One of my favorite movies when I was a kid was “The NeverEnding Story.”
If you don’t know it, it’s the story of a boy named Sebastian who finds a magical book. Bullied by other kids, he skips school to read the adventure of the brave warrior Atreyu’s quest to save the world from destruction by The Nothing.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the scariest and saddest scene is the part where Atreyu and Artax (his horse) try to pass through the Swamp of Sadness. Both of them move through the swamp, their pace slowing as they trudge through until Artax finally stops altogether. Atreyu tries to encourage him along but it’s too late. Artax has been consumed by the sadness of the swamp, sinks into it and dies.
I know. I know. What a miserable scene in a children’s movie!
But lately, I’m reminded of that scene because all of the news seems so bad. I sometimes feel like I’m walking through a swamp of sadness. I am especially sad when I get text alerts and read the headlines saying we’re going to deny entry to Muslims from seven countries—even those who already have visas. I think of all the refugee families who already (based on the administration’s rhetoric) were scared to come here, but now are denied safety completely. I think of the translators who have put their lives on the line to help our military and our intel communities. I think of all the people who already had their visas approved who landed at the airport last night and were stopped at customs. All of this just reinforces ISIS propaganda that says this is a war on Muslims by the west. Turning them away at the door is not only a rejection of American values, it’s also made us far less safe in this world.
What’s frustrating is there is nothing I can do other than shout into a social media abyss, call my congressman/woman, and give money to the International Rescue Committee or other groups who help refugees.
And this comes on a day when we were supposed to remember the horrors of the Holocaust.
It seems easy to get pulled into the swamp of sadness right now. Is any of the work we are doing making a difference? I was so encouraged by the Women’s March, but then I see the haters weigh in. I see change in small ways, but then am disheartened by the lack of courage from elected officials I once respected.
Where are the people who actually have the power to act? It’s like radio silence!
Meanwhile, I’m getting hit with completely undemocratic posts on Facebook from friends along the lines of “The election is over… shut up and stop posting your politics” because their cute kid and cat pictures were disrupted by political affairs. How privileged (or naive) to think none of this will touch your family.
Is this the America I live in now? One that turns its back on those in need, would deny people fundamental rights and, when other Americans dissent to draw attention to problems, tell them to “shut up”?
Those are not the values I was raised to believe in.
As I said, it’s easy to get discouraged and I worry tremendously that, as we do, we’ll give up on our cause. That we’ll lose our passion and fight. That we’ll stop speaking out. A lot of people have expressed concern that this is all so overwhelming, and it is. Are we all going to eventually get exhausted and give up?
I think that’s a legitimate concern but I have an idea to combat it: Let’s make a commitment to look out for one another through random acts of kindness.
I think the biggest mistake Atreyu made in “The NeverEnding Story” was that he didn’t look back to check on Artax until it was too late. Perhaps Atreyu was so consumed by his own sadness that it was everything he could do to keep pushing forward without looking back. Perhaps he was so focused on the end of the journey that he forgot to check on Artax, someone he needed to get to his destination, until it was too late to shake Artax from the sadness.
Let’s not let that happen here.
We need each other on this journey, both to accomplish our goals and for support along the way. So let’s make a promise to check on our friends and pay it forward.
It’s going to continue to get overwhelming in the coming days. Commit now to looking back at your friends to make sure they are doing okay.
When we notice someone getting discouraged, let’s take time to try and lift that person up. You could mail an encouraging handwritten note or card. Maybe send a text message of reassurance. Perhaps a surprise gift like a Smokey the Bear Resist shirt or a ProPublica “We will not shut up” shirt. How about a newspaper or magazine subscription? Even something as simple as dialing them up for a phone conversation and letting them vent for a bit could be immensely helpful.
We have a long way to go through the swamp of sadness. Let’s agree to look out for each other as we press forward.