I don’t know how to start this new year that feels already old. The usual resolutions seem irrelevant, the questions bewildering, the answers out of reach. I don’t know how to fix the mess the country has gotten itself into, a mess that is heading toward another crisis on Election Day. I can only fall back on my core belief that understanding is necessary for solution, which is why I’ve spent blog after blog trying to understand how we’ve done this to ourselves. Understanding doesn’t fix anything, but it changes the way we think about it—and quells fear. But today I’ve shaken off gloom by reminding myself of a gift I’ve discovered as a writer. Look around. That’s real.
I just came in from my morning walk with Dex and Jake, the latest of our twenty-year love affair with basenjis.
The air is chilly but warmer than it has been. Not like the past two weeks of historic cold. Five degrees Fahrenheit is cold in Michigan, freakish in Washington. But it’s over. The dogs sniff at the last small piles of snow that bewildered them two weeks ago. It’s just interesting now. I greet others out like myself, out walking to shake off the claustrophobia of another Covid pandemic surge. I push against the wind off the Strait of Juan de Fuca which is not much today and is fresh, head-clearing, familiar. At the top of the hill, the dogs’ heads come up, and a doe appears on the lawn across the street. Dogs and deer stare at each other. They aren’t strangers. She ambles away, and we go on. A neighbor drives by and waves. I wave.
I get home and find Bridget, our fifteen-year-old blind basenji, waiting her turn. I repeat the circuit the other way around. Bridget has to stop and reassess the world every time she hears a new sound or when an unfamiliar smell whiffs by, so going is slower this time.
Back at home, my friend and housemate of thirty years greets me with the day’s virus stats. She rages at the mobs of unvaccinated self-centered people out flying about the world without regard for the safety of others. She’s right. But this morning I see mobs of people bursting out because they’ve discovered what isolation does to their heads. I’m right too. We need each other. We all need each other. We need the cashier at Safeway who looks as though she’s mortally tired; we need the contractor and friend who was swept away (temporarily, I hope) by a far-right uncle; we need the hundred and fifty ferry workers who left their jobs. We need those mobs of masked citizens throwing risk aside to undo the isolation of the last two years. Last but not least we need our basenjis.
And if we can learn that, hold onto that need, maybe we can find the road back to community and come off of what George Packer called “a self-centered spree that continued for half a century while the common good withered away.” (Last Best Hope, p. 38) Packer sub-titled his book “America in Crisis and Renewal.” Maybe this is the hard way back to the mutual respect Alexis de Tocqueville so admired in Americans two hundred years ago. So turn off the computer and go take a walk. Look around. Wave at someone. It’s good medicine.