If You See Something, Say Something

I crossed a wooden footbridge, holding my younger grandson in my left arm. My right hand held the hand of my older grandson. Suddenly the bridge shifted. Planks broke, jutting up, down, creating gaps. Balance gone, I fell against the few planks that remained intact, managing to keep the baby close to my side, yet my other grandchild was slipping from the edge. Lightning fast, I reached, grabbing one of his ankles as I screamed for help and then abruptly woke from this dream, my heart thump, thump, thumping.

Afterwards, I lay in bed, obsessing on my nightmare. If this hadn’t been a dream, all three of us would have tumbled into whatever was beneath that bridge. Some whatever that was mysterious and disturbing. As dreams often are, the real was juxtaposed with the imagined in cold/hot horror.

Sorrow hovered all day, for the next several days. Who isn’t acquainted with this lingering melancholy?

I walked to the grocery, teary with sadness and a certainty that I have little control, can’t protect my boys. I think of their innocence. They have no idea what challenges await. Ecological catastrophe renders that word, challenges, weak. As do white nationalism and authoritarian populism.

Ecological catastrophe:

According to this study, the US Department of Defense “is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum…the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world.” Yet the Senate just approved a Pentagon spending bill of nearly $740 billion. Clearly, some countries are attempting to meet climate goals, but not the one in which I reside.

A couple of months ago, I was the only coal plant protester when our stalwart leader, Gary Richards, was out of town. I watched trucks pull in. Occasionally the person behind the wheel would look at me and nod. Most of the drivers stared ahead, ignoring. I decided to enter the building and talk with employees. Carrying my “SAY NO TO COAL” sign, I ascended stairs. I wanted to speak with employees about how they felt when they thought the plant was going to close, before University of North Carolina administrators made a decision to postpone converting to energy that won’t destroy our planet.

The woman at reception eyed me with suspicion. I said, “I support sustainable energy but don’t want anyone to lose their job.” She said that although they were assured they’d have a job there was still concern. Then she gave me her card and wrote the name and phone number of the plant manager. Once at home, I called him, leaving a message. When he returned my call, he said the plant was in the process of converting to natural gas. Yes, this means fracking. I pictured water, pouring from faucets, igniting, and contamination of both water and soil. Pollution that causes illness—damage to our bodies and to Earth.

White nationalism and authoritarian populism:

What is required to further erode our dwindling freedoms? Emotion, a rhetoric of fear. Fear of anyone different, a different skin shade, a different religion. And lies. The narcissistic, racist Donald Trump doesn’t hold the patent on lying, but he’s mastered the art and his cult is unquestioning.

I used to wonder how politicians and ministers who despised and denounced Trump when he campaigned for the presidency eventually could believe he was sent by their God and that sometimes God chooses an imperfect prophet to save their world. No, Christo-fascists love false prophets and profiteers. They may preach that Trump was sent to save them but it’s all about a schema that subjugates women and people of color. And an ultraconservative agenda the Koch brothers planned and began implementing years ago through Americans for Prosperity, exerting leverage on politicians and reshaping politics at all levels of government.

If you see something, say something.

I see something, some things. I see the children, all children. I hear them crying. I hear drones buzzing. I see children dying. I see militarized police, a police state. I see war. I see the expansion of war abroad and the war here at home. I see gun violence that’s become commonplace. I see rising sea levels, food poverty, mass migrations. Plenty of this is our present; some our future. I won’t be around to witness most of the environmental devastation that I imagine, but I have highest anxiety knowing it’s coming. It plagues my dreams and occupies my thoughts. As if the future has its hands around my throat.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com