As I sat down to write this piece, I lit two candles on the table. I need their light. Call me a superstitious old bird, but it’s important to me today. There is a prevailing sense of darkness settling over the world – it feels colder, hearts are broken.
Yesterday, I vowed not to watch the Trump inauguration. My sensitivity wanted to hide from it, to do my best ostrich impression by burying my head in something else to evade the rotten reality.
But better sense prevailed –I watched. And I’m glad I did, for now I truly know the severity of our problem, I witnessed the bare truth; the bully has the power, our worst dreams are realised.
Whether you watched or didn’t, you know the jist of it, there is no hiding from it. And I now know, that that is a good thing. For we are not meant to hide, we are meant to fight. But also, we are meant to create; to create a new conversation. And it’s not going to be easy.
His speech confirmed our fears; it was base, aggressive and ignorant. Sadly lacking the sophistication we usually hear at inaugural speeches; they were the words of a simpleton. There are no great epiphanies in that man, there are no sentences to make our souls soar. There was no sense of leadership, no sense of protection, of wisdom, of bravery, of vision…
No, that was all in the man across the podium from him as he took the oath. Those qualities left The Capitol in Executive One on the way to Palm Springs immediately afterwards.
As a writer, I find the transition of language very hard. Words are my thing; they engage me and excite me. Beautifully chosen words can stir me to feel things I haven’t felt before, to have faith in things I doubt, to sign up for concepts I was ignorant of. They both move me, and make me move.
Obama had me from the off; I have been watching his speeches repeatedly, his words, wisdom and graceful delivery have been a balm to my nervous soul of late.
When Trump begins to speak, I feel ill. This is the rollercoaster of rhetoric.
Stop, I want to get off.
But there is something else creeping in to my consciousness today. There is something I’ve been trying to put into words for the past week or so, as I felt the approach of the inauguration day. I have this weird feeling, that despite this situation being truly awful, I think it is meant to happen. For, more often that not, good things come out of bad. Think of it this way; if Brexit and Trump hadn’t happened in one large package of disaster in 2016, would we have known how bad things really were? Would we have known the extent of the racism, sexism and aggression in the world? Would we have known as much about Putin if his manoeuvres hadn’t been reported in context to their consequences on the US election and the world? Could we have seen the disgusting misogyny so rife at the top? How could we have known the experiences of our fellow global citizens, had the roof not been blown off so we could look inside…
Remember; we’ve been very good at choosing what we want to believe. These echo chambers are comfortable places. But they are no good without action. We were becoming keyboard activists – riled up on Facebook, shouting at Twitter, sighing at the 24-hour news tickers. But we weren’t really doing anything were we?
If 2016 hadn’t been as awful as it was, with the collecting of artistic souls, terror attacks and political shocks all bumping into each other like dominoes, I’m not sure we would have taken the time to shout, “Woah! What the Hell is going on here?!”
And now we know.
And, no, it’s not good. And, yes, it’s up to us to change it.
But know this; darkness gives way to light eventually. There are villains, but there are heroes too. Always.
The writer, Elizabeth Gilbert, wrote this on her Facebook page today, and it crystallised what was forming in my mind, sit a minute and muse on this…
“Darkness and evil ALWAYS have an interesting side-effect.
Darkness and evil ALWAYS give opportunities for heroes to rise.
Which brings us to the question of Harry Potter — who I have also been thinking about a lot over the past few weeks. Please remember this simple example: Without Voldemort, Harry Potter is a very ordinary boy. Without the terrifying challenges of darkness and evil, Harry never would’ve had the opportunity to find his own power, his own strength, his own leadership, and his own magic.
This is just as true for your life as it was for Harry’s. Without the presence of darkness and evil in your life, you will never be challenged to know your own goodness and courage.
And if you want to look at this question from outside the realm of children’s literature (fair enough!), here are some examples from real and painful human history:
Without the darkness and evil of segregation, Rosa Parks is a completely unremarkable seamstress.
Without the darkness and evil of institutionalized American racism, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is just a regular Baptist preacher.
Without the darkness and evil of British Colonialism, Gandhi is just another unsuccessful local barrister.
Without the darkness and evil of the Soviet Bloc, Vaclav Havel is just another random playwright.
Without the darkness and evil of apartheid, Nelson Mandela is just another law student, working as a night watchman to pay his bills.
Without the darkness and evil of militaristic oppression in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi is just another well-educated wife and mother from a nice family.
You see where I’m going with this?
Darkness will always rise — to be sure.
But a hero of the light will ALSO always rise.”
So, our challenge is to stay hopeful and make way…
While Trump is in power, he will do many questionable and downright despicable things – for this is the man he is. He isn’t going to change – power is his greatest drug and the addict has a full supply.
My advice to you is this: as unbearable as it is, keep watch. Keep tabs. Keep watch on a global and local level. Stand up for what you believe in. Talk to others about it. Talk to your children about standards, about wisdom, about grace and decency. Get together and get going.
And keep watch on the Obamas – they are only going to get better. The trick, I think, is to avert your gaze a little from Trump, to them – keep them in your sight – their message will not dilute, in fact it will probably have more power to propel as citizens. Sign up to Obama.org for updates. They are not gone; it may feel like the end, but it is, in fact, the beginning…
Hi everybody! Back to the original handle. Is this thing still on? Michelle and I are off on a quick vacation, then we’ll get back to work.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 20, 2017
A photo posted by Ellie Balfe (@elliebalfe1) on