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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Whisper with Me: Yes We Can


Well, here we are a week into the unthinkable, and the response on the part of everyone left of center, high and low, north and south, young and old, has been one of chilled, paralyzed horror and nightmarish imaginings of the totalitarian future about to begin.  Your Head Trucker, situated a good ways out of the mainstream of modern life, has taken a cold satisfaction in realizing that his own insights and fears are shared by many millions of others. 

Indeed, the breadth of this essentially supine reaction across all sections and levels of enlightened society is a telling and perversely reassuring sign:  we all see through the con man's bluster and brag, we all see the same things tucked up his sleeve or behind his back, we are not fooled.  We could not, cannot all be simultaneously deluded this way, so it must be true:  a fearsome great sinkhole has opened at our feet, and we all stand upon the very brink of a dark, putrid, bottomless abyss.

If you didn't sleep through World Lit, you fellas know that over the entrance to Dante's Hell was inscribed "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." And indeed, the temptation to despair, and to despair utterly, is great. What we all fear is not a temporary interruption in the nation's perennial progress towards a more just society, "a more perfect union" -- as we would if any other Republican had won the election -- no, what we fear is a savage, unmitigated assault on every civil liberty and human right, and indeed on the Constitutional order itself, by a howling, bloodthirsty horde of deplorables bent on cruel vengeance against the imagined crimes of "libruls," encouraged and empowered by a narcissistic tyrant at their head whose only law is whim.

Put another way, we now fear not the ordinary classroom bullies at the back of the room with their spitwads and rubber bands, but the greasy older kids in ripped shirts and tattoos who lurk just beyond the schoolyard gate with bike chains and switchblades, blocking the way home.

With the victory of marriage equality last year, I felt, among other things, a great sense of relief, the relief that comes when a long, hard task is finally done.  I thought then that my work here with this blog -- I know it was only preaching to the choir, just one more background extra in a great crowd scene, of no more consequence in the world than an ant toting a grain of sand, but it often felt like carrying a great boulder uphill those seven weary years -- that my work was pretty much done, and that perhaps I should just let the Blue Truck dwindle down and fade away, its primary raison d'etre accomplished, imagining that a broad, smooth highway of equal rights and dignity for folks like us, and all the other despised, beaten-down people, stretched away to infinity under the sunshine.

But now we are stopped at the edge of the gaping, unbridgeable hole in the ground, with nowhere to go but backwards, the place we just escaped from.  And night is falling.  In the near distance, a coyote howls, and another, and another.  In the sky, no moon, and strange lights.  Where can we go?  What can we do?  We stare at each other wonderingly, characters trapped in a horror movie.  What will happen next, we can hardly bear to think, alone here on the ruined road, defenseless and dismayed, and no help in sight.

At this point in the script, invariably one character with just a little more moxie than the others exclaims, "Here's something we can do!" and picks up a tire iron, a rock, a broken bottle, a piece of rope -- and out of suchlike meager resources proceeds to organize a defense.  And somehow, against all odds, the terrified little band manages to escape to safety thereby.

I wish I were that character.  I wish I had a lucky hunch.  I wish I were as resourceful as Jimmy Stewart, or William Holden, or Steve McQueen.  I wish I knew what to do.  But I don't.  I have no clever plan or brave words for you all, and even my halting prayers falter on my tongue.  For I have read the history books and the tragedies, and I know what comes in the next act, barring some unlikely deus ex machina

And I fully understand now what terrified people felt in other times, other countries, facing other disasters, praying that they might be averted, but then -- "that which they greatly feared came upon them."  The ways of God are strange, and His purposes beyond knowing, we are taught; but for the faithful, no defeat is final, they say.  Cold comfort now, in the gathering mists.  Despair is a great sin, perhaps the greatest of all -- but how to resist it?

I am old now, and tired, effectively disabled and impoverished.  I cannot march in the streets or carry signs or block traffic.  My body and my faith are weak.  And I have no sure answers.  But I offer these thoughts, for whatever worth they have.

