Courage, Dear Heart


“Ah, we have to stumble through so much dirt and humbug before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Our only guide is our homesickness.” — Herman Hesse, Steppenwolf (painting, The Way Home, by Diane Ursin)

 

I haven’t been able to write since at least last November.  Probably longer.

It’s easy to mark the time that way because when Donald Trump was elected last November I really feel as though a piece of me died.   It wasn’t, at least in my case, that I thought Hilary Clinton was an ideal candidate. But I’d have chosen her six days a week and twice on Sunday to avoid Donald Trump. But the piece of me that died had relatively little to do with politics, really, what with all of its useless chatter. Politics is just this person and that person being right for the moment, looking for applause while they pronounce victory in the present battle, then running like hell to figure out how to stay ahead of the next such engagement, which of course is no strategy at all to win a war. I grow tired of it the more days and weeks and months fall of my calendars.

The piece of me that died wasn’t political. It was the part that wanted to be able to live life mostly assuming that humankind was good and decent – a bit misguided, perhaps – but good and decent nonetheless. That piece of me that rejected the notion that ultimately, when push comes to shove, people only care for themselves and will watch the rest of the world burn if they think it will save their own skin. The election of Donald Trump, who was not a business as usual left or right politician, but an open miscreant and misogynist and darn near madman, signaled to me that I could no longer live with that kind of naïve orientation to life and to people. Not that there aren’t people who clearly want good, but that so many of us will abandon “good for all” in favor of “good for me” when it gets really hairy.

And so I have been terribly depressed.

It took me a while to discover this because I’m healthier now than I was in my youth, so depression doesn’t look the same. It used to involve a near-complete hostile takeover of my life, rendering me to bed and booze most of the time, save a few hours in the night where I could gather with the rest of the drunks in the midnight choir trying to be free.

In light of all that, it always takes me a bit these days to recognize depression for what it is.  I’m healthier now, but I’m depressed all the same. And it is a particularly vexing kind of depression that has such a strong element of panic and helplessness within it that it is probably better to call it something more like “dread.” That is, I am annoyed, fearful, angry, and rageful even, that Donald Trump was elected for all of the real and practical damage he is going to do, and I do not say this as a conservative (I’m not one) or a leftist (not that either, honest!) or even as a political statement at all, but because I am loathe to make the acknowledgement of what it means that my fellows could elect such a person. But even more pointedly, I am in active and acute dread about what this reality means I must do – i.e., as a person who seeks to have a prophetic and progressive voice in his milieu, my words must grow increasingly truthful and increasingly precise, and yet, increasingly seasoned with radical grace and love. And I am just not sure I am up to the task.  I have tried and failed a number of times since November 2016.

What I’m driving at is that Donald Trump is such an outlandish, cartoonish, caricature-like expression of our American shadow, that those with whom I keep company on all sides of the political spectrum have been activated and polarized.   I feel increasingly ill-at-ease within my own social groups, being not nearly conservative enough for my conservative friends and not liberal enough for the liberal ones. Calls for reason and good sense, for love and good works, I fear, are being drowned out by calls to hatred and violence and outrage on all sides, each calling its brand of action “defending freedom.”

But I must call out anyhow. And so I dread.

The net impact of all of this is that I have been categorically unable to write. I have tried no less than a dozen times to start something, but I just get totally bottlenecked. On one hand, more than ever before, I feel like I must say something, or do something – almost anything. I sense this with real and palpable urgency. On the other, I don’t have the foggiest idea what to say or do. As I approach midlife, I am acutely aware that I don’t know much of anything at all, and that I apparently have a lot of growing to do.

So, sensing that all of this was brewing for me, I reached out recently to a number of friends and let them know about my writer’s block and asked for help in getting the gears turning again by simply sending me a handful of topics about which they, based on their particular intimate relationships with me, thought I might have some words of life. I am pleased to report that they responded with quite a lot.

I plan to begin writing next week.

I hope it is helpful for you.

And for me.

And for us.

I sure do need it.

“Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one but Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, ‘Courage, dear heart,’ and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan’s, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.” –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


 

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Author: Ryan Thomas Neace

Ryan Thomas Neace is a counselor, professor, husband, and daddy. Please contact him for counseling via skype or in-person at ryan@changeincorporated.org.

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