Huck on the stairs
On election day I towed our tractor a dozen miles to the north, to help move material for a foundation job my friend Michael was working on. I drove slowly, as I always do when I’m towing, and as I mostly do even when I’m not towing, and on a little-traveled gravel road I passed a herd of Black Angus walking single file along a well-worn path across a stubbled field. Sun already high and hot on their dark flanks.
Of the election, I have little to say. Like most people, I crave a degree of security and certainty in my life, even as I recognize the folly in it, even as I understand that the only certainty is the tumult of uncertainty. And how little I know, really, about the workings of the world, of the humans who inhabit it, and of the vastness of all that is non-human. How little I know, even, about the workings of my own heart and mind, terrain I find endlessly fascinating, to be sure, but which never ceases to surprise me at twists and turns I could never have anticipated.
I guess that’s why my writing tends to be so personal and, in some ways, I suppose, so small. It’s just what I know. I know the sun on the shit-flecked flanks of those Angus, what it looks and feels like. I know the pleasure of working with my friend. I know how to love an animal and how to reconcile that love with the coppery smell of its blood on my hands. I know the exact spot on the wood cook stove that gets hottest every time, so that my coffee might be ready the sooner. I know that right now my sons are deep in the woods on a week-long solo camping trip, trapping for their food and cooking over a fire, and that when I think of this, I feel a certain loneliness. They need less and less from me every day.
But of the election result – the reasons for it, the motivations behind it, the meaning of it – I know very little, and so I will say very little, except to share the words of Charles Eisenstein, who writes this (you can read the whole thing here):
Dehumanization is a predecessor of war. When you see your opponents as subhuman in their morals, conscience, or intelligence, then you will have to defeat them by force. Moral or rational persuasion won’t do it…
I will not venture an opinion on whether the candidates themselves are hideous. We live in a system that encourages and rewards corrupt and even psychopathic behavior. What I do know, though, is that the vast majority of ordinary people are not the cartoonish caricatures of human beings that political rhetoric has made them out to be. They have an experience of life, a history, a convergence of circumstances that has brought them to their opinions. Just like you…
Dehumanizing narratives are never the truth. The truth can only be sourced from the sincere question, “What is it like to be you?” That is called compassion, and it invites skills of listening, dialog, and communicating without violence or judgment. Now there may be times when such skills fail and there is no choice but to fight. Failure is guaranteed, though, when the surrounding narrative casts the opponent as evil, twisted, disgusting, or deplorable. In that case, war is the likely result.
The work I did on election day went smoothly; Michael and I were finished by four, and I loaded up the tractor for the drive home, and when I passed the farm where I’d seen the Angus that morning, I saw them again in almost exactly the same spot, but now walking the other way. Headed for the barn. Hay, grain, water.
And I imagined them in the field yet again, bedded down for the night, maybe in part because I know what bedded-down cows look like, and it’s a sight that brings me comfort. There’s something in the solidity of it, the communion of flesh and earth, the unspoken acceptance that tomorrow will come. Bringing what it may.