One of the first responders to my recent blog post, “The Insanity of America,” was a teacher. She spoke to my question, “Do we believe in change? Truly?”
I had answered myself by saying, “I’m no longer sure I do, and I’m not sure the world around me does either. I have a sense that we have lost hold on that most American of all dreams . . . a belief in the future.”
In response, she said that she does believe in change, “Change that happens quietly, slowly, child by child and person by person. It is a change we seldom see but is there in the souls of your readers.”
And yes, of course. That change I, too, believe in. If I didn’t, I couldn’t write another story, small or large. If I didn’t, I couldn’t climb out of bed in the morning. If I didn’t, I couldn’t breathe!
I have always believed in the change we create in one another, one on one on one. One child changed by a book. One friend changed by a listening ear. That kind of change feeds my life, and I still believe in it wholly. What I struggle to believe in, though, is that we can change the system we live in.
In 1972 my children were just beginning to be aware of the larger world when Watergate filled the news. That adults—our leaders—could behave like schoolyard bullies shocked them deeply. But as the situation played out, as some punishment was meted out and Nixon resigned his presidency, I said to my children, “See? The system works.”
And I was proud that it did.
Today, though, I can no longer offer that testament of faith.
Maybe the system never worked as well as we thought it did. And maybe the game of politics was always played solely with and for money. But in my lifetime, I have watched the rich grow ever more powerful, and I have watched that power make decisions that I abhor.
When I look at the nuclear-weapons game still being played between the U.S. and Russia, when I look at the way my country stomps around the world wearing military boots, when I look at our crumbling infrastructure, at the homeless, at the hungry children, at people of color being murdered by those assigned to protect, at this suffering planet . . . I no longer believe either in my power to make a difference or in the power of the system to heal itself.
I would despair except that despair changes nothing . . . except me. And despair would change me profoundly.
I love my days. I love this green summer world that surrounds me. I rejoice in the sacredness of my life, of all life. I do not choose to diminish one moment of it with useless weeping.
It has taken me many years to learn to balance between gratitude for the sweetness of my own life and honest recognition of a crumbling world. I choose to live in the gratitude.
Still I will say it again . . . we must speak, whether our speaking changes anything or not.
If we don’t, who will?