Maia Toll
This week I did something I haven’t done since high school.

My mind was bouncing all over the place, from news article to news article, trying to get a handle on what the hell is going on in our world. Have the forces of evil finally prevailed? Have our better angels been deposed or deported?

It all felt so vast, so cosmic, and so very beyond the scope of little ‘ole me.

Which was when I realized: it is vast and cosmic. Nations aren’t built on a human time frame. Our individual life spans happen in dog years compared to the life of nations (okay, some nations. There are parts of the globe where the names change so constantly I can’t keep track.).

The nation I live in was built on an idea. Sure there’s the daily doings which keep things humming along, but ultimately, being a part of this nation is about buying into a concept and continuing to work toward it, cutting a trail not just for yourself but for everyone who comes after.

When I take an eagle’s eye view, I see a tangle of complex problems and personalities. The time spans which might offer solutions are well beyond those I’ll be here to witness. Looking at this big picture, I feel pretty helpless to do anything except make another cup of tea and lose myself in a fantasy novel.

I’ve been doing this a lot: looking at the BIGGEST possible picture and feeling small.

So today I did something I haven’t done since high school: I reread the Declaration of Independence. I needed to know if I still bought in. I’d lost track of the idea of this country while trying to extinguish each flash fire of ugliness that came across my screen.

First discovery: this nation's forefathers were pretty boss. Click To Tweet

Technically they’re not my forefathers. My forefathers were living in a shtetl in Russia when the Declaration was crafted. But the writers of the Declaration of Independence are my intellectual forefathers, the forefathers of the country who’s founding idea I realized I still buy into.

Yes, they were all men; yes, they were all white; yes, some of them owned slaves…. And yet they were the radicals— the revolutionaries— of their time. They were the ones willing to stand up and say enough.

Now our radicals are not just white men but women and people of many colors; they’re queers and witches and a million other monikers which simply meant “no one” back when the Declaration of Independence was written. All of these people are now seen as people. They can vote and march on Washington and decide what to eat for dinner.

Which means this country has evolved and changed. It means the suffragettes and civil rights activists made a difference, even if during their lifetimes maybe it felt like nothing was happening. Even if they sometimes felt helpless in the face of history.

I heard a smart guy named Drew Jones speak at Creative Mornings. He talked about how it’s hard for us to be motivated when the outcome of our actions is distant in time or space. We become unsure if our cause has any effect.

And yet when I look at the long game, I realize our better angels are still fighting, still carving a path out of the wilderness. I realize I’ve gotta be in this so when someone looks back 200 years from now, they can see what I see today: that over the span of decades and centuries (the time span of nations), this democratic experiment is working.

My partner’s a bit of a politico. When I was overwhelmed by the chaos of it all, I asked him “what can we do besides vote?” And he said “it’s like cleaning the kitchen after you’ve cooked a five course meal. Just chose a place and get started.”

If you’ve ever come to my house for dinner, you know that while I love to cook, the aftermath can be overwhelming. When I look at the pile of pots and pans, the dishes to be washed, and the counters in chaos, my mind starts to fray and exhaustion sets in. So I start small— put the napkins (cloth) in the laundry room. Wipe the crumbs off the table… I know how to load the dishwasher and clean the goo out from around the burners.

Slowly the chaos becomes order.

One small step at a time.