It was a strange morning, one that began with a standard-issue gray sky and birdcalls I couldn’t quite place: a flock of pine siskins moving through the yard, gleaning seeds from the dried goldenrod heads. I had stayed up much too late the night before, watching television images shrunk to a few hundred pixels wide on my computer screen, sitting alone in a dark house and watching the faces of strangers wild with joy or stricken with disbelief. Now I felt a little giddy myself. What had I been dreaming in the intervening few hours? All I could remember were clods of dirt being shaken loose from large rootballs, black fists turning into bouquets of extended fingers, enough tubers to keep us fed for a long cold season.
Was it my imagination, or had the oaks almost all turned brown overnight? Leaves cascaded from their crowns, filling the newly open understorey with motion. A kind of transhumance, I thought, relishing the cognate with humus, which they’d eventually become. Deciduous trees are such masters of renunciation, of yearly sacrifice. If only we could practice the same kind of doing-without! Imagine what that might do for household and national economies, to keep ourselves firmly within such limits. But could we tolerate the kind of suspended animation trees go into each winter? Can we make ourselves as still and stubborn, as smooth and inscrutable, as seemingly inert yet full of vitality as an acorn?
Yes, I think we can. Hell, some of us have been living in a state of suspended animation ever since 2000, when the news media bought into the idea that truth is completely relative, and which year was the last of the millennium could best be decided in the court of public opinion. It felt as if we had entered a fully postmodern, alternate reality in which spin and ignorance triumphed. In that election, a great, if flawed, founding document of the country I live in was grossly violated for the first of what turned out to be many times. Less than a year later, when national disaster struck, we were told that heroism and sacrifice were the special privilege of those in uniform. We were told that anyone who wasn’t with us was against us. We were told to go shopping.
For far too long, Americans have been getting the sorts of presidents we love to hate: narrow selfish preening ignorant bullies. Sons of privilege with smirks on their faces — the kind we seem to elect to almost every office, starting with Class President in Junior High, perhaps because we feel that doing so will make them like us and treat us as equals. But not this time. This time, we’ve elected the weird kid: by his own admission, an outsider as a teenager, one with a funny foreign name and background, the wrong color skin, and bookwormy ways. Like “A Boy Named Sue,” he had to get tough or die — but unlike the protagonist of that song, he learned, he said, that sometimes the toughest thing to do was walk away from a fight, to meet an insult not with the outraged honor of a fragile ego but with implacable calm. And the kids who worked the hardest to elect him? Their energy and lack of cynicism fill me with hope. And not coincidentally, I think, a new and more vigilant, grassroots news media has arisen online. Maybe now we can begin to face some of the hard truths that Americans from all parts of the political spectrum have always been loath to admit.
The sky cleared late in the morning, the temperature climbed past 60 degrees, and the air filled with insects: gnats, wasps, ladybugs, honeybees. I went for a walk, trying to get used to the sensation of air flowing over my scalp. That feeling of a literal weight having been lifted. That newfound sense of vulnerability. The uncanniness of change.
[Edited 11/6/08, after I got a little more sleep]