Silence. Tonight, my home is currently silent, with the exception of one rotating fan whirring quietly in the corner. There hasn’t been silence around here in a while.
For the past several days, the temperature in Sacramento has been a high of 105-109 degrees and ash has been floating through the air from the wildfires across California. My wall unit air conditioner has been loudly keeping my apartment livable almost all day and all night. My days are filled with Zoom calls to coworkers talking about how we’re so over Zoom calls to coworkers. My social media feeds are full of videos calling people to action, calling me to action, for long overdue injustices and on account of so many lives lost or endangered due to senseless leadership in this country. The past few nights have been consumed with the Democratic National Convention live streaming from my TV. Usually, if a rare moment of silence does occur in my day, I fill it with music or the voices of sitcom characters I could recite every line along with in the background. Silence has been hard lately.
But as I write tonight, the temperature has broken slightly, and my wall unit has clicked off. The TV is paused. The Zoom calls are over. My phone is face down on the coffee table. I’m sitting with the silence, and it’s as heavy as a ton of bricks.
Silence allows the weight to sink in. And this year there has been so. much. weight. So much that I think it would be naïve to expect 2020 to be done handing it to us. To echo Michelle Obama’s words spoken just this week, if we think things can’t possibly get worse, they most certainly can. But what I’ve come to understand more with each passing month in this godforsaken year is that 2020 is a sidewalk cracking from issues that took root long ago.
A president elected by a voter base largely divided, largely bitter, and largely influenced by propaganda delivered via the screens at our fingertips. A political system so polarized that we’ve taken sides on science instead of uniting to fight a global pandemic. A government structure revered as one of the best in the world – but that has proven itself only as humane as the people who run it every day. An education system more focused on test scores and statistics than teaching us to be critical thinkers, questioners, and researchers. A complicated scheme of racism that can’t be assigned to any one system or another because it’s rampant and evident across the board in this country. A system of social norms that teach us not to thoughtfully question our learned behaviors, our privilege, or our status, but to become defensive at the stories of those who are different from ourselves. And the list goes on.
There is immense privilege in this country for so many, and yes, things could be so much worse. But if we’re measuring from the ground up, progress will never be made. We can’t stop until every human is free, here, in the so-called land of the free. And while we do the work on our home turf, we must also not forget about those in countries who do still have it so much worse.
2020 has been heavy, but the bricks have been piling on for years, for decades, for centuries. And one year – one raw, sick, painful year – will not solve it all. But it can wake us, if we let it. If we can look at the light from another’s candle not in fear of being burned, but with the understanding that their fire can ignite our own if we get close enough.
This is the realest year, the most human year, the most terrifying, saddening, maddening year of my existence so far. I’m not naïve enough to assume this is the worst I’ll experience in this life. But I’m also not naïve enough to think nothing can be done. In fact, thinking nothing can be done is not an option – not in my book. If you ask me, the most powerful tool we have is education – being ceaseless, critical students; seeking out fair and factual material; and being willing to adapt as we learn more. Then using what we learn to make better choices with our voices, our conversations, our actions, and our VOTES.
I have a habit of trying to wrap my thoughts up in a pretty bow, a nice note at the end to make everyone reading feel safe and comfy. To make myself feel safe and comfy. To say something like, “So let’s embrace the moments of silence and be loud when it counts.” But to do that here and now would feel like putting a cute sticker on a gaping flesh wound and calling it all better.
Because it all counts now. There is no more compartmentalizing injustice, inequity, inaction. It’s all messy, connected, and systemic – truthfully, it’s always been messy, connected, and systemic. Many of us knew that. Many more of us know that now. And now we must all do better.
If you like this article, check out: https://www.harnessmagazine.com/scenes-from-a-balcony-during-quarantine/