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February 21, 2020

Calm

2016 was the year in which I spent a lot of time waking up and not recognizing the world I lived in anymore, which was certainly a privileged position to be in (or emerge from), but that didn’t make it fun. “If somebody’s not safe, then none of us are safe,” was a phrase I heard that stuck with me, as violence and tyranny in faraway places crept closer and closer, as we stumbled through 2017 and I started getting massacre fatigue. I kept thinking about Syria, and all those people who’d been living regular lives up until just a few years ago, and how what separated me from those people’s experiences was mostly nothing.

To be anxious at this moment in time is certainly not to have one’s feelings be unfounded, of course. And while it’s in my nature to compare right now to other difficult periods in history (in the 1960s, everyone supposed they’d all die in a nuclear war, for example, which is the thing I remind my daughter of when she wonders if she’ll have a future because of climate change), that is not the same as saying we don’t have to do anything about what’s going on. And I’ve become especially resistant to people insisting that everything is fine, and that, moreover “there are good people on both sides” in order to justify such a position. Anyone who starts in on The Militant Left, as white nerds in stupid khaki pants take up their tiki torches and parade through the streets of major cities. Certainly, everything is not okay, and the oceans are riddled with plastic and the forests are burning.

But it somehow got to the point where every time a plane flew over my house, I supposed we were all going to die (and guys, we live under a major flight path). I got emergency weather alerts on my phone, and would have heart palpitations. Every time there was a wind gust, I’d be thinking about cyclones, and patio furniture flying off condo balconies and that poor person in the west end who was killed by a flying STAPLES sign during a storm in September 2012. It all became more than a little overwhelming.

And then it stopped, with the end of November. Like that. I wish I could tell you how it happened, but I really don’t know. (This shift did correspond with positive results from one of my various annual cancer-screening medical appointments [#Thisis40], but surely that’s not the reason I’m not afraid of the sound of airplanes anymore?) And there have been a few times since where I’ve sensed the anxiety creeping back, which has itself made me anxious, because I don’t seem to have much control over this thing, but each time the anxiety over the anxiety has proved worse than the anxiety itself, which quickly retreated and was never as enveloping as it had seemed before.

But it’s not gone. It’s there, but at a remove. I can note it, acknowledge it, and choose not to indulge it, as I lie under my covers in bed at night and hear a howling wind outside. I can make a choice to hear the wind and stay calm instead, which did not seem to be an option before.

The night of January 3, I opened my laptop and checked Twitter (I don’t have Twitter on my phone, as a kind of self-preservation) and saw that #WorldWarThree was trending after the US’s targeted killing of an Iranian military official, and instead of scrolling and scrolling in a futile search for reassurance and understanding, I closed my laptop again. In contrast, when the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in December 2016, similarly leading to hysterical tweets about Franz Ferdinand, World War, and ominous phrases like, “Here we go…,” I couldn’t close my laptop for days. But this time I had enough to perspective to consider that all of us could probably benefit from calming right down.

Similarly a week after the targeted killing, when we received the devastating news that a passenger airplane had been shot down “by accident” outside of Tehran, killing everyone on board. It was news that hit particularly close to home, as 57 Canadians were on board and many more were also en-route to Toronto, and grief hung low just like a fug, but. “I am working at channelling calm as I head into today,” I posted on Instagram that morning. It seemed particularly important for my own mental health, but also on a broader level, because it had been escalating military attacks (the opposite of calm) that had led to the tragedy in the first place.

During the past couple of weeks, our country has been (I’m not going to say GRIPPED BY, because gripped isn’t a calm word, and I also don’t think it’s particularly accurate) following the protests set up along rail lines in solidarity with people fighting against the construction of a pipeline in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in Northern British Columbia. These rail line protests have blocked the transport of goods and also passenger trains, and yes, its all very complicated, because the Wet’suwet’en people (consistent from what I understand of all groups of people ever) have divided opinions on what exactly should be done about the protests, not to mention the pipeline itself. I really do not have a comprehensive understanding of the matters at stake—though such a lack has not stopped other people from opining—but have appreciated the government response, which some might term as measured. Or calm. Even though Twitter partisans are raging that the Prime Minister doesn’t know anything about power, and the rail companies with record profits are following through with layoffs they were already planning but blaming the blockades so they don’t have to take the heat for their actions, and it’s reminiscent of the immediate aftermath of last month’s plane crash when the very same blowhards were calling on the Prime Minister to declare Revolutionary Guard in Iran a terrorist organization. It’s all just so incredibly stupid, because none of these people know what the answer is anymore than I do. None of it’s simple, and the only way toward an answer is work, which is what’s happening now all around us, and we need to be patient. And calm.

Calm is a superpower. This is a line from Ann Douglas’s latest book which is ostensibly about parenting, but which is really more about community, and connection, building a village, and learning to be better understand and support each other. And while Douglas is indeed speaking about parenting directly when she talks about calm being a superpower (and oh my gosh, is it ever), this advice is just applicable when it spills over into everything.

Perhaps it’s the closest thing we’ve got to an answer to anything right now.

2 thoughts on “Calm”

  1. Kate says:

    lovely. and hopeful. if you can be calm, i can be calm.

  2. Chantel says:

    This is a great piece. Now I also want to read Ann Douglas’s book.

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