Collective Gasp

In the wake of Donald Trump’s surreal, minority victory, hordes of progressives/liberals are uttering countless variations on the theme, “I don’t feel like this is my country anymore.” And yes, I feel some of that too, even though I also realize that it’s mostly an infantile conflation of raw emotion and reality.

[America is suffering from a collective overdose of simplistic thought.]

Other than a (hopefully) brief flourish of empowerment for bitter fools (giddily violent around its edges), nothing much has truly changed.

In my undergraduate days (late 1960s to early 1970s), the hippie culture in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where I was a student, was composed of many overlapping circles of friends that functioned in a zone somewhere between family and tribe.

[The social barrier between college and town was permeable at its interface with sex, drugs, and art.]

I became happily comfortable amidst a circle of bright, creative, gentle, generous people whom I regarded as a sort of extended family of choice. I felt at ease among them in ways I had never felt before.

[Personal qualities that made me a nerd in high school rendered me sexually attractive amidst the countercultural wildness rolling across the country in waves.]

This sense of empowered belonging played a large role in my ability to transit through some very dark times with my will to live, ability to love, and creative faculties intact.

[We were first-wave baby boomers and deep friendship offered warmth and security that had been (to varying degrees) missing from the homes presided over by our depression and war damaged parents. We gave each other the reckless confidence that enabled our dissent.]

During that time and for a few years afterward, as we all wandered off into the post-college world of making a living and a life, I was entwined and entangled in a stormy, on-again-off-again relationship (fraught with mutual infidelities) with a woman who was also a member of my hippie clan.

After that stormy relationship finally completed its long unraveling, there were frequent moments of obvious social awkwardness in encounters with my old friends. I attributed this to various mixtures of circumstance and my perennial social ineptitude.

[Hey, it was inevitable that we would all grow apart. Right?]

When I married outside the tribe, my wife’s beauty blinded most of my old friends to her intellect and her art. Though this caught me by surprise because I thought them more enlightened and less given to commonplace prejudices than that, I still trusted truth to become apparent to open eyes and minds. I tried to be patient because they were my people. Collectively, the facets of their personalities often reflected aspects of the kind of person I was, or at least tried to be.

[I built a new life in an old place—my hometown.]

I was a prolific letter writer and frankly, didn’t give much thought to the lack of response my correspondence mostly received.

[I didn’t keep score.]

Not everyone had a bureaucratic job that made letter writing an inconspicuous way to steal time from high-pressured work.

[I used stolen time to keep my inner wildness from drowning in structured responsibility.]

Gradually, as events and encounters unfolded, and I began to write consciously about my life, I realized that I had, in fact, never been a member of the clan of friends I had regarded as a truer family than blood. I had been kindly humored and tolerated as a true member’s weird boyfriend. By the time this realization became clear, that part of my past was too far gone to merit the sharp pain of heartbreak it might have delivered many years earlier. But the dull ache of deep embarrassment became a part of the background noise of my story, and now, that folly, ache, and embarrassment is weirdly mirrored by my country.

[Nothing has changed, but so too has everything.]

The problem isn’t so much what we have done as who we have been. It never was your country or mine.

[That was a poignant cocktail of naivety and vanity.]

It never will be your country or mine. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find your way home.

[Beware of darkness and greedy leaders.]

Give your allegiance to the confluence of your family (blood and/or spirit) and your watershed.

[Be kind to strangers.]

Reg Darling lives in southwestern Vermont. He paints a small watercolor every day and hasn’t missed a day in more than six years. His essays have been published in Azure, The Chaos Journal, Sky Island Journal, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, River Teeth Journal, and others.