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We Can Never Go Back to Before

There was a time our happiness seemed never-ending,

I was so sure that where we were headed was right.

Life was a road, so certain and straight and unbending,

Our little road with never a crossroad in sight.

Back in the days when we spoke in civilised voices.

Women in white and sturdy young men at the oar.

Back in the days when I let you make all my choices.

We can never go back to before.”¹

So here we are, at the start of a brand new year, and I am already tired. Does that sound pessimistic? I’m sorry. I promise I’m not a pessimist. I’m actually an idealist, to the point of naïveté sometimes. And although I tried not to--I did try!--I couldn’t help building up some high hopes for this year. A change. A breath of fresh air. Some civility and calm.

And here we are. Two weeks in, and there is already anger. There is already betrayal and injustice and utter incredulity. And I wonder, is this the new normal? This upheaval? Will it ever go back to before? I think I can speak for all of us when I say that’s not what I was hoping for as 2021 led out. Dang. Double dang.

So here I am, an idealist feeling rather pessimistic, and the songs of Ragtime have been running through my head. Hard, bitter, words. Sung by characters who lives are upended, and upended again; whose humanity is ignored, then stripped away; whose plans are thwarted; whose rights are ignored, then outright violated. In summary, words from characters who lived in the midst of the upheaval of the big movements and bigger names that surrounded them; and who, tired and often lost, and even sometimes unwilling, stood in the upheaval and tried.

I don’t know exactly what I want to say, or even how to say it. I just keep thinking these lines: “Back in the days when we spoke in civilized voices...Back in the days when I let you make all my choices.” The world is different than it was in my childhood, and in many ways I’m glad of that. I’m glad this world is getting woke. That I am getting woke, and am slowly stripping off my subconscious prejudices, and yes, even some of that damned hopeful naïveté. Truly, we can never go back to before. I learned early on that Life’s road is never straight; it is all crossroads, one after the other. And I don’t always know the right direction to choose. I am human, and I make choices, good and bad, every day.

But I choose! Sometimes tired, sometimes lost, and sometimes even unwilling, but I choose! And I try! I don’t want to follow The Way Things Are simply because that’s how they’ve always been done. And I’ve always understood that John Mayer’s mantra of “waiting on the world to change” is utter garbage. I will make my own choices, and I will choose to stand and speak. I will choose to act, and I will teach my children to act; but I will hold onto my ideals all along the way. I will speak loudly, but with love. I will disagree strongly, but with civility. I will be heard. But I hope what they hear is hope. I hope what they hear is a friend, and an advocate, and forever an idealist. And I hope that I am worthy to stand alongside the misunderstood this year--in all their colors, shapes, forms, and preferences--and sing:

“Go out and tell our story to your daughters and your sons

Make them hear you

Make them hear you

And tell them, "In our struggle,

We were not the only ones"

Make them hear you

Make them hear you

Your sword could be a sermon

Or the power of the pen

Teach every child to raise his voice

And then my brothers, then

Will justice be demanded by ten million righteous men

Make them hear you.”²

So here’s to going forward, never back. Here’s to cleaning up some really colossal messes, a little at a time. Here’s to blogging about the new year (and we’ll have fun, I promise!). Here’s to singing and dancing and shouting and laughing and choosing and trying. Here’s to having your voice heard this year, my merfolk! To making them hear! And here’s to all the tired idealists!

  1. “Back to Before,” Ragtime.

  2. “Make Them Hear You,” Ragtime.

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