In one of my favorite stories, The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, there is a terrible being called the Cthaeh. The Cthaeh is an immortal creature that resides in the branches of a tree in the Fae, the land of the Fairies. It is all-knowing, and it is totally malevolent. It can see all possible futures, and if it speaks to you, it will say the one thing to you that will let loose the most destruction on the world.
Today, I wonder when Donald Trump met the Cthaeh, and what it said to him. What form did it take? Was it a mother that said, “What’s good for you is good for all”? Was it a friend who said, “You should run for President”? Was it a bully or a withholding father who said, “You are nothing, and you will never not be nothing”?
Last night, sitting in the back seat of a car during a 15 hour car ride, I watched as my friends on Facebook tore each other apart. The marginalized and the minorities raged against fate and despaired about the future of their children. Their terror was mocked by Trump supporters, who thought they were voting against a nebulous idea of corruption, only to be labeled as bigots, dupes, and fools to their dismay. Concerned friends, trying to do something good, were told that their solidarity safety pins were dumb and pointless. Bernie fans shouted “I told you so,” while third party voters raged at accusations that they were to blame. Calls for civility or kindness were scolded “tone policing,” while the apolitical grew loudly tired of those who were still engaged with the fate of their world.
And I entered the fourth stage of grief. There are five stages, but I know the fourth best.
The first stage is denial. That happened the night of, as I assured family and friends not to start panicking until the swing states started coming in.
The second stage, anger, came as I punched the fold-out cot at 2 in the morning that night and raged at my wife about the family and friends who thought we should raise our yet-to-be-conceived daughters in a country where jokes about her violent assault were acceptable -- funny, even.
The third stage, bargaining, followed over the next few days, as I pieced together what I would make of this ugly new world I suddenly lived in, as I brainstormed ways to calm friends, to assure them of my presence, and to offer solutions.
The fourth stage is depression.
I have just recently started pulling out of a long, plodding couple of years of low-grade depression. The inevitable election of Hillary Clinton gave me some hope for the future -- we were heading in the right direction, it seemed, even if there was a lot of work to do. I had started meditating 10 minutes each day, and made a regular practice of feeling gratitude for all I had. I made lists of things to do and checked all of the items off, and I exercised a lot more than I used to.
As I saw my friends rip each other part, I could feel the progress I'd made -- we'd made -- grind to a stop. Maybe it wasn’t to be fixed. Maybe this is what happens to systems that are no longer nimble enough to adapt to the world around them. Maybe this is the center not holding, the things falling apart.
After all, every other empire has fallen -- humanity has already survived untold catastrophes, and has come out the other side better, sadder, wiser. What if it was simply my fate to be churned up in the wheels of time? What if I was no better than those who were killed by the Black Plague? Or those kind commoners who inhabited the cities of the steppes that Genghis Khan had just turned his greedy eyes upon? Or those who lived honest, quiet lives in 1945 Dresden?
I may simply be one of those ground up in the onward slog of history -- it may well be that Donald Trump’s narcissistic, solipsistic, nihilistic feeling is totally correct: he is the only one that matters. He is directing the course of the river, we are just drowning in the current.
The fifth and final stage is acceptance, but I don’t know yet what I’m accepting, and I’m not sure who I’ve decided to be. The possible futures in front of me are still collapsing into one. And I guess this process is happening all the time -- Trump just made it visible. I went from a future where I would potentially get paid paternity leave one day to one where I wouldn’t the next. I went from a future where racism and bigotry would be slowly, progressively consigned to the past to a future where they would be very, very present. I went from a future where we might avoid the worst effects of climate change to one where… well, we’ll see.
As I fought my depression earlier this year, I found that a single thing reliably worked: doing something. So I’ll write, post on Facebook, and talk to family and friends. I’ll try not to lean too heavily on the joys of scotch and television reruns. I'll remind myself it's not the darkness we notice when we look up at the sky, but the tiny points of light, and I'll do good for it's own sake. And I'll live through the Trump Presidency and whatever follows, as soon as I've finished mourning what we've lost.
Featured photo: Martin Sveden