I stare at the ceiling. I worry. What if racism, misogyny, xenophobia, greed, hatred, ignorance, and insanity actually win?
For the moment, I am not comforted—as Berry was—by the “peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.” I do not “rest in the grace of the world.” I am not free.
What if, on Tuesday, all is lost?
Suddenly, another poem comes to mind. A poem crafted from the prose of a political prisoner, writing to his wife from a cell he occupied for four years.
“Whether all is really lost / or not,” writes Vaclav Havel, “depends entirely on / whether or not I am lost.”
It does not, I realize, depend on the outcome of this election. Or any election. It does not depend on who wins or loses, who occupies the mansions of power.
It depends, says Havel—who became the first president of a free Czechoslovakia, following the Velvet Revolution of 1989—it depends on me.
I climb out of bed, go the shelf, and page through a book of poems entitled Teaching With Fire (2003). Listen to this excerpt from Havel’s Letters to Olga (1989), which was turned, for this book, into a poem.
It is I who must begin.
Once I begin, once I try--
here and now,
right where I am,
not excusing myself
by saying that things
would be easier elsewhere,
without grand speeches and
but all the more persistently
—to live in harmony
with the “voice of Being,” as I
understand it within myself
—as soon as I begin that,
I suddenly discover,
to my surprise, that
I am neither the only one,
nor the first,
nor the most important one
to have set out
upon that road.
Whether all is really lost
or not depends entirely on
whether or not I am lost.
The whole world depends, ultimately, on whether I am willing to begin—right here and now, without excuses—to live in harmony with the still, small voice of being, whatever that means to me.
If I choose not to wander from the path of being, the road of becoming the best person I can possibly be, no matter what the world or those who run the world choose to do, if I persist, then all is not lost.
If I strive to live with civility, kindness and compassion; if I embrace the ostracized, the oppressed, and the objectified; even if I do so only within the radius of my small arms’ reach--all is not lost.
The world may go mad. But all is not lost, if I am not lost. If you are not lost. If we keep our heads and our hearts, regardless of the outcome. If we do not lose our sanity, or our humanity. If we continue, even in the face of overwhelming opposition, to pursue unity and community.
If we don’t give up.
All we need to do, at last, is listen. Listen to the voice of Being deep within ourselves. And do the best we can to live in harmony with what we hear. When we set out upon that road, we’ll find, as Havel did, that we are not alone.
—Jay E. Valusek