When I was lost in the Chihuahuan Desert, I spent those long, cold nights finding comfort in the night sky.
Out in that part of Texas, there is no light pollution. You can see the Milky Way and falling stars galore.
On the third night, when I began hallucinating, that Far West Texas sky was the backdrop for everything I thought I saw. I truly believe that the reason I survived is because most of those hallucinations and their accompanying storylines focused on being found.
I spent two nights utterly convinced that searchers knew where I was. I just had to make them understand that they needed to come and get me because I was too weak to walk. (I did a lot of shouting at cactus and rocks that, at times, looked like human figures.)
I wasn’t just hoping that I’d been spotted by that helicopter. I believed — no, I KNEW — that all I needed to do was be patient and wait. And that’s what I did — for two days and two nights.
As we usher in 2017, I think back on my time in the desert and long to experience that kind of passionate belief again.
Right now, all these people are wishing one another a happy new year. Exclamation point! Confetti! Yippee! 2016 is dead and gone!
And I’m that petulant, fretting child off in the corner, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes as she mutters, “What’s so great about it?”
Because while 2016 was a hideously crappy year, I fear that 2017 is when our country begins a dark and frightening new chapter of American history. I don’t even want to open the book, honestly.
But I must. You must. Because while a small segment of America is writing this first chapter, there’s nothing keeping us from writing the chapters that follow.
Except, that is, for our despair. We can’t let that happen.
I’m not making any resolutions this year because, fortuitously, I embarked on some new endeavors long before the presidential campaign came to its divisive end. It’s my hope that what I’ve helped start will flourish and provide just one of many safe spaces that will be needed in the years to come.
Yes, years. We’re in it for the long haul, folks. This is not the time to be a commitment-phobe. If we’re to preserve the fabric that makes up our democracy, we have to keep those ragged edges from fraying any further. I compare this election cycle to throwing a daintily embroidered bit of cloth in with the bath towels and turning the dials to “hot” and “heavily soiled.”
Preserving democracy involves much more than making the usual promises at the beginning of a new year.
It involves finding other like-minded people with similar goals. We need to boost one another up out of this pit. And when one weary soul’s shoulders give out, someone else must step in to do the lifting.
It involves refusing to allow others to normalize what emerged from this election cycle. I culled my Facebook friends list yet again because I can’t afford to let people I’ve always liked and respected attempt to convince me that I should get over it and move on because this is “just politics.”
It isn’t just politics. What happened already has allowed hatred, racism and misogyny several new means for insidiously creeping into our everyday lives.
Nothing about this campaign or election was in any way “normal.” We must ensure that 2016 was an anomaly, not help make it the new norm.
I felt terrible about some of those unfriendings. But my Facebook page is MY page. I’m tired of the debates and arguments and attempts to make me accept what has happened over the past year. I’m tired of people trying to cover coal-black hatred with a veneer of supposedly genteel pastels. They can slap on five coats and I will still see through it.
They say “sexist.” But what my teenage daughter heard during the campaign was “pussy-grabber.” Even she, at (almost) 14, knows that “sexist” is a wildly ridiculous (and vain) attempt at a euphemism.
This isn’t about political parties. It’s not elephants vs. donkeys. I know just as many from “the other side” — whichever side you happen to be on — who are horrified by what surfaced in 2016.
This is about defining human decency and what makes us Americans.
This is the time for action. This is when we create safe spaces for those who will need them. It’s when we reach out to those who want to help preserve what we know to be America. It’s when we gather — whether to plan or eat or just laugh together — because we will draw strength from such gatherings. It’s when we donate to good causes and good journalism.
So as we enter 2017, here are my wishes for you, my friends.
I wish you courage. I wish you determination. I wish you the ability to shine and laugh through the dark times. I wish for new and deepening friendships as we work together in the coming years.
And lastly, I wish for you a chance to sprawl on your back and gaze at the Milky Way … and to experience how it feels to truly believe in something — even when all circumstances point toward doom. I want you to know what it is like to be surrounded by chatter and laughter, to be covered in blankets and given water, after being found, alone, in a vast desert.
God bless you.
God bless US.