“Peace—that was the other name for home,” wrote American novelist Kathleen Norris.
During the past few years, America has gone round the bend, addled by a never-ending tsunami of sound-bites, bad news, and disastrous events: the pandemic, the Afghanistan fiasco, the talk of nuclear war, the battles over race and sex in our schools, the ongoing collapse of trust in our institutions—especially government and media—and falling marriage rates. We’re like punch-drunk fighters in a match where the bell never sounds.
Consequently, many of us feel disoriented and powerless. Commentators and researchers report that the American psyche is battered, and few expect that conditions will improve.
Yet one place remains in our control, a final fortress where we can find refuge and regather our strength to face life’s battles. Whether you live in a mansion in Virginia’s horse country or a studio apartment in Jacksonville, Florida, your dwelling-place is your citadel.
When you step inside the front door and lock that deadbolt behind you, you command your own small corner of the world. You want to “brighten the corner where you are?” It’s up to you what paintings and pictures hang from the walls, what music will drift in the air, whether you’ll put plants on a windowsill or a back deck. You’re concerned about safety? You decide whether to purchase a firearm or add a ring video doorbell. You want to take a nap on the living room sofa dressed only in a T-shirt and boxer shorts? That outfit might get you arrested in a public park or pass muster as modest in a Pride March, but when you’re home you dress as you please. In this palace you’re the monarch.
Of course, the enemy has other means of invasion. Push a couple of buttons, and that flatscreen on the wall in the den flowers with dire news. Open up that laptop or phone, tap a few keys, and the world is just 12 inches from your face, the screen bringing to you the latest horrible atrocities, murders, and government corruption. You can read about the homeless in Asheville, North Carolina, the crime rate in Detroit, the arrest of climate change protestors who while blocking traffic caused a deadly accident. You can immerse yourself in a sinkhole of news that seems to portend the end of civilization.
You see, it’s up to you whether you swallow the misery of the world along with the quiche and salad you made for supper. You command this redoubt. In this place you decide whether to join battle or take some R&R.
And here’s more good news: You’re not alone. No matter where your stronghold is located, New York’s Manhattan or Manhattan, Kansas, beyond those walls are others like you. These potential allies want the same things you do. They want the potholes in the streets repaired, the old plumbing and waterlines beneath those streets and sidewalks replaced, and, if necessary, a new mayor and city council. Some of these potential fellow activists are angry about the local schools—their push for critical race theory or their sunken test scores—and they’re running as candidates for the school board.
And they’re looking for some help. They’re eager to have supporters just like you come aboard. By joining them, you can further banish that paralysis which has dragged you into the pit of impotency. What’s more, you’ll be doing good work in that part of the world which matters most to you, your community.
Here Reinhold Niebuhr’s short, beloved prayer comes to mind: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Only a few Americans have the power to quickly change the direction of our federal government, but all of us have the power to make a castle of our homes and, if we wish, to extend that power to our communities. We can achieve serenity by knowing our limitations. By having the courage to change the things we can, our courage will grow, and so will our power to change our lives for the good.
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