The last year

We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience. ~John Dewey

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. ~C.S. Lewis

Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things. ~Arthur Schopenhauer


Here we are again. It’s March.

Still.

In some ways it feels like the month that never ended. “The longest spring break in history,” as I described it to my husband yesterday.

So I spent some time over the last week reflecting on the last year. All that we’ve been through. All that we’ve seen together.

It’s a year for the history books, that’s for certain.

Last year, when all of this began, I encouraged you to write in a journal what was going on – both around you and within you. A few of you emailed to tell me that you took me up on that challenge. If you did, I encourage you to read now what you wrote then.

I did.

And then I went back to what I wrote here, to you, one year ago. And honestly? Those words still ring true. So true that I’m not sure I can top them.

So I decided I shouldn’t, and should instead re-share them with you – so that you can join me in that reflection of how much has changed in the last year … and how much of what we are going through right now is the same.

As John Dewey once said, We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience. We have lost much over the last year – but we’ve also gained a great deal of knowledge, as long as we are willing to reflect upon our experience. I hope you’ll indulge me in this joint reflection…

***

Every Tuesday, I sit down at this computer to put to words what’s in my heart.

Sometimes it’s cathartic. Sometimes it’s just reflective of what I see around me. Sometimes it’s simply sharing resources. About hope. About resilience. About finding meaning in life and purpose in action.

But these last weeks have been … different.

For years now, I’ve steeped myself in the collective emotions of the newly-political. I’ve listened, watched, comforted and been comforted. I’ve researched using humor to get through difficult moments, searched for stories about people who’ve overcome hardship, and studied how hope and resilience intertwine and make us stronger.

And at this point, friend. I feel like we need all of those things.

We need humor – which, to paraphrase Charlie Chaplin, is playing with your pain.

We need hope – that secret sauce that keeps you moving forward without crumpling under the weight of the present moment.

We need examples – of people who have gone before, faced obstacles, and have come through their adversity with grace and strength. 

We need community – a sense of belonging, so that the future we envision isn’t solitary, but communal.

But most of all, we need honesty.

This is some serious, serious stuff we’re living through.

The generation coming of age right now will probably carry a label that has something to do with this pandemic. (I’ve already seen “Generation C” bandied about.) Their brains are being hardwired in a time of global pandemic and economic depression – a one-two punch that’s going to change how they experience everything that comes after.

And that’s happening to us, too, you know.

In less than a month our entire lives – our jobs, our pocketbooks, our shopping experiences, our family time – nearly every experience from morning to night – has changed. Case in point – as I type this, my son is at my side reading “homework.” 

But I should be heading to his school to pick him up right now.

We should be thinking about summer plans. Easter celebrations. Mother’s Day. My son’s birthday.

But we’re not.

Instead, we’re staying inside to stay alive. That’s not hyperbolic. It’s reality.

This is a mind-blowingly serious experience that we will (hopefully) never have to relive. And I think it’s okay to stand back and gaze at that for a moment. I think it’s important, actually. To turn it over in our hands for a bit. To recognize the unique gravity to this collective experience that’s on the tip of your tongue but is impossible to explain. To honor the depth and breadth that’s so massive it’s hard to fathom. 

Sometimes I feel like we’re not really accepting the enormity. As if maybe our collective coping mechanism is to carry on as normal as much as we can, clinging to any structure we can find with the tips of our fingernails.

All of that came into focus as I sat down with my son to go over his weekly spelling word list.

It felt both reassuring and ridiculous to have him do those spelling words. Because of course spelling is part of first grade. And I love his teacher for putting together packets that parents can use, in whatever way we can. (Someday I’ll talk about the Zoom bedtime story hour with 20 first graders. It was EPIC.)

But spelling lists feel so … normal. And now is not a normal time.

And right now, kids are doing great if they are not overwhelmed with anxiety. Period.

You are doing great – parent or not – if you’re getting out of bed. 

Let me repeat that a different way for you overachievers. You are already doing enough. Even if that’s just getting out of bed or feeding the cats or puttering around in the garden.

You don’t need to be making pinterest cakes and following the calming exercises someone’s brother’s aunt raved about on Facebook. You don’t need to make every day epic for anyone – including yourself.

It’s okay to not be okay.

Because it is not okay.

It will be okay, in time. But right now, you are living through 1918-pandemic-meets-Pearl-Harbor-meets-Great-Depression. If you’re not under your bed muttering about toilet paper while eating cheese puffs, I say you’re doing pretty f*ing great.

So please adjust your expectations of yourself, and the people you love, and give yourself some grace. You deserve it. 

And a special note to parents? Your child[ren]’s teacher is trying to be helpful, and they love your kid(s), and they’re just as at sea as we are. They’re making it up as they go along, just like the rest of us. If they give you so many ideas and plans that you can’t do them … don’t do them. Prioritize your mental health and your kids. I promise you will not get detention.

I’m a parent, and realized immediately that I can’t homeschool and work andmother. So I adjusted my expectations – of me and him – and chose cuddles over math. Partly because I think he needs that more right now. Partly because I think I do.

I know he’s falling behind. That’s painful, especially for our family, because he needs socializing even more than typical kids. But I’m confident he’s going to learn greater than/less than eventually.

