“It could only be the record of what had had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts…”
“…there are more things in men to admire than to despise.”
Albert Camus, excerpts from The Plague
When I was younger and a teacher, I was drawn to Albert Camus because I thought his writing captured the futility of life. I had gone through my own existential crisis and thought The Stranger captured the dry coolness of those thought patterns in a spare and well-crafted way. Later, as I read more of his work and as my life experience changed my perspective, I grew to respect Camus’ ability to see and portray hope in a time of plague. I learned he had been a member of the Resistance. He was not Meursault, the young man who fell prey to ennui and narcissism. Camus, through his writing, was a healer.
I always think of Camus after dark episodes in our history. I turn to books after tragedies or trials. Books have been a source of solace from the time I first learned to read to my current middle age. As we waited anxiously for the results of the 2020 election, I went back through The Plague, from cautionary passages to words that filled me with hope. Our world, our lives, are filled with lessons yet also celebrations.
While I pray daily, my prayers between November 3rd and the morning of the 7th were difficult. They didn’t calm my nerves. They filled me with anxiety. I prayed for the strength to be a good parent, a good principal, a good human. I prayed to be COVID free. I prayed that we get a new president so my partner would stop dreaming of a life in another country. I prayed for hope and empathy to win over power and wealth. I prayed with desperation. These were not the warrior prayers of the blood moon or the prayers for the dead when my abuelita or Donte died. These prayers felt heavy.
A friend of mine had asked on social media early in the week what we would do if we thought election results were favorable. I kept my answer simple. I said I would dance a samba. Samba, in its most authentic form, is a dance of resistance. It is a dance created by oppressed people and rooted in not so feathery history. I danced to a longtime favorite, Chico Buarque’s “Vai Passar.” This song commemorates the violent history of racial injustice in Brazil. However, it also highlights the gift of Carnaval, an opportunity to celebrate in the streets that were once filled with rage and sorrow, how we can create something joyful from tragedy. It’s a song of resistance and resilience. It was the right song to bring light to my heart and soul that morning.
Saturday, November 7, 2020, was a great day in the United States for many people. People around the world joined our celebration. But we have had terrible days and we will face terrible days again. Civilization, particularly our national brand of it, has yet to overcome its violence, its divisiveness, its penchant for terror and terrorism. It’s why we can’t have nice things for too long. Behind many buildings and historical landmarks, there is the specter of the plantation and all its horrors, the ghosts of indigenous peoples robbed of their homelands and forced to relocate in barren wastelands. For every military parade, there is the memory of bayonets going through peoples fighting for their native lands and for their lives, the curse of permanent mental scars on the people who go into combat for us and the secondary effects on their loved ones. For every advance in science, there is the price paid by people and animals sacrificed to trials, experiments, and failures to act quickly.
I move on, in dance, in prayer, in knowledge. Every morning of every day, I have an opportunity to realize how much power I hold to turn the tide of terror, to combat hatred without hands or arms. I can continue to learn and practice. I can be the protagonist of my darkest novel or the most hopeful one. No matter what may happen in the world, I can be a healer for myself and for others.