Waging Peace

AFTER I RAN out of blank cards, I started decorating regular Christmas cards.

 

The need, the drive, didn’t hit me immediately. It came on me slowly, sneaking up on me from the side, in a zigzag pattern like spies or commandos storming a building in a World War II movie.

But first, after the initial shock and bottoming out of my stomach on November 8, 2016, my emotions went all fire-engine red and boiling hot orange anger mixed with gray despondence and despair. I couldn’t believe half the country had decided not to show up at the polls so that 25% of the country could vote in a man who makes fun of the disabled and thinks it’s okay, normal even, to speak with such disrespect about women or immigrants or anyone really, other than himself. It had been a year since Dad had died and I felt like I was grieving for my dad all over again, AND the country he’d immigrated to, at the same time.

But eventually, I needed something — anything — to keep me going, get me past this and back to life. Staring off into space for hours at a time between bouts of rage and grief does not pay rent or get stories written or feed the cat.

Normally, writing is one of those tools I use to find my way around my emotions, but I was too raw to write. It just seemed to make things worse. I just got angrier, especially at anyone who called for acceptance and calm. All those people asking for that felt too much like the slimy arm of some creepy authority figure trying to manipulate me into behaving a certain way. It felt wrong.

At the same time, the anger wasn’t productive, but it wasn’t going away either. I still needed to figure out how to manage all this anger and grief. Teddy, my cat, tried to console me. My heart was breaking for dreams I had held fast and hoped would come to fruition since I was a little girl. These were dreams I’d had for even longer than I’d wanted to be a writer. Dreams of hope and a world where everyone had a place at the table, no matter their gender, race, religion, ethnicity. These dreams predated my desire to write stories.

TEDDY DID his best to console me while I worked through things.

So, I had no words to describe what I was feeling; no words for dealing with the grief. Anger, hurt, and betrayal cycled through me constantly. I tried to tamp them down, but always I was wondering, did those people who voted for Trump, some of them quite possibly friends and family, did they truly comprehend all the damage he would do? That people they knew and loved would lose access to healthcare? Did they care about that at all? Did they care at all about the people they knew in blended families — blended genders, blended nationalities, blended religions, blended sexualities? Did they care that free clinics and Planned Parenthood clinics and other programs who help people with little or no access to healthcare probably kept people they knew healthy enough to be productive members of society? Did they care at all about all those people, from babies up to adults, who are disabled and probably going to lose access to necessary education and occupational programs? Did they not get that science is real and climate change really is killing us all?

Or were they as angry as I was, but from a different viewpoint altogether? Were they so clouded with fear and anger at losing grasp in a changing world that their vote was a last attempt to hold onto a world that no longer existed? Maybe they truly believed that the world was a zero sum problem, so if someone gets more, they automatically get less. Maybe they didn’t realize that if we all win together it’s better for all of us. Maybe they didn’t grasp that just because people with different beliefs were showing up and asking to be counted, didn’t mean any one belief system or way of life was being invalidated.

I kept wondering why they didn’t understand: If they didn’t believe in a woman’s choice to do with her body what she will, or that people of the same gender could marry, or that other religions were just as valid as their own, or that science was real and we all deserve to have access to, or the ability to obtain food, clothing, shelter — that that was their choice. They could believe that if they wanted. If they wanted to keep their world small, that was their choice. But that was the thing. It was their CHOICE. The rest of us chose NOT to live in that small world. And we continue to choose NOT to be sucked into that dark abyss with them.

As angry as I was with that particular “them” — the “them” who had chosen a smaller, darker world — I also knew that somehow I needed to get past that anger. Somehow, the world needs to change to allow all of us to co-exist, not just a few of us comfortably and the rest tossed under the bus. And I knew that I needed to actively participate within myself for that change to take hold.

Of course, I wasn’t thinking nearly as coherent as above when I started making Christmas cards and watching Star Trek and Christmas movies. But, my brain couldn’t deal with it all, it was too much. No editing or writing jobs were going to get done while my brain was in this fog of grief and disbelief. No reaching out to others on the other side to show them that the world needed to be open and not closed was going to happen while I was just so very angry. In fact, no real thinking was happening at all, at first. It was Christmas movies cuz… Christmas. And Star Trek (TOS, TNG, Deep Space Nine, Voyager … it didn’t matter) cuz Star Trek is always relevant. And then I reached past the words to something deeper and began to create.

I got out my pens, pencils, brushes, paint, glitter, glue, blank cards, old cards, scissors and everything and set about painting and drawing and cutting and gluing and spreading glitter over everything.

At first I was just going to make about ten cards, just enough for some family and close friends. But then I realized there were a few more people to send to, and then I needed to get more laminate pouches, and then more glitter. Eventually, I found that once I got started, I couldn’t stop. So I just got as many 4 x 6 cards and laminate pouches as I could afford, ordered more stamps, and set about nonverbally expressing myself as hard and as loud as I could.

I wasn’t sure who would get what card at first. I just looked at pictures and colors and let my emotions and creative urges have their way with me. I’d make a bunch of cards, set them aside to “set” and make more, or work on making my Christmas crossword and newsletter. Then, I’d take the cards that were “set” and look through them, and look through my address list and see what spoke to me. The cards told me where they wanted to go.

It was all instinctive. There was no coherent thought to it. Pick up a blank card, think of the colors, look at the bits of paper I wanted to use in a collage, glue, paint, cover with glitter. Let dry. Repeat.

I couldn’t stop, so I decided to go with it. Each night I’d do as many cards as I could, wearing myself out so I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep.

Once I got through all the 4 x 6 cards I had purchased, I found regular Christmas cards and started decorating them, too. Colors and glitter. If I was being forced to have a president who believed in a dark world with no color, then I was going to make sure I spread the color and the glitter and light and life as far and as wide as I could. I don’t even know if I can describe the fierceness in my heart at how necessary it felt for me to do this.

It was early/mid December when I finally felt myself floating to the surface of my emotional ocean. Coherent words and thoughts were finally stringing themselves together outside of work. And the phrase that kept repeating itself in my head as I worked on my cards was “waging peace.” And that’s when I realized that what I had been doing was fighting a war in my heart to match the war “out there;” I was waging peace.

And then it was like everything broke loose. It didn’t matter if you were anti-Trump or had voted for the orange monster, or someone else, I was waging peace with these cards, and I was waging it in your direction. And dammit, I was going to be heard. This was my effort to reach out and get my message across — not with words, as words had failed me. If you weren’t going to listen to me or any words I said or wrote before the election, you weren’t going to care about any words I said to you now.

But now I was waging peace with color, pictures, paint, glitter, and my purely emotional and whimsical hope for a holiday that would be merry despite the despair in my heart and the fear and hatred peppering the world.

And I believe this still. Somehow we all have to get that message out there, past the prejudice of speech and old arguments, go primal and pre-speech, with hearts and dreams and color and glitter and hope — we have to reach out to the world and wage peace.

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