“Hi, this is Alison McGhee, patriotic citizen, calling from 55408.” Ever since the atrocity, which is my term for what went down last November, I make calls or send emails every day. I march if there’s a march. Taking action is the one thing that keeps me from sinking into a kind of paralyzed despair at both the crumbling of democracy I see all around me and the cruelty that is being encouraged and applauded.
But taking action doesn’t just mean protesting. It means doubling down on kindness, on friendliness, on generosity. These are my vows, which I frequently break but keep re-upping: Smile and say hi to everyone you pass. Be your kindest self. Focus all your energy on the students in this room. Make life better for everyone you can, every time you can.
The world gives back to you the energy you put into it, as David Hernandez –a poet new to me but whose work I’m now tracking down wherever I can find it– says so beautifully in this poem below.
Anyone Who Is Still Trying, by David Hernandez
Any person, any human, any someone who breaks
up the fight, who spackles holes or FedExes
ice shelves to the Arctic to keep the polar bears
afloat, who talks the wind-rippled woman
down from the bridge. Any individual, any citizen
who skims muck from the coughing ocean,
who pickets across the street from antigay picketers
with a sign that reads, GOD HATES MAGGOTS,
or, GOD HATES RESTAURANTS WITH ZAGAT RATINGS
LESS THAN 27. Any civilian who kisses
a forehead heated by fever or despair, who reads
the X ray, pins the severed bone. Any biped
who volunteers at soup kitchens, who chokes
a Washington lobbyist with his own silk necktie—
I take that back, who gives him mouth-to-mouth
until his startled heart resumes its kabooms.
Sorry, I get cynical sometimes, there is so much
broken in the system, the districts, the crooked
thinking, I’m working on whittling away at this
pessimism, harvesting light where I can find it.
Any countryman or countrywoman who is still
trying, who still pushes against entropy,
who stanches or donates blood, who douses fires
real or metaphorical, who rakes the earth
where tires once zeroed the ground, plants something
green, say spinach or kale, say a modest forest
for restless breezes to play with. Any anyone
from anywhere who considers and repairs,
who builds a prosthetic beak for an eagle—
I saw the video, the majestic bird disfigured
by a bullet, the visionary with a 3-D printer,
with polymer and fidelity, with hours
and hours and hours, I keep thinking about it,
thinking we need more of that commitment,
those thoughtful gestures, the flight afterward.
For more information on David Hernandez, please click here.