Maybe you do not have the particular kind of sentimental mind I do, and if that’s the case you might not remember the orca mother in the Puget Sound who carried her dead calf for seventeen days, against all known precedent, before allowing the calf to drift away to a final repose. But I do have my exact type of mind, and so I think about this story often. There are many angles to consider: the pure tragedy, the mirror-like association between her grief and our potential for it, the way that human beings become attached to specific sad animals while ignoring their role in the larger pain of those creatures. The Chekhovian thought of falling through miles of water, light to dark.
Because I grew up by the Puget Sound, there is for me an added tang of nostalgia, as I consider how far I have moved away, in space and time, from my own childhood. From, for instance, the morning boat ride I once took to John’s Island, during which an orca swam with us for ten minutes or more, emerging in front of us, behind us, to each side.
The past few days, I have been trying to parse the difference between recognizing that a feeling or a situation is fleeting and does not rule me, versus pretending that thing is not happening at all.
For instance, how can I think at all about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was a forceful, principled presence in my world for so many years? I am grateful for the time she spent here, the work she did. And I would love to be able to leave it at that. But it’s hard, when her death has resulted in such banal, predictable, wicked glee from some circles, such crass gamesmanship of a system designed, theoretically, to help civilization survive. It’s hard, when the response to her passing feels so much like a bully’s referendum on the value of women in this country, a wicked snickering from the dark.
I remember how I felt in November 2016, as if I was awakening to the dead weight of democracy, the meaninglessness of every institution I thought had value. I was wired all the time, always on my phone, always expecting the news to turn in some valuable way, that would resurrect what I’d lost. But of course it did not: what happened was that things got worse, and I figured out how to carry on.
So I have been trying not to think about it. I have been reminding myself that this has been a possibility since that day in 2016, and I do not need to re-mourn, re-pathologize the fears that I had then, just because they’ve come to pass. That does not mean I am not doing things: today I will write postcards to voters. I have called my senators, and I will call them again. I will vote, and if the state ever gets back to me about it, I’ll serve as a poll worker on election day. But I cannot let myself spin so deep in my feelings, anymore, that I tunnel to the very center of the Earth.
It’s supposed to get hot again next week, and I’m pissed off about that, but fall will come, too, and then winter. There will be days of cool wind, there will be cloud cover, there will be work to do and rest to take. Yesterday, I walked through what felt like a cloud of rabbits on the road, and though most of them sprang away with their twangy anxious leaps, a few just sat and stared me down, as if there was nothing in this universe to be afraid of.
Which is, at least, a nice idea.