There is a moment that lives in between totally f*&ked and some form of redemption. In that moment – if it ever arrives – something happens that opens up the thing called possibility. With possibility, anything can look different even as it stands, right there in front of us, looking exactly the same as it did a moment before. When we were children, it was the Fairy Godmother’s perfectly timed arrival or the world’s most famous “heroes in a half-shell” showing up with their super ninja weapons. Everything – at least everything on the TV – works out just fine once the cast of characters glides or slides their way through that possibility moment and into the perfect resolution to everyone’s problems. Or, those who matter, anyway. There is a brutal disconnect there that I’m not getting into today.
It’s a lot different in real life, whether you are a kid or just still wish that repeatedly clicking your heels together will get you that happy-ever-after ending. We are variously stuck in dead end situations, jobs that are less than satisfying, bodies we don’t recognize, relationships we don’t think we’ll ever figure out, therapy that hasn’t yet found the smile you lost a few years back, a financial situation that is going from good to okay or okay to not great or not great to not bad or not bad to oh-oh to disastrous (it’s not you, it’s the economy: believe me), a mind that is definitely not as sharp as we seem to remember it once being, and losing sleep over that thing your closest friend posted on social media (What the …?). Where’s the possibility moment when you’re going through that?
Damned if I know.
But I have this story I can share with you.
Long, long ago, the story began to circulate in a community far, far away among a people who were dreadfully oppressed and fast losing hope. Their land had been taken over by a foreign country that had set up a government to rule over the people. The government imposed all kinds of difficulties, challenges, legislation, taxes, prohibitions on their citizens through laws and statutes. Not respecting those laws could result in what seemed to be capricious imprisonment or even death. (Maybe you think I’ve made up the ”long, long ago” part of the story because a lot of it sounds like what’s happening in many places in the world right now. But I do mean long, long ago.)
Then, as now, those most discontented were the youth. Living under extreme oppression and not having yet learned how to accept the disconnects seen between what goes on “over there” and what’s being experienced “right here”, youth get restless before they learn how to cope with oppression. And when they get restless, power gets snarky. It doesn’t end well. Not long, long ago. And not now.
There are conflicting details about what went down; I’m not going to repeat them here. A group – considered a gang by officials – planned a sort-of insurrection, hoping to get the discussion going and open up the possibility moment where change might be able to happen. They were desperate. They believed they had no option. And they knew where to make their biggest waves: with those who were complicit with their oppressors. If they started with the big guys, they knew they’d likely disappear and never be seen again. No. They believed their best bet was with their own people who had become aligned with the power that ruled their land in order to ingratiate themselves to that power. That’s where I’d go. At least, I think I would.
The problem with youth is that they think people understand them. They haven’t grown to the place where the world looks fixed, everything staid and in order. They still think that stuff can move, minds can change, order can be carefully deconstructed and put back in a new order. Their toys have been teaching them that their whole lives. But nothing has taught them the strength and power of the institutionalization of ideas.
So, as I intimated above, it didn’t go well. People were arrested. Members of the team broke ranks to save their own asses. One of them got killed in a gruesome, public display. The option for the rest of them: “Run for your lives!” And run they did.
But nothing changed. Nothing at all. It rarely does.
By now, you’ve probably identified the week I hate. It’s the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, the week where we remember how futile this all is, this arguing for change, this belief that things can get better. The morphing of that early week into an otherworldly story with a supernatural hero is no surprise. How are we supposed to cope with the despair that sets in when our known world is stolen and an invading, oppressive regime steps in? Or, to get more personal, how do we deal with hunger; an unwanted pregnancy where abortion is illegal; the folks on the corner waving your flag but who want everything but democracy; knowing your partner is sexually abusing your child; the millions of guns on the streets or another damned virus, both as likely as not to kill you; a child or parent with 24 hour medical needs; the murder of your teenager by a homeless stranger struggling with mental health issues in a province that refuses to provide them; a rent bill that means you cannot eat for the rest of the month; the knowledge that 59 million people are displaced because of climate events that destroyed their communities, their land, their businesses; the fear at the pit of your stomach when we have another lovely, warm winter in Ontario; the twelve foot walls of snow in California and the cones of debris sweeping across the southern states; dehydration in June; hurricane season; another approved oil project; the summer, those months when your child doesn’t get lunch at school?
Let me give you a dot dot dot so you can add your own reasons people believe in otherworldly deities.
People believe in otherworldly deities because they – we – don’t have answers. We can’t alleviate the pain, whether real time or existential. We can only anaesthetize it and, for a lot of us, that doesn’t work anymore, either. We don’t have superheroes, or Fairy Godmothers (see how I always capitalize that? I think I’m still waiting for one). It’s because we live within systems – just like that one long, long ago – that are set up for pleasure and profit for an elite group of people and not for common welfare and keeping every home and family safe. For many, the disaster of one more thing not working or falling apart is more than can be considered okay. Bend down. Pray. Maybe that will work. It may surely ease the pain. Believing in an otherworldly deity is about making everything get better by and by. And for many, that is their only hope. I will not stoke it, but I will not take it away from them. Let me get close. Let me try to understand. Let me see if I can help. Let me sit with you for a quiet hour and simply care. I won’t need to take away anyone’s beliefs. I might need to just be still and listen.
The future is not work that distinguishes itself as belonging to those who believe in the otherworldly deities or those who don’t. The future belongs to all of us. This week, this bloody week, reminds us that it is not going to be an easy journey. But from where we stand, we know there are no easy answers, no triumphant Hallelujahs. Not only must we sit with those who are in need of comfort and care, we must stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Right now, there are no more vulnerable groups of people than anyone younger than you, those whose wellbeing we have been consuming, those who will experience economic challenges of our making and the societal breakdown that will follow. Those who are our children, our children’s children, or not yet born.
Maybe I continue to capitalize Fairy Godmother because I still believe in you and me. I still think that, even minus the magic wands, the capes, and the ninja weapons, we do have the strength to resurrect this holy thing we know as dignity, life, wellbeing. Not only for ourselves, but for those we will never know. In that, is the only hope of this season. In that, too, is its greatest challenge. In that, perhaps you can make help someone step into their possibility moment. Perhaps someone can help you find yours.