The current political situation in the United States leaves many older Americans (but certainly not all – the majority of people over 50 voted for Trump) in a quandary about what to do. I have thought about this carefully and there are a few points I would like to consider.
In many cases, old people have little to lose. We are often on fixed pensions of one type or another, we don’t have a job to take leave from if we go out to protest, we needn’t fear reprisals from colleagues. We have Social Security and Medicare (at least for now). On the other hand, we are not as vigorous as we once were and long marches start us thinking about where the restroom will be and whether we can go the distance. But, while we may not have physical strength, we do have bodies to put in the way and, perhaps, a certain sentimental public relations value in such matters. (What cop wants to be photographed grappling with a white-haired old lady?)
We are tired and also a little resentful. Where are the young people? I know some of them are out there, but I do not see the passion or the numbers I remember. (And, yes, I realize my memory is not perfect and getting worse.) When we were young we were out in the thousands protesting against the Viet Nam war, for Civil Rights, for the ERA. Shouldn’t the banner be picked up by those coming along behind us who have the most to lose, since they will have to live longer with the results? Are we more upset than the younger people because they think it’s just a phase they’ll live through, and we fear it may be a phase we will never see the other side of?
And yet we must do something. I keep chanting to myself: We cannot leave with things in this state. Like the dying person who puts her household in order so her children won’t have to deal with the muddle, I cannot imagine retiring, dying, from a world that is in such a … mess.
I envy Simeon, the old man in the New Testament, who was ready to die once he saw the child Jesus and was convinced that everything was going to be fine. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Simeon was a fortunate man. I think of Leonard Cohen, who died the day before Trump was elected; when I heard the news of his passing I remember being grateful he never had to face the next day’s revelation. But I also I think of Sigmund Freud, who escaped Austria for England in 1938. Before he left Austria, he said, “What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now, they are content with burning my books.” He was wrong; there was no progress. If he had stayed, they might well have burned him also. Freud died in 1939 while things were surely looking disastrous, but without learning the full extent of the horror. But how hard is it to leave the world in decline, perhaps worse than you found it? Think of the old folks who died in Hitler’s concentration camps long before the Allies pushed through.
Many of our parents and grandparents emigrated to this country for a better life for their children and grandchildren – and those children mostly had a far better life. Those immigrant parents saw their children graduate from school, get jobs, buy houses, do better than their forebears. I find myself grieving for the future of my grandchildren. I mourn for their rights, their environment, their humanity, for civility and justice. And for the immigrant parents at the border whose children may never have a chance for that better life.
So, what to do? Postcards, phone calls, donations to ACLU, Planned Parenthood, good candidates? Local rallies, posts on Facebook, family arguments? Remain polite and civil in the face of the crude, the impolite, the uncivil, the unfair? Please feel free to post your ideas here.
This week’s story (“Ritual“) is about the power of ritual to get us through. Like little children, old people know about the utility of ritual to comfort and soothe. But, we (perhaps) should be thinking a little harder about how to break out of it. And do something.