Notes from Home: Stillness

As the days shorten in light and the weeks before the election dwindle, I find myself seeking stillness. It’s not something I’m proud of; in some ways it feels like cowardly retreat. It feels like resignation, like an attempt to avoid despair or defeat that is inherently counterproductive. But unable to move in any other direction, I am following stillness’s call.

The antics of our acting president have become a bore. Needless to say I was disappointed in the hope I expressed last week that his brush with death contracting the coronavirus might make him sympathetic. Before the column even made it into print he had converted it into a campaign strategy. Now he’s out making the world safe for capitalism again. Will the voters ever realize that democracy and capitalism are not the same thing? Will we realize in time that without democracy, capitalism becomes a form of totalitarianism that only civil war can overturn? I hope so.

In my search for stillness, I’ve been reading one of my favorite authors, Parker J. Palmer. His life is an interesting one: raised Protestant, he became a Quaker; Berkeley-trained sociologist, he became a community organizer, then member and eventually leader of an intentional community in Pennsylvania, Pendle Hill. His book on finding your true vocation, Let Your Life Speak, has helped me find my voice; his book on community activism, The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring, has given me new energy as I complete the book that I hope to carry into the world to repair our relation to land.

But last week I opened one I had trouble reading when I first bought it 10 years ago: The Power of Paradox. Perhaps it was because the title seemed so intellectual, and I was in reaction against things that would pull me back in that direction. Likely, it was because I wasn’t ready, because this time, paradoxically, it makes sense. It is his deep understanding of the social-political function of community that has captured my attention now. Written 40 years ago, his warnings about what happens to democracy when community disappears are prophetic. He wrote:

“We sadly mistake the task of politics if we focus all our efforts on petitioning or pressuring the institutions of government toward certain ends. The functioning of democratic institutions depends on the existence of a community, a community to which government is accountable, a community which gives people the power to make claims on those who govern.”

He continues: “But the American condition seems to be one of deepening privatism… We are more anxious to protect our roles as consumers than to develop our roles as citizens, more desirous of being able to buy our autonomy than letting our interdependence show… In truth, of course, we are interdependent… As the world economic crisis deepens, we will continue to learn just how interdependent we are.”

In this year of world economic crisis triggered by the world health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, which has amplified the disastrous powers of white privilege across the globe that have been tolerated much too long, we see the coming together of people to act as communities, to become communities, to realize and celebrate our interdependence, to save ourselves and the planet. In the stillness of this deep flowing river, Donald Trump is just a dead yellow autumn leaf floating on the surface.

Trudy Wischemann is a new admirer of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party who writes. You can send her your searches for stillness c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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