Why Is This Age Worse . . . ?
Why is this age worse than earlier ages?
In a stupor of grief and dread
have we not fingered the foulest wounds
and left them unhealed by our hands?
In the west the falling light still glows,
and the clustered housetops glitter in the sun,
but here Death is already chalking the doors with crosses,
and calling the ravens, and the ravens are flying in.
Translated by Stanley Kunitz (with Max Hayward)
Anna Akhmatova wrote like an oracle reaching forward in time to speak to us living in our modern-day chaos.
We are living in what I call the, No one is going to save us, period. It is not as fear-based as it sounds, but simply an acceptance that the government we once trusted is gone. From blaming the average person for wanting too much for herself, to failed foreign policies, to a bribable FBI . . . we join civilizations that had a good run before they reached a tipping point and fell into decline.
My son and I have talked at-length about this inevitability for the past twenty years. We sensed the early decline, early revelations about the Iraq war machine made us mistrust, and all of it pointed to this critical moment in history. Our collective tipping point. Am I surprised? Saddened at the speed of our unraveling, but not surprised. There is no longer room for denial.
It would be comforting if life were a rectangle of Instagram beauty, and some days scrolling unreality is exactly what I need to keep my mind from spinning into negativity. Most days it takes digging in the dirt, shoveling manure or ripping out Serrano chili roots. Something physical that suspends my worries, an exhaustion that leaves me without the need to pretend.
I am good at pretending. I leaned this skill in church and it is still with me. I recognize it in my writing, the desire for life to be anything but random, a kind of sick perfectionism that creeps into my words. Pretending does not sustain or heal us; it only delays the inevitable.
So what does sustain us? Where do we go to feel safe, at peace, at least less afraid for the future? My granddaughter was surprised when I told her yes, I am a still a Christian. I saw the struggle on her face as she tried working out what she believed about Christians and my obvious acceptance of untraditional behaviors. It didn't fit.
It does fit. Having left one belief system to finally embrace another, and then to step quietly away from that world, has not left me foundationless. In fact, my beliefs are sustainable, based on experience, not doctrine. This is heretical to some, but necessary for those of us who, as my godmother Theodora says, . . . need to tear it up. To excavate. To question. To refuse silencing. My foundation is helping me to step forward in a time of trepidation. I see the purposeful divide and concur instigations, the ugly deceptions, the fear-mongering and constant propaganda for what they are: an attempt to control.
What matters in a time of escalating crisis? Family of course. True friends. Even escapism has its place. For me, the ability to turn back toward God, to lean in and trust, to remember that this is all temporary is actually comforting.
And in answer to my inquisitive granddaughter, I am a Christian, but I don't believe in a deity who gives us everything we want or takes away our problems; but one who gets in the sludge with us, who struggles as we struggle and who sorrows alongside us as we watch for ravens and pray they never appear.
And I believe in your bright future.
And in language that not only comforts but awakens.
aka Yia Yia
My writing often deals with the environment, my poetry filled with allusions to natural and man-made disasters. I have unlimited hope though; there is just too much wonder in this world to become a defeatist. To quote Margaret J. Wheatley, '"Hopelessness has surprised me with patience."