Comfort me with history and books
I’m looking for ways to ease my troubled soul. Before I punch someone in the nose.
Once, I nearly drowned in the Snake River. I was on a float trip in Wyoming. I fell off the raft and got caught under rapids. I was wearing a life jacket, but every time the life jacket popped me to the surface, the rapids pushed me back under the water. I was caught in this cycle, couldn’t breathe for the water in my face and soon knew I was drowning.
Strangers formed a human chain and dragged me to shore. But it wasn’t over. When I was conscious and strong enough to stand up, I had to climb a steep, muddy bank to the highway and hitchhike back to the car.
For months I have felt as if I’m drowning again, but this time in a sea of anger, bitterness, malice, spite, rage and every other synonym for political and cultural fury. I’m back in the Snake River! How can I get back to a happy life?
A friend posted on social media, “I am in outrage fatigue.” Aren’t we all.
Except for the witty person who posted, “Life is short. Spend as much time as possible on the Internet arguing with strangers about politics.”
I’m looking for ways to ease my troubled soul. Before I punch someone in the nose. If I do, I hope it’s a stranger and not a close friend, but these days you never know.
For me, a surefire comfort is rereading some of my favorite British female authors, especially Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor (the writer, not the actress.) These writers write what has been described as a “‘quiet’ kind of writing.”
Quiet, but not shallow. Pym’s “Excellent Women” and Taylor’s “In a Summer Season” look and truly see ordinary people in the luminous moments of everyday life.
During the roiling period before the midterm elections, my sole reading was about beekeeping. I had broken my leg — a fractured femur — and was on a walker, becoming a stuck-at-home hive bee instead of a worker bee buzzing around town. The political and social turmoil raged on outside like a hard storm as I read books by American author Sue Hubbell, who lived alone on an Ozark farm tending 300 beehives to support herself. Beekeeping is fascinating work, I learned, and something I never want to undertake.
Reading books by these women was comforting. I sank into it thinking all is right with the world, or is going to be.
I had the same comforting thought when I saw a TV interview with Doris Kearns Goodwin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of U.S. presidential biographies. She said we should look to our laws and to our history for assurance. In every time of national crisis, she said, leaders have emerged to heal us. During the Civil War, it was Abraham Lincoln; it was Teddy Roosevelt during the Progressive Era; in the Great Depression, F.D.R.; and during the race riots of 1960, Lyndon Johnson.
A healing leader will come, she said. In the meantime, we should read the Constitution to our children at night, just as we read them the Bible.
That’s not easy. Have you tried reading the Constitution lately? Sentences such as “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons.” (Article I, section 2.)
And yet, the Constitution is the landmark legal document of the United States, so we should soldier on reading it. Not just for our children but for ourselves. Luckily, free downloads are available and so are analysis, interpretations and annotations — all helpful for understanding and conversation.
The Constitution is much in the news these days, even to the off-Broadway play “What the Constitution Means to Me” by Heidi Schreck, which traces the legal evolution of women’s equality stirred with stories from her own life.
Evolution and stories. That is life, isn’t it.