In some other movie, there is no one wielding a tire iron, but someone says quietly, "Pull yourselves together.  Let's think this through."  And that is what I say to my truckbuddies and readers now.  For as yet, despite many ugly words and even threats, there is no irreversible action against us.  There is yet time to figure out a plan, a means of resistance, an escape route:  something other than silent, spineless submission, which would betray our proud heritage as Americans, the champions of liberty and justice for all.  We are not entirely overthrown yet -- and perhaps, please God, we never shall be.  For we are also taught that God helps those who help themselves.

For one thing, while the institutions of the Republic still exist and function as they should - that is to say, the courts, the legislatures, the police, and essential services -- we have recourse to them, and we must make quick and effective use of them in every instance of tyranny or terror. We have not come so far and fought so hard, these fifty years, to run from battle now at the first trumpet blast.

We can also organize and strategize at the grassroots all over the country, and discover who among us are those Jimmy Stewarts and other sensible, courageous leaders to point the way ahead.

We can speak the truth and call out every lie.  We can cherish facts and ignore rumors.  We can succor those who struggle, and comfort those who weep.

And even if it be that the first blows do not fall on our heads, we can speak up in defense of those groups and individuals who are attacked, and defend them as best we can -- for it is not a question of "our group" or "their group" but "Americans all."  Remember that tyrants like to pick off their victims one at a time, and meanwhile pit one group against another.  But we must not be lulled into a false sense of security - solidarity is the watchword.

And last, we can keep calm and carry on, living our lives with unbowed heads and remembering that no tyranny lasts forever; indeed, tyrants are somewhat more likely to die sooner than later, as we recall from our history books.  And no blackhearted, jackbooted regime could flourish indefinitely on American soil, watered long since by the blood of patriots. Less than a quarter of the adult population voted for this new order, and some of them may soon repent their choice; we may feel friendless and alone, but we are not.  Our friends and allies are legion, and will perhaps be found even in the most unlikely places.

It may be that this generation of Americans, red and yellow, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, once again has a mysterious rendezvous with destiny.  Nor shall we turn from the challenge, in whatever form it takes, I believe.  We are Americans, born to freedom and not slavery.  We will not go quietly to the slaughter.

We are not as strong, as canny, as resourceful as our forefathers, perhaps, for the abundant comforts and distractions of modern life have softened us all -- but what our forebears were, we can learn to be once again, as necessity requires.  The other side may have the guns - but we have our wits, and the right on our side, and the will to endure, and to prevail. 

Tell me, brothers, we are not so soft that even at this late hour we can't cowboy up to defend ourselves and our liberties and our rights with wit and grit, by one means or another. Tell me again that love wins out and conquers all. Tell me, friends, that no matter how dark the night, we can find a path to safety and freedom together.

It's okay to be afraid.  I am too.  So give me your hands and say it, whisper it with me, guys, as we huddle here in the headlights that pierce the night air:  Yes we can.  Yes we can.  Yes we can.

Can't we? 












10 comments:

Tim said...

Excellently articulated Russ, now you know how many feel about Brexit. The trouble is we live in an age were the general population, encouraged by the press and the media, the twitter and blogosphere, all demand instant answers. Well, I’m afraid we’re all going to have to wait. No harm in crossing your fingers early, lining those ducks up in a row. It’s right to be prepared....but then we have to wait. This is the phoney war, let’s hope armageddon isn't around the next corner.

Russ Manley said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Tim. The phoney war - what an apt analogy.

But where, oh where is our Churchill? We will need one.

Frank said...

Russ,
That was eloquent. And more: intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, moving. It nearly brought me to tears. I've been unable to articulate my thoughts and feelings thus far; perhaps I'm still numb or in denial; yet throughout the day and even when I wake in middle of the night I lose my breath momentarily and shudder when some new horrific imagining intrudes on my consciousness.

I've spoken often about the reality: that we should not let our guard down, that there would be a backlash. But never could I have imagined anything like a complete government takeover by such a band of fascists intent on reversing all the liberties and rights that we (not only LGBT) have fought for.

I have given up on Facebook for many reasons you can relate to - preaching to the choir, the futility of trying to "convert" the other side; the waste of time; the desire to live my life without having to defend or justify my right to do so; the desire to live in peace and tranquility.

When I read something like your post here I want to immediately go back to Facebook and share it with everyone there. I won't go back...

