I have a thing I called as a child “the ball of wax in the pit of my tummy,” AKA feelings of dread, guilt, anxiety that seem to lodge in my abdomen, causing what feels, aptly enough, like heartburn. I am a child of loss, and that ball of wax feeling was the way my body processed grief and alienation. As I scrolled through my Twitter feed this morning, that ball of wax sat, once again, uncomfortably behind my navel.
I read that Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi has concluded, before President Biden has even announced his nominee, that the choice of any Black woman to fill Justice Breyer’s seat would be an “affirmative action” pick, clearly underqualified being the implication. “We’re going to go from a nice, stately liberal to someone who’s probably more in the style of Sonia Sotomayor,” Wicker said. Umhmm…how to combine racism, misogyny and a stunning personal insult to a two-time Ivy League graduate in the same short sentence.
A few tweets down came this from Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin about childcare subsidies: “Well, people decide to have families and become parents. That’s something they need to consider when they make that choice. I’ve never really felt it was society’s responsibility to take care of other people’s children.” Umhmm…how to rank human life lower than ethanol, big meat, big oil, big pharma, those “corporations are people” entities that receive subsidies from the federal government. Also, how to assume that all pregnancy that results in a live birth is a choice, given the GOP’s attitude toward abortion.
Back to the ball of wax feeling.
Why dread? Because when these two senators and their like-minded colleagues are back in the majority in the Senate, instead of merely blocking every piece of legislation that isn’t about tax cuts or deregulation or war mongering or subsidies to big corporations they will actively promote their conservative white male social and cultural agenda legislating against women’s bodies, black bodies, immigrant bodies, Muslim bodies, Jewish bodies, poor bodies … any bodies they deem not to be “real American” bodies.
As a retired, financially comfortable white woman I am presumably not at immediate risk, but I do feel assaulted every day by the effort at social control exerted by what used to be the fringe and is now the heart of the Republican Party, by the toxic public discourse, by the literal threat of catching COVID from some unvaccinated arrogant superspreader like Sarah Palin, by the selfishness of it all.
Why guilt? Because I do not feel I am doing enough to combat the sexism, racism, bigotry, “me first” philosophy that is now the quiet part said out loud. The part that is couched in the words “white discomfort.” The part that advocates banning books like Maus and Beloved and To Kill a Mockingbird. The part that encourages snitching on your child’s teacher for offending your ahistorical white supremacist views. The part that equates compassion with being a radical leftist. The part that is fine with the death of fellow Americans from a preventable disease. The part that funds the military with no questions asked but can’t pony up for paid leave to care for an ill family member or a new mother.
It is obvious why so many people like me feel anxiety in the face of the deterioration of social cohesion, community-mindedness, even in some cases family comity. The feeling of loss is so hard to shake off, and in my case so deeply ingrained in my body that it is like a cancerous dolor that recurs time and again, resistant to repeated doses of hope, of mindfulness, of actions to make just a small contribution to making the world a better place.
I am tempted to numb myself, but to do so would be to give up on my humanity, my optimism, my bulwarks against complicity. I remember the wise words of the brilliant Willa Cather: “The test of one’s decency is how much of a fight one can put up after one has stopped caring.” To keep up the fight, to fend off indecency, to melt the ball of wax in my tummy I ride out the dread, the guilt, the anxiety by writing it out. From that first black and white marble covered notebook to this rose gold MacBook Air, putting words to the feelings has made them lighter, dispersed them, invited fresh thoughts to fill the vacuum, allowed me to keep up the fight.
That, and returning to the wellspring of whatever faith I have, the plain words of my Quaker forebears:
- “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee and we’ll ascend together,” goes the Quaker proverb I learned as a child.
- Next, the seventeenth century version of “Let peace begin with me” from William Penn: “If we would mend the World, we should mend Ourselves; and teach our Children to be, not what we are, but what they should be.”
- And last, but certainly not least, as Penn wrote and lived, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it.”
Stand fast for the future, for the children, for the right I tell myself, and you, too dear reader, so that we may all ascend together out of this moment of uncaring, of indecency.