“The heavy-footed hoped to silence us”

Once, years ago, on a sunny afternoon, I almost died.

It was a boating accident, three teenagers miles offshore in a 16-foot Kestrel, a speedy British-built centerboard racing boat. It was an exhilaratingly windy day. The tall redheaded boy at the tiller was an experienced sailor, he knew how to make his boat fly. The other girl was my best friend, a star athlete. Our feet tucked under the hiking strap, we were giddy with the speed, straining to lean back and out as far as we could over the wet chop, getting sprayed with each bounce, laughing our salty asses off. Then the hiking strap snapped.

We flew like watch springs in three separate directions, backwards. Tumbling over and down, then underwater forever. Then up, gasping for air, separated from each other and unable to see over the whitecaps for more than a second at a time. It turned out that the Amazon athlete had lied to everyone for years about knowing how to swim. We were 16, of course we hadn’t worn the life jackets.

We all made it. The redhead kid managed somehow to keep the jock from drowning them both in her hysteria, I still don’t understand how I was able to swim back to the half-sunken boat, dive underneath the limp sail and through the mess of floating ropes, find the life vests, then swim back against the current to the others. We had to float the six or seven miles back in, it was close to midnight by the time we made it, falling and stumbling ashore, our legs like jelly from being in the water so long. Ironically, all our parents were completely oblivious, each thinking their kid was at one of the other’s houses. By the time they found out, we were safe home, loopy and tired, full of teenage bravado.

But in that first slow-motion half hour, out there fighting those waves, nothing had been certain.

And here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, where you are, flailing and drowning on the open sea, or asleep on your couch. It doesn’t matter how old, young, smart, dumb, poor or rich you are, on skid row or behind a huge desk in the corner office. Nothing ever is certain, ever. Merrily fucking merrily, life, and safety, is but a fake out, a total illusion. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. He doesn’t know how to get back to Kansas either, no matter what he says.

‘Regard all dharmas as dreams’.

That also applies to politics and presidential elections. What, you disagree? Don’t argue with me, argue with an esteemed poet. In 2007, Adrienne Rich was honored by the organization Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), a New York non-profit that singles out deserving activists working for social justice to receive their annual Risk-Taker Awards:

This campaign? This election? It’s today. It’s tomorrow. Wherever the edge of your envelope is, it’s time to push it. It’s time to be a risk taker. No matter what they tell us otherwise, no matter how they try to scare the crap out of us, or lull us into trusting their version of reality, it’s time, our time. We have a choice every day to stay scared when they get the best of us, or to keep breathing through it, trusting ourselves in the midst of the uncertainty. Because it’s all uncertainty.

That’s the other other thing. You already know this, all of you, but the conventions, then the election, and then… we have to keep it up. Even when/if our guy wins, we have to keep it up. We’re going to have to fight him, and we are going to have to fight the other guys, and they will never give up. Every cabinet appointment, every agency head, every judge, every anybody, every bill, every vote, every anything. None of it is certain.

“Thank you demons, for coming today. Come again tomorrow then. And from time to time, we will converse.”

Rich lays it out for us, the true risks of silence, what it costs to speak, and why we have to pay that cost, have to make that choice to remain fully conscious of the nature of realities both internal and external.

The second poem is one of Rich’s own, and by all means, go watch her read it, in the original videohere.

For more information on the work of JFREJ, visit theirwebsite

6 thoughts on ““The heavy-footed hoped to silence us”

  1. i don’t think i was in bad peril. but took my cousin’s 9 ft? sailboat alone, WEARING a vest tho. i think. windy day. got her going well. then, the first trip over. uh oh. i was to lightweight to get that little boat over. eventually got it. did it a few more times, but that ‘uh oh’ moment is not good.
    WHEW is a very good thing.
    may we have a big WHEW in november.

  2. Thanks Virgotext.
    I think that one of the reasons that we are often times so worn out is all the times that our justice is denied. I just found out that a defamation case against a talk radio host was thrown out. The good news is that the case that Savage started against CAIR/Hate Hurt America got thrown out.
    I wish our politicians would understand that refusing to go after people is an energy destroyer. In a way I’m TIRED of doing the job we elected them to do. But unless I take on the big fish they won’t. We have to be the leaders. With limited resources and frightened hearts.
    And after we win, I will be damned if the snarky people who are supposed to be doing this work will look down on us lowly bloggers.

  3. We have to be the leaders. With limited resources and frightened hearts.
    That’s the point of the “thank you demons,” quote from the story of Milarepa. The demons invaded Milarepa’s cave and rather than let them terrify and destroy him, he made friends with them.
    it’s not quite the same thing applied to politics and power. “making friends” with governmental and regulatory failure isn’t what’s needed. But sitting with the reality of it, accepting that reality rather than the spin and the doublespeak, and rather than be defeated by our own futility and bitterness and lack of confidence, that’s how we can make change.
    When more of us take up that role, it won’t be as lonely and hard for brave people like you, and Karen Gadbois and others like you who have put their shoulders to the wheel.

Comments are closed.