The center will hold in me

Yesterday I had a tension headache from about noon on. I call it a tension headache, because that seems likely, but it felt like eyestrain, the way that every time I tried to look at anything, my eyes seized up and the pinch of it went up into my frontal lobes. I wasn’t actually looking at the internet that much—not more than usual, anyway—I was mostly making notes on my book, and listening to a Saint-Saëns symphony I just acquired on vinyl, trying to figure out where I’d heard the music before, and ultimately realizing it was the movie Babe, about that lovable pig.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been unable to escape my memories of the election in 2016, and how blindsided and hollowed-out I felt watching those returns come in. This year, I knew, I could not be that shocked again. I hoped not to be, in any case (as I write this we are still waiting and I’m thinking as magically as I can), but I knew it things didn’t go the way I hoped, at least I would not feel like the melon-scoop of surprise had reached down my throat and scraped away my insides, so I was nothing but skin and bones and nauseous air.

But still, I was trying to figure out how to carry on, in any case. Because you know, you have to. And I wanted to know how: how could I go on with life, feeling this way? How could I live happily during the war? (Yes, I know we aren’t at literal war, and I’m grateful, but this is a really good poem by Ilya Kaminsky, and it’s rung relevant in my mind for quite some time.)

I had planned to stay in the house all day, in a mental cocoon of my own devising, because the day before I’d been dispirited by a slew of new, um, bad signs on the major road near my house, and I thought, ok, I know they’re there, but I don’t have to look at them.

Then somewhere in hour 2 of my tension headache, I decided to go out and get coffee, just to drive around and be outside and listen to music in a new environment. As it turned out, I missed the coffee (the place I wanted it from closed 18 minutes before I got there so the staff could vote, bless them, can’t be mad), and on the way home I saw a couple of trucks with flags, and a woman in booty shorts chalking a white wall with the letters T-R…which is all I saw before I drove away.

At first I was mad at myself, because why did I do this? Why did I go out, when I knew what would happen? But as the evening progressed, Dave and I ate dinner, we watched a movie, we had a cocktail, and I realized the tension headache was gone, not because I was no longer tense but because my body had digested something, familiarized something, and it was the very thing I’d been looking for, aside from victory.

I thought: You do not know what will happen, which of course was and remains true, but then I thought, People have been living through things, and carrying on with the fight, and still feeling joy, for as long as there has been civilization.

Of course many people know this, and in my head I knew it already, too. But I sat there, and I really felt it. That generations have come and gone, lives have been lived and lost, and no fight has been wasted if it was a good fight. No heart is futile if it beats for what matters.

These are our times, and they are not a metaphor. The waiting is real, and so is the outcome, and so are the consequences, whatever they may be. But we are also real. We the people. With every breath. Every loss and victory. We will come and we will go, but we will always be here.