I wanted a blanket tonight, not because it is too cold to sit outside, but because it’s comforting. Temperatures fell in Hurricane Matthew’s wake, and while I lost a few branches, its death toll sounds at over a thousand lives taken, euphemism cushioning the empathetic blow. Sunday’s presidential debate reenacted the harsh rains and unforgiving winds of the hurricane. Despite a pleasing fall night, I feel a chill in the air.
A chill in the cultural climate, one created in conflict, hardship, and uncertainty. A chill born out of a storm that claims houses, possessions, and people. A chill that whispers winter is coming to US political soil. A chill that resonates at a frequency just below normal such that you have to stop.
Stop. To feel it.
I wonder if it’s been there for others, under the surface of everyday moments. I can describe it only as a singular awareness that something isn’t right, but unable to come to a swift conclusion, I dismiss it and reengage in the task at hand. Sufficiently inundated with work and workouts, the chill disappears, and any consideration of its implications with it.
This weekend, my brain responded to the cold front and endless rain with a muddled stirring of thoughts and feelings. I was disappointed to miss out on the Renaissance Festival. I resented my computer for deciding to uninstall all of my applications “accidentally”. I worried about balancing the coming week with picture day, Spirit Week, and an observation by my principal with all the unanticipated needs that would present themselves.
By church on Sunday, the chill was no longer encapsulated by a fleeting moment. I couldn’t sing without my voice catching. Once again, I attempted to hide the tears from Charming. Though I was aware of his presence, I was alone. In that moment, I could identify all of my preoccupations of the previous day as absurd, all of the average pursuits of my life as calculatingly meaningless.
I could make a disclaimer that the fall in temperatures effaced in the darkening of an existential mood, but it’s likely pointless, too. After church, we’d have lunch with friends and watch the Redskins play, and I was there, but I was a robot. Maybe I still am because the chill never left.
I watched these men in fashionable leggings duke it out, witnessed Charming sitting forward anxiously in his seat as the last two minutes found his team the victor. I installed apps on my computer at the same time. Ones for photo, audio, and video editing. Ones for documents and printers and language learning. I drove the same route home to Hampton, passing cars and advertisements, stores and lights.
At home, I had to retrieve my umbrella from the neighbor’s yard and pick up the fallen branches from the storm. I unpacked, graded papers, did laundry and the dishes, took out the trash, and decorated for autumn. And to prove to Charming that I would still be interested in the news if we weren’t dating, I watched the most recent presidential debate.
I haven’t figured out where this is headed, but mention of the debate certainly won’t lift the mood. I watched the candidates do battle while my memory supplied competing feed of Theodore Roosevelt Island where Charming brought me back in February. There, a stone monument boasted a presidential quote that read:
“Youth. I want to see you brave and manly, and I also want to see you gentle and tender. Be practical as well as generous in your ideas… Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life. Alike for the nation and the individual, the one indispensable requisite is character.”
Character. Strip away the business of life, and it’s what we’re left with when we finally stop. With each presidential hopeful encumbered in scandal in varying arenas, Teddy Roosevelt’s call falls on deaf ears. I say little about politics. My mother says a lot. After these debates, I found myself reassuring her with the idea after four years without it, America is going to crave a leader with character and integrity.
We have created distractions in abundance. I postpone the update on my phone every day at five p.m. because I don’t want to unplug from the world for a half an hour. We have Homecoming, football games, Renaissance Festivals, cars, and stores with aisles where we get to choose from twenty flavors of the same potato chips. We store memories on the cloud and maintain relationships over the internet.
The abundance ultimately consumes us. We don’t stop or sit still or unplug because when we do, when we’re silent, we feel that chill.
Something isn’t right.
Then we consume ourselves with making dinner, running errands, and repeating some variation of a forty-hour work week. Underneath all the clutter, the business, the weekly agenda, and the electronic devices, who are we? Why are we doing all this doing? What is the end game for the playbook on this existence that values men in tights getting a ball into an end zone in as high regard as political leaders responsible for the life and death of its citizens?
I love the quiet of my front porch when I write. Out here, my scarecrow keeps me company. But inside, in that quiet and stillness, all of the clutter of the current cultural climate is ultimately silenced. Why do I so desperately long for motherhood? People are meant to exist as part of a family unit. We grow up as a part of a family, and our identities are shaped and formed by those key influences.
Then, we’re supposed to form our own families, right? I tried. I failed. More than three years living alone, and I’m worried it’s stunted my growth, that I’m less than the woman I could be if only I were a wife and a mother. My belief is that by experiencing the trials coming in the next four years, our nation will build character.
I see the abundance. The abundance in loss in the wake of a hurricane. The abundance in uncertainty in the face of an atypical national election. The abundance in distractions that consume us. Only when I see the abundance, it means nothing. Every point of engagement in our daily lives is defined by one trait alone, alike to the nation and the individual. The one requisite is character.
Unplugged. Alone. In silence. Who am I? The chill is like pain in my knee after a hard workout, an indicator that something is, in fact, wrong. Why is it that my tattered road led me to a longing for a family of my own? Because when you strip away all these manmade creations that consume me, man and wife, father and mother, that was God’s design all along.
Alike for the nation where trials build character, this present realization will test me and I probably won’t find any answers soon. A chill is uncomfortable, but it points to a climate change. Something isn’t right. If we stop, really stop, that’s where we have the potential to become brave and manly, gentle and tender, practical and generous. To build character, we need to stop long enough to identify what’s wrong in the first place.