I’M FEELING A BIT INTROSPECTIVE these days. Perhaps it’s the season. Perhaps it’s the state of the world. Perhaps it’s the challenges faced by people I love, people in my circle. I can’t pinpoint a specific reason for feeling this way, only a recognition that my thoughts seem more reflective.
My reading follows that thread. I just finished Graceland, at Last—Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South by Margaret Renkl. A friend recommended this award-winning book published by Minneapolis-based Milkweed Editions. She knew I would appreciate the essays therein which cover topics ranging from politics to social justice to the environment to family, community and more. So much resonated with me, inspired me, focused my thoughts. To read about these issues from a Southern perspective enlightened me.
Yes, this book includes political viewpoints that could anger some readers. Not me. Equally as important, Renkl also writes on everyday topics like the optimism of youth. I especially appreciated her chapter, “These Kids Are Done Waiting for Change.” In that essay on youth activists, she concludes: They are young enough to imagine a better future, to have faith in their own power to change the world for good.
That quote fits a young candidate running for Third District county commissioner in my county of Rice. Last week I attended an American Association of University Women-sponsored debate between the two candidates, one 21, the other 67. It’s refreshing to see a young person running for public office, someone who cares deeply about his community, about issues, about history, about humanity. He is well-informed, experienced in public service, thoughtful, a good listener, invested, and brings a new, young voice into the public realm. I felt hopeful as I listened to the two candidates answer written questions submitted by the audience. There was no mud-slinging, no awfulness, but rather honest answers from two men who seem decent, kind, respectful and genuine. Those attributes are important as I consider anyone running for public office. Candidates may disagree, and these two do on some issues, but that didn’t give way to personal or political attacks.
Renkl, in Graceland, writes on pertinent topics of concern to many of us, including those seeking election to public office. In “Demolition Blues,” an essay on housing changes in her neighborhood, she shares how housing has become unaffordable for many who work in the Nashville metro. The same can be said for my southern Minnesota community, where high rental rates and housing prices leave lower income and working class people without affordable housing. That’s linked to a severe shortage of rentals and single family homes.
It would be easy to feel discouraged by real-life issues that flow into our days whether via a book, an election, personal experiences, media… But then I think of those young activists, the young candidate running for office in my county, and I feel hope for the future.
I feel hope, also, within. We each possess the capacity to “do something.” That needn’t be complicated as Renkl writes in her essay, “The Gift of Shared Grief.” She reminds readers of the importance of sending handwritten condolences. I understand. My mom died in January and I treasure every single card with handwritten message received. There’s something profoundly powerful and personal about the penned word, about connecting beyond technology. It doesn’t take much effort to buy a greeting card, write a few heartfelt sentences and mail it. Yet, the art of connecting via paper is vanishing. I’d like to see more people sending paper birthday cards again…I miss getting a mailbox filled with cards.
One final essay penned by Renkl, “What It Means to Be #Nashvillestrong,” took me back to that candidate forum last Thursday. When asked to identify the most pressing issue people face locally, the younger candidate replied with “personal issues.” He’s right. No matter what we face jointly as a society (such as inflation), it is personal issues which most challenge us. Author Renkl, referencing a text from a friend, calls those—cancer, death, etc—our “private Katrina.” That in no way minimizes the death and destruction of large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina. But we all have something. Her friend texted: One day the sun is shining and all is intact, the next day everything is broken. And the rest of the world goes on. You’re trapped in your own crazy snow globe that’s been shaken so hard all the pieces fly loose.
And when those pieces fly loose in our circle, in our community and beyond, what do we do? We can, writes Renkl, be the hands that help our neighbors dig out.
© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling