Amazing as it may seem, I saw some cool stuff go down during the ‘04 election. My eleven year old son really paid attention to what was going on, watching the debates and asking a lot of questions. He was pretty passionate about his stance and definitely made a connection that his strong anti-war feelings had other avenues in addition to protests and vigils. Like a lot of folks, his support of Kerry was a result of being completely anti-Bush. What wasn’t cool was how frustrated he felt about not having a voice. He wanted to be able to participate in the election, not just observe the grown ups from the side lines. I suggested that perhaps he could try convincing someone who didn’t plan on voting to vote on his behalf. He gave it a shot, but his request seemed to fall on deaf ears. He found it hard to believe that these people were just going to waste their vote by doing nothing--not as a political statement, but simply out of apathy. When a friend of mine who historically votes libertarian heard about what he was trying to do, she offered to give her vote to Kerry for him. He was thrilled about that because he was getting pretty hopeless about the whole thing. Even though his guy lost, at least he felt like he had tried.
I really appreciated my friend's gesture. It was hard to see my son feel so powerless regarding something he really cared about. And it made me think about how my kid’s personal struggle and the response he got was similar to lots of stuff going on in the world. There are so many folks without a voice and so many people that take advantage of the opportunities they have. The situations where people need representation are varied, but the need seems to be everywhere I look. The people in war torn countries need voices to speak out in their support, the victims of domestic violence need voices to speak on their behalf (because raising their voices might put them in danger), over and over again I realize how many ways just speaking out could help. You can take speaking out to mean a lot of things, from protesting to voting to lobbying to direct action, or all of those things and more.
Over the holidays I started thinking about something else that, at least in my mind, is connected. I tend to have a really rough time emotionally during the holidays. There is a lot of conflict in my biological family that I can usually kind of ignore through most of the year. But as everyone around me makes plans to get together and celebrate with their families, it makes me realize how shattered my family is and that is pretty painful. I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. So many of us got fucked up, from alcoholism to Catholicism, there are all kinds of stuff we are carrying with us that weighs us down to varying degrees.
When you have something really heavy to deal with, some sort of emotional damage or physical disability, it can take all of your resources just to cope. There isn’t much energy left to put out in the world to help other people, no matter how much you may want to. Being bi-polar, I feel like a flounder a lot. Some days it seems like a huge thing to just feel okay and try to be a good mom and homeschool my son and carry on decent relationships with the people around me. I actually feel like I’m doing pretty good, but aside from these things, I feel dissatisfied about how much I’m able to do outside of my immediate surroundings. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, either.
Anyway, during the holidays I thought about how I cope during the hard times, and a huge part of dealing with my pain involves directing my energy to my son in the most positive way I can. If the holidays are a bad time for me then I will make them better for him, if the education system let me down then I'll try to do better for him, and so on. In so many ways, raising a child has been healing for me. I can’t change my childhood, but what I can do is live a life that proves to me that I am not worthless, that I am not doomed to unhappiness or hardwired to self destruct. At times I do feel really screwed up, but it is so important to me that I give my son a decent life that I have to let go of that negative stuff. I have to step out of those old patterns and create new ones.
Now, I am definitely not saying go have a kid so you can try to deal with your childhood crap, but what I am saying is that a really worthwhile thing to do for yourself and the world is to simply be what you needed in your own times of crisis. For me personally, in the context of my home life, I needed an environment that was physically safe and free from verbal abuse. For someone else, it may be something like needing some support when visiting an abortion clinic, advice about coming out to your family, or ways to defend yourself in a physical attack. I’m sure that everyone can look back and identify at least one situation where they needed something that they couldn’t manage on their own. There must be some sort of knowledge or support that you wish you had back then. If you are reading this, then you are a survivor. You have what it takes, and more than likely you can now understand and provide the very thing you needed.
The reason I’m pointing this out is because I want to give encouragement to people who don’t know how to go out and change the world, or to people who can’t go out and save the world because they have too much weighing them down. There is the possibility of helping yourself when you assist others, and there is nothing wrong with focusing your activism on those things that touch you personally. There can be healing in knowing that you lived through a terrible thing and have the emotional strength and insight to support someone going through the same thing. It doesn't have to be huge...those small acts of support or protection can mean all the difference in the world to someone going through a crisis.
This year is getting off to a rough start and more than ever we need to take care of ourselves and the people around us. We can achieve change and find victory in other ways, in closer places, in whatever way we are capable. The worst thing we could do is to turn on each other or lose our humanity because then the oppressive systems that are in place have reached us to the core. Let's not allow that to happen.
—Living and learning, Candyce