We’ll get back to talking about how bad my Italian is next time, but I had to get this off my chest first.
Late in the evening of November 8th (European time), while my soul was still resplendent with the glow of Dorset loveliness and I was starting to think that maybe the future was an okay thing again, Mike & I put on the CBC livestream of the US election. The commentators at first betrayed the slightly detached bemusement that I think most Canadians had felt watching this ridiculous campaign, smirking at the tacky setup at the Republican HQ and asking experts to explain for our viewers why anyone on earth would ever vote for That Man.
As results started to come in faster and things seemed to be swaying uncertainly between the two candidates (“We’d just like to remind our viewers that these numbers are still very early; only a small percentage of polls reporting in so far…”), Mike fell asleep. He had work in the morning. I told myself that I wouldn’t sleep until Clinton had a comfortable enough lead.
Instead, the TV people’s faces just became more set and the feeling in the pit of my stomach became more sour. I found myself getting up to turn the volume down further and further. I closed my eyes, angled the laptop away, put my hands over my ears, but I couldn’t make it go away. I would drift off sometimes and open my eyes 15 minutes later to see that the outcome was even more certain than it had been before. Sleep caught up for real around 4am, and the first thing I thought upon waking up was, “That wasn’t a dream. This is our world now.” And the world sucked.
I tend to turn away from the things that make me feel bad, whether personal or global. This isn’t a habit I’m terribly proud of, to be clear. I wish I had it in me to face awfulness head-on and let it spur me to action. I’ll work on that. But it all weighs so heavily already, I hide from further reminders of it.
And I do think it’s important to seek the things that are beautiful and good when you’re down. We need our innocence, creativity, playfulness, wonder, because that’s where optimism comes from. That’s where we get the strength to push back. This account of my travels has continued to be upbeat and frivolous not because I don’t care, but because this has been my escape (and I hope an escape for others, too); it’s self-defence.
When I was in France last week, I saw a magazine cover with La beauté sauvera le monde in big bold letters. I stared at that cover for a long time. I walked away, then came back and looked at it some more. There were pretty pictures inside, predictably, but the phrase on the cover was what held my gaze. I believe what it said, sappy as it is. Since I went looking for it, I’ve seen more beauty in the past two months than I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s everywhere. It’s in every hill and cliff and forest path and sunset and ruined wall and smiling face and friendly dog and shooting star and delicious meal and hello from a stranger and bottle of wine and breath of wind and new friend and old friend and conquered fear and kid on a carousel and comfy bed and dammit, the beauty must outweigh the awfulness. Every beautiful thing is a tiny act of defiance against ugliness and it’s worth remembering, when the ugliness feels overwhelming, just how much beauty we’ve got stockpiled. Maybe it will save us.
(Note that my Italian did not make that list.)