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Ways of Seeing: Johanna Nichols, Women’s March helped in looking to future

“Time is a curious thing,” writes the novelist Fredrik Bachman. “Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years.” Not so long ago, I came to the insight that I had reached an age when there is more to look back on than ahead. “And when time no longer lies ahead of one,” writes Bachman, “other things have to be lived for…grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future.”
I have a precious grandchild; her future — the world she inherits — means everything to me. In the historic election this past November, I voted for women for President, for Governor, and for state Representative. I was stunned by the results of the Presidential election.
I became fearful that I will slowly wake up to a country I once lived in forty years ago as a woman trapped in society’s attitudes of a woman’s place, without rights, protections and opportunities.
A time before the equal pay act, before discrimination was banned in employment and in schools, before the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion, the family leave medical act, and the right to serve any job in the armed services if one meets the gender neutral standards. It is déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra put it.
I have lived before through elections that were lost, but this time, I spiraled with millions of Americans into a collective grief.
Krista Tippet, who hosts an interview program on National Public Radio, gave us a little pep talk. She said: “Wisdom emerges through the raw materials of our lives — and a great puzzle about human life is this fact that things will go wrong. It is a promise. And when those things go wrong, we will suffer. At any given moment all kinds of people are suffering.
“People who become wise are shaped by how they walk through that suffering. What happens to them, what goes wrong for them, and the growth that comes out of it — it becomes part of their wholeness on the other side.”
I am struggling to accept the new situation in this country. I’ve turned away from news sources that fill my mind with catastrophes on a daily basis. I am worrying about what might happen. I am wondering how to stand up for my beliefs.
I heard about the women’s march in Washington, D.C. and the sister marches, including in Montpelier. In worship on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday, Piper Harrell called us to show up, not just for the march, but also for each other. She said, “In the shining light of one of the greatest enactors of love of all time, Martin Luther King Jr., I feel bound, more than ever, to move forward solely, completely, ferociously in Love.”
On the morning of Jan. 21, I met up with friends in Montpelier, including children ages 6 and 9, and we walked across town to join the march. As we turned onto the bridge by the high school, we met the first wave of people at the beginning of the march. We merged into the exceptionally diverse, colorful, jubilant crowd of 15,000 of all ages who were moving forward carrying handmade banners and signs, dressed in costumes and pink hats, singing, chanting, determined to create, in the words of Sen. Bernie Sanders, “A nation based in love and compassion, not on hate and bigotry.”
The march filled me with a joy that Nikos Kazantzakis described this way, “It was no ordinary joy; it was a sublime absurd and unjustifiable gladness…when everything goes wrong, what a joy to test your soul and see if it has endurance and courage!”
While marching, singing, chanting, soaking in the creative signs, I felt the grief lift from my heart and float away. I felt empowered by the positive, strong, hopeful energy surrounding me. I walked through my grief and fear.
I experienced Americans at our best in this march. It was a protest, yes, but more, it was an affirmation of who we are and who we want to be — one nation, indivisible, with an equal, welcoming place at the table for all. I want to live for the sake of that future.
Johanna Nichols is a grandmother, writer, activist and Unitarian Universalist minister emerita. She appreciates responses to these columns at [email protected].

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