There is no shortage of predictions. Every day we can hear what may happen with tomorrow’s weather, next year’s “in” colors, or the future of democracy. At moments of crisis, we’re more prone to try to make sense of consequences. Our opinions and prognostications travel loudly and quickly through a range of media platforms. Our thumbs—those remarkable opposable digits that made enormous evolutionary steps possible—can now spend time swiping through a thicket of what might be. Swipe enough and you might come to a clearing where the answers await.
Of course, predictions aren’t always right. I remember the peace dividend when the Cold War ended, how we thought all those billions of dollars that supported defense would now be used for education and healthcare. And I remember the days after September 11th, when I was certain that the world could see the terrible consequences of hate and we could find a new way forward. Even as I write this, pandemic predictions form and reform—a weather system of hope and fear. Some days I feel like someone who has emerged from a bomb shelter, staring at a devastated world and picking through pieces of what was.
So, I’ve given up on making any predictions, and now just try to think about what I should do next. My friend, the writer Akiko Busch, once told me that she guides her life by what Carl Jung told a patient who asked what she should do next with her life. His answer was to do the next most necessary thing. It’s a mantra I try to keep in my head. Do I write a poem? Read a book? Go for a walk? Give money to the food bank? Say small prayers for compassion? Watch the winter light make long afternoon shadows? Breathe?
If I’m lucky or paying attention, then each gesture should lead me to the next. When I’m writing this, the next word in the sentence isn’t there until it’s the next word in the sentence, which leads me on. The writing wasn’t waiting to be discovered so much as the writing itself is the discovery. In this dark time, I know that I want to make sense of the world: our common humanity, our capacity for love, and our ability to mourn. Not knowing where to begin can stop me right in my tracks. It’s the fear of a blank page. If anything is possible, where do I begin? The answer is always with the first action. Take the literal or figurative pencil in your hand and make the first mark on the page.
Yesterday our grandson, Lewis, arrived in the world. He was born early in the morning at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Eight pounds and ready for the new day. We received a photograph shortly after his birth. He’s yawning. It’s a lot of work to get here and just as much work once you’re here. His face, which I won’t get to see in person for a while with COVID restrictions, holds the past of all of his families and the future he will make. Here is the newborn, learning in every moment, all the systems synchronizing, and every gesture the next most necessary thing.
Image at top: Stuart Kestenbaum, Winter Light