel tenuous and endangered, or flat-out untrue. My children, coming of age in the third decade of the 21st century have never had the emotional, mental, or spiritual "benefit" of taking these things for granted.
My year end and New Year self-reflection now is: what am I going to do in response to “all this?” There is no color-coded personality typing system, no list of my strengths, no bullet journal check boxes that are going to solve any of this.
This isn’t a faith crisis, a marriage crisis, a personal crisis. What I’m experiencing is the angst, uncertainty, and anticipated loss of a whole system in crisis. That I’ve lived nearly five decades before experiencing this kind of discontinuity and disruption to my well-being is a statement of enormous privilege.
This past weekend, I attended a mental health talk as part of an education conference. This talk was led by a panel of BIPOC mental health professional women. The question was asked what are we to do with the mental health crisis in our homes? How do we help our children in the unraveling and uncertainty we’re all experiencing?
Before giving us any personal or professional advice, these women, God bless them, grounded us all in the reality that their families and their bodies have been living in the “end times” of cultural crises since colonization. Losing self-governance, everything you hold dear, and a sense of security in the world? They carry that knowledge in their bones. God, I have so much to learn.
The last few years have revealed so much. What should I do with that information? What is true?
The If-Then calculations of life are shifting, where if A is true, then B must follow. The A conditions have either changed, or revealed themselves to be different than what I thought, and so my B’s are in question.
So I stand on the threshold of this New Year with very little confidence in what I can depend upon being true in the future. And a bullet journal of self-reflective plans and lists and intentions isn’t going to change that.
Maybe we never were supposed to have confidence in the future? Live in the present, and all that.
I’m feeling strongly that any confidence I once put there was based on false inputs (that at the time presented true). But goodness gracious, human decision-making is driven by our ability to create projections of the future. And it’s our imagination that presents the opportunity to adjust course and (hopefully) make radical amends for our mistakes. So thinking and planning towards to the future are fundamentally necessary but we (me) probably need to be less attached to the outcomes.
As I enter this New Year I do not feel positive about the future projections. I am tired, weary, sad, and scared.
Remember what I said just last month about hope and faith?
“And my purpose, my work in the world, is to hold the hope and live into the hope until it’s visible for others. And likewise, when I go through my own periods of not seeing, or dark nights and days, of not believing, I’m going to need the hope of others to carry me through.”
Well, this is a period of dark nights and days for me, and I’m depending on the hope of others to carry me through.
I remind myself that hope is embodied in action. And that every small action I take, even when it’s just a crawl, especially when it’s just a crawl, is better than the alternative.
Because here’s the thing about crawling, it keeps me humble. It keeps me in a close-to-the-ground, learning posture. And part of what got us into our collective mess, what gets us into any of our personal messes, is hubris.
Any relationship, structure, or system, whether they are in our homes, schools, offices or governments that lack humility, that lack a healthy dose of “I see it this way, but I could be wrong. How do you see things?”, are on a collision course for corruption of power, and the oppression of others.
So maybe crawling my way into the New Year isn’t such a bad entry after all.
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