Yesterday, when I read that the U.S. government granted Shell permission to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, I felt sick and drained. My limbs grew heavy; my chest felt like a chunk of asphalt. I continued working on the syllabus for my academic essay course, the course that helps students practice making sense, base their ideas on evidence, identify and question the sources of their positions and options. I got a draft done before heading off to choir rehearsal, where one of my fellow altos asked me how my day had been. I said, “Not great.” I told her why.
“I think I just make myself numb to a lot of it,” she said. “There’s so much that’s terrible.”
I don’t think I really feel it–the weight, the reality, the looming absence, the many stupid deaths, the blank ocean, the blank land. I tell myself that if I really felt it, I would do anything to make the feeling stop–which would not be the same as making the source of the feeling stop, which is what I want to do, and am trying to do, in my tiny way, and am trying to find bigger ways to do.
The song we’re singing in choir is a song of grief and love. It doesn’t have the power to bring the dead beloved back to life. If it did, I would sing it all day and all night. If it did, I would find people to sing it in shifts with me and the other people who are learning it with me, I would insist that we continue to bear this person up with our voices, I would beg if I had to. I still couldn’t make anyone sing, but I would try to make the case: “This is necessary and I need help to do it.” I would sing until the beloved person lived their years out.
Some deaths are stupider than others. Some deaths we can stave off by work, by love, by the will to both, by the willingness to risk our own lives, before they happen. Some deaths we can resist by courage, by faith, by recognition of and action toward what needs to change. But the ones who are lost are lost.
If you are feeling very badly today, if willful dismissal of evidence and greed and fear and failure of courage are weighing down your limbs, I hope it helps to know that today I am feeling that way too.