And this is just the way it is. 

I cannot change the fact that he is losing time. You are losing time. I am losing time. 

We are learning the value of time because we’re losing it. Important, but very painful lesson.

So let’s own what we’re losing. And let’s grieve what we’re losing. 

So that, in time, we can let it go. Because we cannot let go what we do not admit we have.

So, friend? It’s okay to not be okay.

Take care of yourself.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the week of March 9, 2021

Tuesday: For the People Act

Yesterday, the wonderful Heather Cox Richardson noted that “[t]he future of the nation depends on H.R. 1”. So I know I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that the For the People Act (HR1 and SR 1) is must-pass legislation. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again (probably next week too).

As we speak, Republican state legislatures across the country have filed and are passing legislation that makes it harder for people to vote. (It’s already too difficult to most people vote, but they’re doing everything they can to put even more roadblocks before people.) HR1 and SR1 will help.

H.R. 1 will create automatic voter registration across the country, ensure that individuals who have completed felony sentences have their full voting rights restored, expand early voting and enhance absentee voting, simplify voting by mail, reduce long lines and wait times for voters and modernize America’s voting system. (There’s a lot more – read what’s in the bill here: https://sarbanes.house.gov/issues/hr-1-the-for-the-people-act)

So please call your Senators and demand that they vote for the For the People Act. For those of you with Democratic Senators, you need to add in that without passing it we face the real risk of no longer having a democracy. And for that reason they should eliminate or reform the filibuster if it is necessary to protect voting rights.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I live at zip code ___. I’m calling today to ask Senator ___ to vote for the For the People Act. This bill is so important – it addresses voting rights, protecting the integrity of our elections, gerrymandering and campaign finance reform, which are all things that we should agree on as Americans. If we don’t value and protect our democracy, what are we doing? This is a make-it-or-break-democracy moment, and I’m calling on the Senator to vote for the For the People Act and show s/he cares about our democracy has much as s/he says. [If a Democratic senator: And if it requires reforming or eliminating the filibuster to do so, then s/he should vote for that, too. Why on earth should we allow legislation that will protect our democracy to be killed by a Jim Crow era rule? It makes no sense, and I’m calling on the Senator to be courageous and act on behalf of the country here.]

Wednesday: DC statehood

There are many reasons for D.C. to be a state. They pay federal taxes but don’t have representation, their local laws can be overruled by Congress, they have more people than Vermont and Wyoming (on par with Alaska) – and they have voted for statehood. (Their license plates state “No Taxation Without Representation.) But, most importantly, because D.C. is not a state, it did not have the ability to call the national guard itself on January 6. 

As 5 Calls aptly put it: 

Given the recent events, lawmakers should prioritize making the District of Columbia a state and ensure that every American has fair and equal representation in the federal government. Demand that your Members of Congress support  H.R. 51 and S. 51 to finally grant statehood to the District of Columbia.

So let’s do that!

Script to Representative: Hi, my name is ____ and I’m calling from zip code ___. I support HR 51 to make the District of Columbia a state. D.C. residents pay federal taxes but don’t have representation – and should have the same protections as a state. It’s clear based on recent events that D.C. should be made a state, and I want this to be a priority. What is the Congress(wo)man’s position on H.R. 51?

Thursday: Coca Cola!

Jess Craven at Chop Wood Carry Water has a great action today that I just have to share. Right now she’s focusing on the corporations funding anti-democratic politicians – and that is SUCH a great strategy because it uses the power of our own pursestrings! Today she’s focusing on the corporations in Georgia who are giving money to the GOP representatives trying to pass horrid voter suppression legislation. Specifically, Coca Cola, which has given almost 35K to such politicians.

Call 800-438-2653 then press 5 or email them here and say:

I’m calling/writing to say that I’m really disappointed to learn that your company has given a significant amount of money to the Republican politicians now actively trying to suppress the vote in Georgia—particularly the votes of Black and brown people. It’s horrifying and frankly makes me think totally differently about your brand.

I am asking you, in the name of democracy, to stop supporting these lawmakers financially. Forever.

Further, I am asking that Coca-Cola, as a company with an enormous economic presence in GA, speak out against voter suppression of all kinds, and against the bills being moved through the Georgia statehouse by the Republican lawmakers you helped fund.

If you don’t, I’ll have to assume that you’re on the side of those currently attacking our electoral system.

I won’t soon forget it.

Thanks [name] [city, state]

Friday: Some Reflective Reading

There is a feature in The Prospect on The Future of Organizing, and I just think it’s a great series to check out. In particular, I found myself nodding in response to the first paragraph of Lara Putnam’s piece, The Other Infrastructure Program: Progressive Organizing:

Four years ago this month, I watched group after group go from “Who’s our congressman and how do we call him?” to “Here are the signature sheets and precinct map: We have three weeks to get you on the ballot for town council” in the space of two meetings.

The whole series is packed with great insights and various viewpoints, and it asks some thorny questions about how grassroots organizations can evolve and continue to engage. I definitely went down the rabbit hole with this series, and thought you might like it too. Find the series here: https://prospect.org/politics/the-future-of-organizing

DID YOU KNOW YOU’RE A ROCK STAR? I DID. SUPER PROUD OF YOU!

If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

P.P.S.: If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

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