November 3, 2004

What a Difference a Day Makes

by Suheir Hammad

Soundtrack: John Coltrane “Interstellar Space”
& Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”

Do not be depressed. Do not be depressed. Do not be depressed. I woke up this morning; sure the States would get attacked. “Thank God I’m not in New York,” was my first thought this morning. “My God, almost everyone I love is in New York,” was the next. I am in Huntington, West Virginia, what the pundits are calling “Bush Country”. Word.

Yesterday, everywhere I went people looked beat down and broke. The downtown is full of construction workers and planners walking in and out of huge developments. The people are friendly but do no extend themselves. There was a toxic leak a few days ago, and some of the evacuated are staying in this same hotel. One medium sized window is not bringing enough light into this dreary room.

I waited and waited for my absentee voter’s form. I filled out the paper work in late August, with the DNC. I assumed it would be in my accumulating mail. Nothing.

Do not be depressed. There is work to do. There is light to make.

My candle is lit. The scent is fig; it smells green and damp, alive. I bathed in rosemary oil, to soften my skin under the armor I will have to don. I scrubbed my body with a luxurious “polish” which was part of my friend’s birthday gift to me. Exfoliate, let breathe. Be kind to myself. Be kind to those I love.

Eleven states will add amendments to their constitutions defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. We must all love harder, fiercer, in defiance of those who aspire to own and mandate love.

My friends have sent emails from across the nation, around the world. People are aghast. Does this mean the American people continue to mandate this Administration’s policies, even as the coffins return home, and thousands are buried, nameless to us, in Iraq’s imploding streets? Does this mean we really don’t give a fuck what the rest of the world thinks? What will happen to our American progressives and activists? What about Palestine, Sudan, North Korea?

Do not be depressed. Depression is a weight we cannot afford to carry right now. There are plans to make, and hopefully, plans to put in action. Why are so many people voting against their best interests in favor of letting fear guide their politics? Fear has won this round. We will need all our resources not to fall to it. There is nothing to be gained from becoming the victim of a weight that is not ours to carry. Breathe - sigh. And get that dirt off your shoulders.

While I am constantly shocked and awed by what a few people are doing with the power they have, I feel like I pretty much know what I’m working with here. We must practice Fortitude. Compassion. We must remember this country has always had a radical tradition of dissent. This will be the legacy we leave. We will be even louder. Write even better. Live even fuller. We will not be bought into a de-habilitating stupor. We will not be medicated beyond awareness. Alongside that fear you are feeling, is an adrenaline rush. We know now, it is the very soul of our planet and collective humanity we are trying to save. Nothing less.

And my brother. And your daughter. And our kids. My generation speaks of Vietnam in hushed stories of absentee fathers and devastated uncles. Now, we will watch our peers and our younger siblings be sent off, one after another, into a war which is not even that. See, this is where the depression sets in, weighing down my heart, just that much.

Do not be depressed. Be aware. Be awake. Be resistant. Be your ancestors. Be your future. Be alive. Be alive.