When it all comes tumbling down, there is us. Between tropical hurricanes, and devastating south Asian floods, and politicians messing with Dreamers, there is us. Holding on to a thin thread. Waking in the dawn to go through the routines of life. Time to deconstruct problems, to formalize conflicts, to ask those why questions, all flit like butterflies in our mind as we wait at red lights or on post office lines, but with never enough time to think deeply enough. Because solutions take longer than a moment. We need silence. Staring. Stopping. And when can we ever manage that? I fear that living has shifted into something so swift that none of us can even question anything. Do it quick and move on. Congress shores up the government for three months and calls it good enough. We mail off a check to the Houston Red Cross and sigh relief. We hit high heat on the microwave and call it dinner. Afterwards we click the button on the controller and let our babies stare at the screen with us. Prefer to text, not to talk. Scroll through the news-feed liking every back to school shot without even looking to see their timid faces peering over their new backpacks and lunch sacks. We’re on the move to nowhere. Tumbling down. Thankfully the earth is there to catch us.
Does it take a war of worldwide proportions to make us stop? I mean, I’ve sort of stopped. Stopped listening to the morning public radio on my morning commute. Stopped doing more than scan the headlines on my New York Times homepage, as in not really reading. And not because I don’t care. I just don’t see how caring fits into what’s happening in the White House or that Republican-controlled Congress or in much of the sensationalist, reality-show news-shows. All those folks want is for us to feel fear first. Check-out. Go numb. And I’d say they have got us in the zone. Moving into shut-down mode. But I’m not going to let them get this girl. I’m going to remember when and I’m not waiting for WWIII either.
Remember when the babies were digging in the sand and the sun was like a million diamonds across the bay and a tractor was everything. Remember those binding connections we have with those we love or even like or at least laugh with despite the shit we are all wading in. I have a few tools at my disposal, and I’m sure you have a few too, so those bastards will not collapse your whole world. Perhaps you have faith? Family roots? Purpose and meaning beyond all the craziness? A lover? A love? A dawn? Maybe just a cupcake?
Or maybe you just collect words. There are plenty out there for you to draw from; like readers did to Carmichael in Woolf’s novel, we run to the poets when we are languishing. When we have nothing but questions, we flock to the artists to show us something substantial. Something obscure buried within rising like a blue whale toward the surface. As soon as we see it/ hear it/ watch it/ feel it, we know it. Truth on the canvas. Truth on the stage. Truth on the page. Lily struggles in Woolf’s novel, as I struggle even now. With finding her mark. With her vision. And Woolf allows her a lingering moment. One long enough to sort it out. The big stuff. The hard stuff. The dying and destruction. The hate. The sorrow. The creative bursts. Living. Even the joy. The love.
“Against her will she had come to the surface, and found herself half out of the picture, looking, little dazedly, as if at unreal things, at Mr Carmichael. He lay on his chair with his hands clasped above his paunch not reading, or sleeping, but basking like a creature gorged with existence. His book had fallen on to the grass.
She wanted to go straight up to him and say, “Mr Carmichael!” Then he would look up benevolently as always, from his smoky vague green eyes. But one only woke people if one knew what one wanted to say to them. And she wanted to say not one thing, but everything. Little words that broke up the thought and dismembered it said nothing. “About life, about death; about Mrs Ramsay”—no, she thought, one could say nothing to nobody. The urgency of the moment always missed its mark. Words fluttered sideways and struck the object inches too low. Then one gave it up; then the idea sunk back again; then one became like most middle-aged people, cautious, furtive, with wrinkles between the eyes and a look of perpetual apprehension. For how could one express in words these emotions of the body? express that emptiness there? (She was looking at the drawing-room steps; they looked extraordinarily empty.) It was one’s body feeling, not one’s mind. The physical sensations that went with the bare look of the steps had become suddenly extremely unpleasant. To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have—to want and want—how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again! Oh, Mrs Ramsay! she called out silently, to that essence which sat by the boat, that abstract one made of her, that woman in grey, as if to abuse her for having gone, and then having gone, come back again. It had seemed so safe, thinking of her. Ghost, air, nothingness, a thing you could play with easily and safely at any time of day or night, she had been that, and then suddenly she put her hand out and wrung the heart thus. Suddenly, the empty drawing-room steps, the frill of the chair inside, the puppy tumbling on the terrace, the whole wave and whisper of the garden became like curves and arabesques flourishing round a centre of complete emptiness.
“What does it mean? How do you explain it all?” she wanted to say, turning to Mr Carmichael again. For the whole world seemed to have dissolved in this early morning hour into a pool of thought, a deep basin of reality, and one could almost fancy that had Mr Carmichael spoken, for instance, a little tear would have rent the surface pool. And then? Something would emerge. A hand would be shoved up, a blade would be flashed. It was nonsense of course.
A curious notion came to her that he did after all hear the things she could not say. He was an inscrutable old man, with the yellow stain on his beard, and his poetry, and his puzzles, sailing serenely through a world which satisfied all his wants, so that she thought he had only to put down his hand where he lay on the lawn to fish up anything he wanted. She looked at her picture. That would have been his answer, presumably—how “you” and “I” and “she” pass and vanish; nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint. Yet it would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be rolled up and flung under a sofa; yet even so, even of a picture like that, it was true. One might say, even of this scrawl, not of that actual picture, perhaps, but of what it attempted, that it “remained for ever,” she was going to say, or, for the words spoken sounded even to herself, too boastful, to hint, wordlessly; when, looking at the picture, she was surprised to find that she could not see it. Her eyes were full of a hot liquid (she did not think of tears at first) which, without disturbing the firmness of her lips, made the air thick, rolled down her cheeks. She had perfect control of herself—Oh, yes!—in every other way. Was she crying then for Mrs Ramsay, without being aware of any unhappiness? She addressed old Mr Carmichael again. What was it then? What did it mean? Could things thrust their hands up and grip one; could the blade cut; the fist grasp? Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle, and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air? Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life?—startling, unexpected, unknown? For one moment she felt that if they both got up, here, now on the lawn, and demanded an explanation, why was it so short, why was it so inexplicable, said it with violence, as two fully equipped human beings from whom nothing should be hid might speak, then, beauty would roll itself up; the space would fill; those empty flourishes would form into shape; if they shouted loud enough Mrs Ramsay would return. “Mrs Ramsay!” she said aloud, “Mrs Ramsay!” The tears ran down her face.” To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf.
We move. Like wind right before rain. We shift. We stride. We face what we must. When it all comes tumbling down, there is us.