But I would like to have your permission to share this post, if you so agree, via email or other means beyond a link in my blog which I feel compelled to do when I finish this comment. I will, of course credit you and Blue Truck, Red State, but I cannot guarantee where it might eventually end up: I certainly think it is worthy of a major newspaper, an op-ed or feature of some kind. Perhaps you should be the one to promulgate it beyond this blog.

Meanwhile, I will go to dinner with friends to celebrate a birthday (not mine) and walk the dog and buy groceries and cook Thanksgiving dinner for me and Leon and Sam and Len and Linda and Angie and Judy. I am anticipating a rather emotional Grace before that meal and pray in my thoroughly non-traditional way that the universe is truly unfolding as it should:

Max Ehrmann


Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.





Russ Manley said...

Thanks much for your kind thoughts, Frank. I - and no doubt many others - can relate to the anxious thoughts and bad dreams. And I too feared a backlash one day, but just like you never thought it would be this bad. But here we are, just as the world was in 1939 - and where would we be if our fathers and mothers had just lain down and let the bad guys take over the whole world, unopposed? All I really wanted to say was, "Man up, guys. We're not licked yet, and maybe we won't ever be." I'm touched that you found it so moving - just a whisper in the dark, really.

By all means, feel free to share it, with credit, with whomever you please. I'm not good at self-promotion, and more's the pity. But I didn't write it to draw attention to myself, I wrote it to buck up my friends as best I could, with what little faith I have that good will trump evil, sooner or later.

Thanks also for posting the lovely Desiderata - words of comfort and hope that are much needed now. I may repost that myself one day soon.

PS - I have not at all forgotten the review I promised you. Soon.


Theaterdog said...

Mr. Manely ..
I am the lurker Tim in France.

You need no compliments on your beautiful writing but it is.

I really needed to see those words today..as an ex-pat in France about to witness the same election
here in this country as nationalism is spreading throughout Europe.

I don't think you can objectively judge the need for your blog ..post marriage equality, with or without a victory for the democratic in the White House... motivation was the least of what wise men like you have to offer the LGBT community... your personal story alone should never be forgotten.

All I can say is thank you ..very much ..
Tim

Moran-Newman Farms said...

Beautifully written. I have visited your Blog now and then, was initially drawn to it during Marriage Equality, and have enjoyed your writing each visit. But, this one, it spoke to me beyond anything else. I tried to read it to my husband but kept choking up and had to have him just read it on his own. Like you, we are in (near) a small West Texas town of about 4K people and everyone gets along just fine. But this election has brought me to that point where I am concerned if the status quo will continue. The last time I was in town at the grocery there were a couple of trucks in the parking lot with Confederate flags on them. And, it has reached the point where I told Robert to never even venture off our property without legal identification (he is of Hispanic heritage). I know that the long term damage that is coming down the road will last for decades to come and will, in the end, make the next four years seem little. But I really do have that feeling inside me that, as you put it, Yes We Can...and will.

Like you wrote, I am too old now to do many of the things I did in my youth. March, protest, all those things we did in the "good old days". But, I am not ready to completely give up.

Thank you for Blue Truck Red State and for your skill with the language. Keep writing as you do and keep the faith.

Russ Manley said...

Tim in France - I remember you - heureux de vous revoir de nouveau. Thanks for your kind comments, I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. Hope you stay safe there in France - this ugliness seems to be spreading across the world now, and who knows how it will all end.

M-NF - Nice to hear from you, thanks for your thoughts and encouragement. I hope you all have friends you can count on out there - ugly things are happening all over, so we must be more careful in these uncertain times. And keep the faith, yes we can.

Davis said...

I do have tears in my eyes. You have so perfectly evoked my feelings at this point and I remain as ever grateful for this little truck stop where I can gather my thoughts from time to time.

ps It never hurts to make reference to the inimitable Steve McQueen, either!

Russ Manley said...

Appreciate ya, Davis, and your loyal support here at the BT.

michael carver said...

I have not visited your blog in awhile...this rmeinds me why I like it so much.you write with such passion. I am living in Missouri but I am from Dallas...so many trucks with Confederate stickers in both places.Obama gave us so much hope and now his legacy and that of FDR and LBJ seems destined to be shattered

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