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In 2016 I spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to the UK and Ireland. In the Spring, in the run up to the Brexit vote, I got a lot of questions about the US elections in the Fall. What did I think would happen? What am I going to do “when Trump is elected President?” I would say the same thing: “I can’t think about him winning. I have to trust that my next President will be Hillary Clinton.”
It wasn’t exactly denial of reality. I know how racist and sexist my country is. And I witnessed, in June, the shattering reality of how racist and isolationist Britain had also become, with the Brexit vote that many of my friends hoped would not happen. They weren’t exactly in denial either. They knew what their worst fears were, and how they were grounded in reality. But they wanted, as we frequently do, to hope for the best.
So, all year I hoped for the best, and feared the worst.
In my family, dementia is a thing. It’s shot through my Cajun family tree, with generations before me dotted with people who began suddenly and without much warning (except from the experience of previous generations) to lose themselves in their early 60s, in their 70s, and if they were lucky in their 80s. The early-onset piece of it has really flared up in the last two generations, and my father used to joke edgily about it. Daddy would suggest that his losing his keys, forgetting what he was getting at the store, all the various things that distraction would steal from our memories, was just “early-onset” losing himself to the family tradition.
About two years ago, he and my mother joked with each other that it seemed, on the cusp of his 68th birthday, that he’d dodged the family bullet, with no symptoms to speak of. He was thinking that his worst fear might not come to pass, that hoping for the best had paid off,
In 2016, starting in 2015 actually, my father began to lose himself, and I am losing him, too. He cannot walk easily, he responds in monosyllables to things that used to elicit fiery paragraphs. He went to bed early the night of the 2016 election, this man from whom I inherited so much of my passionate care about the world and what happens in it. There are flashes of him here and there, I witnessed some over this winter break, especially when my baby nephew was nearby. Sometimes he makes it known that he hears what is happening, and remembers what has gone before. But he is clearly trapped, and fading away.
We had all hoped for the best, fearing the worst. And now the worst has come to pass.
This is hereditary, what is happening to my father, so I fear this worst for me, too, and for my children. And still I hope for the best.
Because in hoping, my father did not just deny what might happen (what is happening), he lived and fought and loved despite his fears. He was afraid of dogs, but I had an airedale terrier as a pet from the ages of 5 until 8. He was afraid that something would happen to me or my brother as we played outside, but I spent so much of my childhood hiking, biking, climbing trees, on beaches and up mountains, I was fully grown and a parent myself before I realized the extent of my father’s fears.
He was afraid of the dementia that waited for him. He did not hide waiting. He lived his life.
There are some big changes waiting for me this year, ones that I know about, and I’m sure ones that aren’t quite visible yet. My family and I will be moving to England for a year, starting in August. My mother is going to be making big decisions about where she and my dad need to go, to spend the rest of their lives. My Elder Teen is going to start her last year of high school while we are living abroad, and my Younger Teen will be doing his first year of high school at the same time. I have hopes, and of course fears. I am not unique in this.
My work is shifting in interesting ways–I have always talked about more than libraries, and will continue to do so, in new environments and familiar ones. I’ve already got some invitations to work lined up, and it includes at this point more workshops, fieldwork, and other interactions and less standing and talking. In terms of content, I have hopes and fears in my work, that I’ve expressed over the past year, fears about the increasing prominence of technological solutions in contexts that should instead require more engaged human labor, should pay attention to processes rather than hard-stop fixes. I worry about the diminishing value of expertise, of the continuing turn to entrepreneurs rather than to educators and professionals. This is not unique to education, and I am not unique in these fears.
And of course there will be big and frightening changes in the political landscape that I need to figure out ways to resist, shape, and endure, as do we all. I don’t know what that will look like, but am trying to pay attention to people who know much more than I do about what’s coming, so that I can actually be helpful. I am not unique in these fears.
So these posts that have piled up in the end of 2016, and beginning of 2017, the people far more eloquent and knowledgeable than I am speaking of hope and action, they remind me as does my father that fear does not eliminate hope. That hope should not allow us to forget difficult realities. That hope is an action, and fear cannot be a reason for inaction. We are all afraid, at some point. We are not unique in this way.
We don’t have the luxury of inaction.