As a kid, I had problems–bullying, a little racism, typical teen drama. Sometimes when I would complain to my Dad he would impassively ruffle the pages of his newspaper and ask:
“Are you dead?”
Was he not listening to the blow by blow I just sobbed out? What does being dead have to do with anything? I would always spit out, “No,” with a pout. I knew what came next.
“Then you’re fine.” He would offer from behind his paper. Case closed.
What kind of bullshit was this? Could he not see the angst and pain my personal battles were causing me? Didn’t he care? I remember feeling that the simplicity of his answer was cold in light of the hard world outside our home. As with all good lessons, only later I came to see I had it backward: the world was cold and he was helping me create a hardness inside me to protect against its chill.
Later, in my room, gnashing my teeth in anger at the exchange, what would make me most mad is that I could not deny that he was right. No matter what anybody had said to me, no matter what emotional knots I tied myself up in over my battles, I was in fact, not dead, I was still here. In the end, when I got out of my feelings, I found myself still alive.
Over time this taught me no one’s taunts had the power to kill me, only to weaken me by pushing me off my mark, bending me out of integrity. Bullies were strongest when I let them push my buttons when I tried to go tit for tat. The fear and anger I felt as a result of their harassment only clouded my ability to respond. Acknowledging that I survived each challenge I faced helped me see I could not control the actions of other people but I could control myself. I could know that I was strong enough to face whatever was put in my way. It was not really about being fine, it was about knowing that I had the power and fortitude to keep going and keep moving, motivated by a deep faith that I would persist. I learned could thrive amongst difficulty. Knowing this gave me the control I needed to face my bullies with courage and composure.
Over time, I began to ask myself that same question in times of difficulty. When I thought I could not go on when the pain and misery of the world bent me out of integrity I would perform a quick gut check: am I dead? No? Then keep it pushing. I cannot control every monster but over time I learned I could control my own demons. This is the key to staying in the fight, to living to fight another day.
Sometimes the world seems too much to bear. I remember this time last year, seized with fear and uncertainty at the prospect of a Trump presidency, at a country set to explode. And then 2017 came. And we did blow up.
This year was a raging dumpster fire beginning to end. A year of Trump driving America right over a cliff–killing Obamacare and net neutrality, defunding science, tax breaks for the rich, the immigration ban, appointing unqualified judges and championing racism and sexism and classism as patriotic values. The country I love is on fire. The world is teetering on the brink of chaos. Our best hope seems to be a man with a rocket ship to Mars. The details of 2017 read like a list of signs of the apocalypse right out of several Hollywood movies.
And yet, we are not dead.
Even stranger, I feel wildly optimistic. The ground is razed and I’m in a mood to build. See, here’s a little secret I learned about the apocalypse. The end is never the end, only a new beginning. The word apocalypse comes from the Greek apo–un and kaluptein–to cover–to uncover, to reveal. An apocalypse isn’t an end, it’s an unveiling.
In the purest sense of the word, 2017 was a true apocalypse. America had long slumbered in a self-congratulatory slump, shoving a big foam we’re-number-one-finger in the world’s face while racism and sexism seethed unseen beneath the mainstream’s gaze. Globalization turned us into a nation of consumers, too proud to realize we were slipping behind in the knowledge economy. The untreated virus of white supremacy weakened our country for centuries and the only treatments rendered were to deny, destroy and disempower communities of color. Patriarchy kept one boot squarely on half the population, capitalism kept both boots on us all. With all that going on, we were too busy buying shit and numbing out to the pap of spoon-fed pop culture to notice.
Then came 2017: the rise of the alt-right. The blossoming of the new black civil rights movement. #Me Too. And Trump, Trump a pimple that exploded in all the ugliness beneath America’s skin. There are no more secrets here.
As a wise man once said, “if you don’t know, now you know…”
The scabby underbelly has revealed itself, disallowing us the ability to ignore the contradictions at the heart of our country, contradictions that threaten to tear us all apart: if we are the land of the free, why are we chained in debt? if this is the home of the brave, why have we ignored those who stand up to speak truth to power? if we are all created equal, then why are we so unequal? Can we ever be a more perfect union?
As painful as this year has been, we can see plainly what our country is. Gone are our rose-colored glasses, numbness turned to rage and fear. The trick now is to not let the emotions of these times cloud our ability to think clearly, act cooperatively and build towards a new vision, not just defend against the daily onslaught. As difficult as it is to be woke, it is the only way forward.
The apocalypse is an end only to the status quo. The upheaval is real, the chaos of old structures shaking to their core terrifying, but hush your fear and look for the opportunities to build. Channel your anger to weather the upheaval. The apocalypse ushers in a new time, the next paradigm. Don’t get lost in the distractions while new powerbrokers make new rules. The resistance is working, too, each of us in our own way. We have the knowledge, the technology, and–I know with every fiber of my being–the human compassion needed to build a better world, more perfect than our forefathers could imagine.
So on this first day of 2018, I offer you this gut check: if you are reading this, you’re not dead. You’re still here. And 2017 was a bitch, so that’s really saying something. Strap on your helmet. Like Elon Musk’s rockets, we have explosions at each stage, shedding a firey ball of flame across the sky, but I assure you we are ascending. As we jettison the lies we had come to depend on, we will be free to evolve past our imperfect past. As long as we don’t burn up in the process, we are entering the wider universe. We are transforming into something more.