Labor Day, and “reality” intrudes

(Photo credit KGW)

Today feels very different from yesterday. This is the Labor Day weekend in the US: the cultural, if not meteorological, end of summer. People usually spend it outdoors. If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few days, you know that I was outside on my bike on Saturday and Sunday. Today I thought I might take a rest, partly because the weather forecast showed heavy winds, which are almost unheard of at this time of year in Portland. I figured it was some 2020 weirdness, and I was just going to flow with it by staying close to home. Maybe talk to some people about their dreams, and possibly write about that here.

I suppose it was indeed 2020 weirdness. The physical events descended, and then seemed to crescendo, and my emotional response followed. 

In the late afternoon, not only did the winds pick up and lend a surreal feeling to my brief trips to the laundry room and corner store, but the sky filled with smoke from nearby forest fires. The winds carried the particulates quickly. I went inside and made sure my windows were closed, even though it was hot and I would have otherwise appreciated the ventilation. Local friends on Facebook began reporting that the power had gone out in their neighborhoods as a result of downed trees from the wind. The sky darkened; the sun glowed a surreal red; the neighbors who had been out chatting in the back retreated to the safety of their homes.

Scrolling my Facebook feed, I also learned that a group of “Proud Boys”—aggressive white supremacists—had been holding an armed rally today at Oregon’s state capitol building in Salem, 50 miles south of here. A friend of mine posted that she had gone to the capitol as a peaceful counter-protester, and one of the rally’s attendees had snatched the sign out of her hand and pepper-sprayed her in the face when she had been pleading with him not to hit someone else with his baseball bat.

I also read that that same group of Proud Boys had rallied in the sleepy outer Portland suburb of Oregon City, earlier in the day. A different friend posted a testimonial from a local mother in that area who said that her Black son had been repeatedly racially harassed in that town, including by a local police officer who pointed a taser at him. The officer had responded to the call of several bullies who had used racial epithets toward her son, who had been simply minding his own business in his car in a parking lot at the time. As a result of these recent incidents, she felt that her son was unsafe in Oregon City, and they were planning to move.

I had cycled right through Oregon City just yesterday, on the way to that beautiful park in West Linn. I did think briefly of my white privilege at the time, wondering how different it might be for me cycling through small towns if I were not white. And then, today, I read these two stories.

Just a few hours later this evening, another friend posted a story about a 12-acre brush fire that had damaged four buildings in Oregon City tonight. I had biked right past those buildings yesterday, along a beautiful riverfront path. Lots of families were out along the path and on the water for the holiday weekend. It all seemed so calm and pleasant… and now, today, the literal and metaphorical winds have changed, bringing natural disaster and violent racism in their wake.

The juxtapositions are a lot for me to sit with tonight:

Sunday vs. Monday

Pleasant weather vs. fire and smoke

White vs. Black

Safety vs. danger

A lovely, challenging bike ride vs. holing up on the couch, windows closed

There is a context to this dream I’m moving toward. We are living in times that feel apocalyptic, ecologically and socially. Beneath the outward normalcy of bike rides, days in the park, and people going about their business, lurks a palpable, collective sense of fear that the world is starting to burn, literally and figuratively. 

Will this nation even be hospitable enough for me—in a variety of contexts—to see this trip through, a year from now? What will have been destroyed in the intervening time? So much hangs in the balance this coming November, but regardless of who ends up in the White House in January, so many destructive processes are already underway, and building momentum. How will we, collectively, find our way out of the place we now find ourselves? How will we dream into a better future for all of us, and for the planet that sustains us? This is a big part of what I want to do with my time and energy on this planet, however much time and energy I may have left. I want to help us all to dream into the future we want, and to then take the concrete steps to get from here to there.

Do you have ideas? I would love to hear from you, to help you hold the vision and flesh it out if need be. If you’re open to it, I may write about your dreams here. We need to start now.

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