Don’t die, I say

Letters #159

How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry, to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say: Don’t die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn’t there still
something singing? The truth is: I don’t know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it

-The Leash | Ada Limon

Because we are, maybe, hopefully, moving in the next half-a-year, I’ve been doing an inventory of all our stuff, sorting through the pack-store-sell-donate piles and shifting things around. Today’s project was the backlog of R’s clothes that have been sitting in storage waiting to be donated since she was wearing 18-month-old sizes; she’s into 4T now. There are a lot of clothes, haphazardly stuffed into boxes and bags in her closet. None of our usual options have been taking donations, and, in large part because of the pandemic, I don’t have the kind of network of moms in our current corner of the city that I had where we lived before. Our connections to this neighborhood are fragile, silvery filaments of near-nothingness. I know almost no one by name, have no phone numbers or email addresses for my neighbours. In our old part of town, I had all of those things and a community centre besides. I always knew where the outgrown clothes were needed. The fact that I currently don’t is a symptom of something so much bigger and overwhelming that I struggle even to name it.

I think, though, that a lot of what I’ve been experiencing in the past two years is something very like a crisis of faith. I’ve built myself pretty solidly around a foundation of caring about people, of people caring about each other, and while things since 2016 have made that foundation pretty shaky, the pandemic has definitely crumbled it to something nearly impossible to stand on with any sense that I’m not going to fall from it. As with most crises of faith, this one came because the thing I believed in—that people are mostly doing their best—was failing me, and because I’m disconnected from my community it’s hard to find exceptions to those failures. It’s been a brutal couple of years, and while my work with VaxHunters definitely offered a moment of respite, I’ve been so exhausted and so overloaded with other people’s anger and fear that it’s been really, really difficult to translate that experience into the world as a whole.

Still, however loud and relentless the non-carers are, they’re a minority: in Canada, as a specific measurable example, fewer than 20% appear to be actively refusing vaccination, and while it’s hard to get an accurate count in the US, it’s still significantly less than “most.” Still too many, insofar as we’re trying to get a pandemic under control, but mostly, people want to be doing the right thing. They’re taking care of themselves and their communities. Politically, the anti-carers are a minority, too, even in the US, and we have several rounds of election data to back that up. Most of us want to be doing better for each other, even when it’s not working, even when it feels like pushing back against a wave with our hands. Even when it’s nearly impossible to see the hands that surround ours.

I think, to some extent, the only way forward is to forgive that failure and do the next thing. To believe, willfully and with force, that the faith is worth it. And I do. In the face of fear and grief and loss, I still believe in you. Bird by bird, my friends, and onward.