“If the world will end tomorrow, I’ll plant an apple tree today.” A couple decades ago, Susan Burt, my then-colleague at lllinois State University had a poster with this declaration hanging on her office door. It was in German, its ostensible author someone like Goethe. Apfelbaum. I always admired the stoic, peaceful, foolhardy sentiment of the saying, not least for its implication that the speaker’s life was in enough balance that he could simply do today what he did every day, and that would be sufficient.
It feels like we have come to this day in America, and the decision confronts me: plant or despair?
The next paragraph is blunt, so skip it if you’d like. Actually skip the one after that, too, as it contains the word “turd,” and I know I won’t be proud of that in a few days.
It’s outlandish for me to say that tomorrow comes the apocalypse when we have been living a social nightmare for so long under the malicious, ignorant, self-aggrandizing regime of Donald John Trump and his minions–the 35% of the American population that delights in mooning (and impoverishing and sickening and disenfranchising) the 65%. What makes tomorrow more eventful than, say, the first day The Republican lied to the American people about Covid, the day The Republican put toddlers in cages, the day The Republican quit climate agreements, the day The Republican paid a prostitute $130,000, ridiculed American soldiers, praised Nazis, and on and on and on and on?
Why is tomorrow worse? Because the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg reveals our full national political depravity.* I leave eloquent reflections on RBG to Monica Hesse, focusing instead on one stark fact. In 2016, The Republicans declared 236 days before the election that they would not meet to discuss the appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. In 2020, The Republicans, despicable hypocrites, declared 45 days before the election, that they plan to approve a Trump nominee. Mitch McConnell has gone beyond mooning American to proudly dropping a fat Kentucky public turd and asking us all to admire his integrity.
*yes, I know more is to come.
Like most people I know, I’ve reached pretty much Full Pessimism Capacity. Sure, I fret about a 6-3 Supreme Court with intellectual heavyweights like Thomas and Kavanaugh and, soon to come, Judge Judy or Kid Rock. But more than that, I despair that sheer partisan political f-you-ism has reach its apotheosis. The curtain in the Temple, the political curtain of trying/seeming to act on behalf of all Americans, had been little more than gauzy scrim fora long time. Today, that curtain has not only been torn but used as toilet paper.
I’ll vote, of course, and I’ll give money to candidates, and I’ll hope that enough Americans choose to flush The Republican and his idolators that we can start rebuilding actual American values in the coming year, values of truth, competence, equality, service, and honor for all people, all endowed with certain inalienable rights, even Blacks, Mexicans, Jews, Muslims–and even women.
Beyond those minimal motions, on a day like today, it’s mighty tempting to say, “It’s over,” and just put your affairs in order.
But this morning I found myself planting mums in the front yard. It’s a decades-long habit, this going to a garden center in September, buying some yellow, orange, or burnt red plants, setting them out for fall color. Fall is here, winter is coming, and things will die. It’s a vain, impractical practice to buy plants that will die in a couple of months just to make a fraction of the world prettier for a fatally short time. And yet there is a weird consolation of carrying on as if the world is not covidding into disarray.
I did something even more audacious this morning. I spent two hours meeting with Colorado Language Arts Society board members. Here were a dozen school teachers from across the front range and the eastern plains, teachers who have by now spent heroic weeks teaching, many of them at risk in face to face classes, all of them with countless daily hours at computers in virtual meetings, much of of these efforts at the behest of administrators and publics who have almost no clue what they’re asking these professionals to do. And yet these very same teachers were giving up Saturday morning to sit in front of screens, doing the hard work of helping English teachers across the state of Colorado improve learning for Colorado’s students.
It was utterly humbling to be among mostly women (all but three) of such resolve and good will. There were about a dozen of us: two of us 60+ geezers, a couple in their forties, three or four were 30-somethings, three or four 20-somethings. They are at the front lines of shaping the quality of things for teachers and students. Whatever good happens in schools will come from people like them.
The first twenty minutes were spent sharing stories of impossible situations around the state–and how these teachers had made things better. Then we moved into planning and budgets, building resources, amplifying teacher voices, creating help and hope. Did they not know the world was ending? Did they not see the folly of thinking beyond tomorrow on a day like today?
I watched them plant apple trees.
After I set in my mums, I walked to where I’d been watching a volunteer daisy creep up through a crack between sidewalk and rock fill. I actually hadn’t been sure what it was until it flowered this week. Curiosity kept me from pulling it. I have daisies elsewhere in our yard, two and three feet tall, large flowers atop leafy stems. This volunteer daisy is in many ways a pitiful approximation, a few inches tall, not even able to launch a stem. And yet against every odd, completely alone, planting itself, it desperately flowered, as if to declare, “I’m here! I matter!”
Some images and metaphors are too plain and too profound for explication.