Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death at this moment in time is a gut punch almost as bad as election night 2016. You ask yourself, how could this happen? Why now? Why her? But there are no answers. Losing a leader of her stature would be a tragedy at any time, but at this moment in the dumpster fire of a year numbered 2020, it’s a more than a little overwhelming.
We have a few choices in how we react to this Everest of horrific news. We can give up. Lay down and let hopelessness wash over us, hoping that it won’t all turn out to be as bad as it seems. Or we can look around for something positive to hold onto, something positive to do.
Part of me says I’m being too dramatic, to just chill and focus on something else. Don’t fret about the things I can’t change. Que sera sera. But another part of me says “Do something! Anything.”.
There’s comfort in knowing that the world has been here before. In an eerie echo of today’s 2020, in 1919 Yeats wrote his much-quoted poem “The Second Coming”. It was just after World War I and in the midst of the 1918-1919 pandemic. People were losing hope, including Yeats. His pregnant wife was sick with the flu that had killed millions.
The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Read what you will in Yeats’ poem – it is ripe for interpretation. I read that the world has been challenged before by death, war, disease, despotism and despair, yet we survived and even eventually thrived. Yeats hoped for some revelation, a “Second Coming”, to dispatch the darkness of 1919. Yet he feared his “rough beast”, slouching toward Bethlehem. It’s the same today. Trump’s re-election is our rough beast. Our opportunity to elect a progressive President (well, at least a centrist) and Senators is our Second Coming, what Yeats first called “a “second birth”. We’ll call it a second chance to get democracy right.
That brings me back to the “do something” theme. The list of things we can do to push back on the evil that 2020 has brought is longer than you might expect.
- Donate to a progressive candidate who is in a tight Congressional race. $10, $20, $100 – whatever you can afford.
- Talk to your circle of friends and family, at least the sane ones, and make sure they vote. So many people don’t vote because it’s inconvenient, or they don’t think it matters, or they don’t want to go through the mental exercise of thinking through each issue / proposal / candidate. Convince them that this time it’s worth it – if not for themselves for their children and grandchildren. We have to exit this President and a few key Senators, and voting is the way.
- Create something. Write, paint, cook, throw pottery, take photos…whatever inspires you. Create some light to drive back the darkness.
- Help someone. Either through a nonprofit or direct individual action, do something for someone else.
The 2020 election can be a Yeatsian rebirth, a way out of the gloom and despair of a wretched 2020. Even if Trump and his cronies manage to replace RBG with some cryptofascist conservative, it’s not the end of the world. Biden and a Democratic-led Senate could add Justices to the court. And a Biden administration can move ahead to start undoing the damage done to our psyche and democracy.
So keep the faith, look toward the inevitable dawn, and do something to fend off the rough beast. It beats the hell out of giving up.
(Title photo above taken by yours truly one morning in Cabo, 2015.)