Most days, I move through my world with a dull pain of anxiety in the back of my mind. Like there’s some door somewhere I left ajar or a light bulb burnt out, or something just slightly knocked askew. I don’t know where to look or how to fix it. It just feels like something, somewhere is a little off. I watch this ache ebb and flow throughout my day. I see how it gets passed around to my friends and coworkers, to my family, and to strangers on the street.
This small gnawing anxiety is following all of us around, like a ghost trying to tell us we’ve collectively forgotten to lock our front doors.
I’ve watched it manifest itself into fights between family members, into women who I don’t know who hug me and cry, into nurses who tell me not to worry, and strange men who dismiss my words. I see it transform into long comment threads on the internet, only to be ended abruptly without resolution. Big protests in cities across the country, and small, late night tweets from someone’s smartphone.
When you don’t believe in something you fall for anything
While walking around Downtown LA, I realized that I’ve met this ghost and I’ve felt this dull ache before. In 2011, I– along with much of the world– closely watched the youth in the Middle East topple regimes that they felt were broken. I was inspired by their drive and their fearlessness. I felt at once a kinship with their desire to make their world a better place, and their anxiety for what would come. Toppling a broken system is only half the battle. Building a new one is its own challenge.
It is not enough to know what we don’t believe in. We must believe in something as well. There is always creation that goes along with destruction. Nothing is ever demolished without something being built in its place. But without a plan, without a vision, and without a belief in an ideal future, there is no control over what manifests in that void. And voids are breeding grounds for extremism.
I am most afraid that we, as the general American public, have stopped believing in anything. I’m not talking about God. I’m talking about ourselves. I’m afraid that we’ve dedicated so much energy to being right, to winning debates and elections, that we’ve lost sight of who we are as a collective. We’ve become rigid, polarized, stuck, and stagnant. But our country is neither a tower nor a wall. It is not an unmovable, concrete, rock-solid thing. It is like a beautiful ship. It can get lost and find its way again. It can weather storms and navigate waves of change with precision. That grace and maneuverability are precisely what makes this country what it is.
I know underneath all that anger and frustration is fear.
Please do not be afraid. It is easier, sometimes, to be angry instead of hurt. It is easier, sometimes, to remain silent instead of vocal. It is easier, sometimes, to destroy instead of repair. It is easier, sometimes, to build walls keeping out those you do not understand. It is easier, sometimes, to believe what someone tells you to believe, instead of listening to your heart. It is easier, sometimes, to become rigid, because being malleable means we might lose our balance and fall.
I know, sweet friend, I know. I know this fear so well: the fear of losing something so dear to you, the thought of it hurts your very soul. I know this ache. It is part of being human, and though we do not see eye to eye, we feel this pain collectively.
What happens to one of us, happens to all of us. What happens to us as a nation, affects us as individuals. There is no escaping our interconnectedness. No walls or legislation or fake news can change the ripple effect that we all feel. We have to remember to listen to each other– finding the right words and time to speak. Our founders knew this. It’s time we remembered.
We have to remember how to believe. We have to find the right words to guide us back to each other.