The Commonplace #12

What does it mean to work for community healing or economic recovery in places still wounded and not yet recovering? We are in the midst of triage with many people still in varying stages of trauma. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event, and its effects can be long-lasting. Trauma leaves emotions and psychological wounds. It is not a stretch to suggest we are all wounded and may continue to be. Our wounds may not be past or “post-“, but pervasive and persistent. Structural racism and inequality are shaped by decisions, policies, and failures over time. Structural reform and cultural change resist quick fixes.

America’s journey to recovery will likely be long. Once the pandemic recedes, we will be left with the longer economic recovery, the cultural shifts, the partisan rifts. There will be a new un-normal, a post-pandemic, but perhaps not just and only as an “after”. Instead, we may be in store for a long re-set, an extended wariness, a recurrent reconsideration of everyday life as well as exceptional circumstance. And, so, we, all of us, are and will remain wounded. Our country will carry a long suffering, a crisis of soul and spirit. What is recovery, in this context?

“We’re in midair, hoping we make it to the other side, where life will have returned to what we think of as normal. So what should we do while we’re up there, between now and then? Think of all the things you hope will still be there in that castle of the future when we get across. Then do what you can, now, to ensure the future existence of those things.”

  • Molly Fischer profiled activist, author and playwright Sarah Schulman for The Cut. Fischer’s profile reads as even and excellent, describing some of the controversies and complexities of Schulman’s work, including her book, Conflict is not Abuse. Schulman argues we need more healthy conflict, dialogue and conversation and that we shy away from some topics too much, equating the difficult too readily with the unspeakable. As we consider healing and recovery, the risk and the difficulty are part of that process, perhaps to be sought, rather than avoided. This does not always mean confrontation but rather the hard work of engagement. Fischer shares a quote from the central character in Schulman’s novel, The Cosmopolitans, who believes, “… in the the duty of repair.” As Fischer writes,

“Life in a family, in a community, in a place like New York City, seems to demand a belief that repair and resolution are possible, and that their pursuit is necessary, if we’re all going to keep living together.”

  • Fischer traces a spirit that infuses Schulman’s writings, “…a sense of risk and possibility in difference, [that] seems all the more urgent now — and all the more difficult to conjure.” Schuman offered words in Conflict is Not Abuse that may help us cope and continue in traversing the strange terrains where we now find ourselves and our places,

“The fact that something could go wrong does not mean we are in danger. It means that we are alive.”

  • The task of our time – to look unflinchingly at our trials and troubles, to find the beauty and the significance in the particular – while remaining partial to hopeful possibility and common humanity, was well described by Pete Hammill. Hammill died this past week, on August 5, 2020. Describing him simply as writer, novelist, and journalist seems lacking. His life, like yours, was in many ways extraordinary. In the introduction to a collection of his newspaper writing, Piecework, he wrote that,

“…the very best a journalist could hope for was to reveal fragments that stood for the whole, like an archeologist working in a ruined city… The trick was to see the world as a skeptic, not a cynic, while allowing for the wan possibility of human decency.”