There’s something irresistible and mesmerizing about Coates’s voice. I found Between the World and Me deeply compelling, partly because of Coates’s muscular, precise prose. He’s one of our finest essayists today, in the tradition of James Baldwin and others.
I wonder if that is the true definition of wilderness: places where we find ourselves unprepared and bewildered. No solution seems obvious or forthcoming. Sometimes we can’t even name the problems. We wander like those other wilderness-dwellers, the Israelites, disorganized and ill-equipped, chasing after some strange, divine smoke-and-fire. It’s easy to succumb to temptations. There are wild beasts.
The mood is oddly chipper considering we are about to play for a funeral. This is what we do at our church: when someone dies, a call goes out to all our regular musicians to play at the funeral. We don’t have praise teams, but I suppose, this afternoon, we are the lament team.
Dear Pious Petunia: How do I cope?
Miss P: I’ve been receiving many letters of late whose plaintive pleas boil down to that very question. Thank you for summing up the general mood so concisely. What with a cacophony of conflict and chaos in Washington, the looming gloom of global climate cataclysm, the tragic nexus of tax season and Lent…. Dear me.
We often do not know how to give grief and lament the space and time they require. However, painting, sculpture, music, dance and other forms can express unutterable emotion, create space for reflection, and provide healing. Art can help us do the “Holy Saturday” work of acknowledging the darkness, opening a space to respond with and beyond words.
Of all the good books I received as Christmas gifts this year, one has captured my heart: You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia (Bloomsbury, 2016). I realize it’s hard to imagine a geekier volume than a history of reference books.
Come amid the salt-crusted cars lined up at the light,
amid the clamor and bustle of commerce,
the grocery store cash drawer rings,
“There are two elements of the constitution, wrote Walter Bagehot in 1867, the efficient and the dignified. … The efficient has the power to make and execute policy, and is answerable to the electorate. … The dignified gives significance and legitimacy to the efficient, and is answerable only… to God.”
That is not what I got with Arrival. Instead, this film, directed by Denis Villeneuve, manages to be riveting and meditative at once. Rather than marching us through a briskly paced action thriller, Villeneuve invites us to dwell in the mysteries of language, time, and otherness.
I’m grieving. Not because I have policy disagreements with the winner. Not because the lady didn’t win. Those things matter, but it’s so much bigger than that. I’m grieving because a person who rode to power on a calculated surge of hatred and bigotry, who dishonors women and brown people and any kind of Other in myriad ways—I’m grieving because only half the country rejected that. The other half rewarded it, or at the very least, thought the bullying and vulgarity and incitement to violence was unimportant enough to ignore.