History is happening…

On March 13 we made this sign in solidarity with my family in Italy that had gone into Quarantine.

Andra Tutto Bene = Everything is going to be okay.

It was an Instagram phenomenon that week, a mother in Italy had children who were upset and scared about a situation they had never been subjected to before. Hell, all of us were scared of this situation we have never been subjected to before.

So the mom asked her kids to brainstorm and come up with something they could do in order to make themselves feel better. They came up with the words “Everything is going to be okay : Andra tutto bene” and the symbol of a rainbow.

The signs multiplied throughout Italy and the rest of the world.

Today it’s the beginning of August. It’s been 4 and ½ months and our sign is faded and yellowed and exhausted.

If ever there was a metaphor for how I’m feeling, it’s faded and so extremely exhausted.

And I am not the only one.

The world is burning at our feet. And I don’t know about you, but the noise of everyone screaming to be heard is so loud. The discontent so loud. The news, social media…it’s all so very loud that it has become palpable.

Guess, what, that noise, it’s actually a real thing. It’s called “Censorship through noise.”

“rather than shutting down dissenting voices…leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.” 

Great, another feather in the cap of my exhaustion.

My exhaustion is also fueled by anger. A lot of anger. Are you feeling this too?

Oh, and disappointment. I’m angry and disappointed by people I thought I knew, people I considered family, friends, intellects…they sure showed their true colors online these past few months. I know I’m not alone in these discoveries. This has also instilled a momentary fear of people, and I’m not talking about a fear of people with a different color skin, love, adjective…I’m talking about the people I’m standing next to in line at the grocery store. Are they the ones who I thought I knew but are spouting all the hateful ill-informed propaganda?

(Side Note: Propaganda is designed to make you feel something in order to control what you think. The news and those trying to get you to vote for them, yeah, they use anger and fear/outrage in order to get you to click on their article, vote for them, and fight your fellow human. And a lot of time they are doing it for a price.)

When did we stop using common sense? When did we stop doing research?  When did the earth become flat again? What the fuck are people so scared of? Why the ever loving fuck are so many damn Americans scared, SCARED, of people who are a different color and creed and love?

I’m tired. But not as tired as my fellow humans who have been fighting to be treated equally by the workplace. Equally in marriage. Equally in the eyes of the law. Equally in life. And my support pours out of my depths for each of my fellow humans and I have taken my actions and words to help their cause and will always continue to do so.

But still…the air stays palpable with worry. All of which instills a loneliness and disconnect, and as humans, we need to connect with each other. It’s through connection, the act of sitting down and talking with fellow humans, regardless of our adjectives, that we can make a difference and change in our lives.

And it’s happening, not as much as the news is showing us, because goodness isn’t in the handbook of dividing us, but it’s happening. For example, awhile back a group of Black Lives Matter protesters showed up to a Trump Rally. The man running the Trump rally invited the BLM protesters up and handed them the microphone so they could explain their stance. Afterwards, a few people admitted that it was a good thing, they didn’t understand what the BLM movement was about. And it gave everyone present the ability to see their ‘opponents’ as humans.

The conversations and the willingness to open up to such a moment are born out of compassion. We all need a little more compassion in our lives right now, don’t we? Mother Theresa said it so simply and so eloquently, “We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace, we need love and compassion.”

But how do I have compassion for those who I hate. Because I’ve found lately that I’ve got A LOT of hate brewing. The answer isn’t as difficult as you would think.

When Russell Brand spoke with Brenè Brown on his podcast Under the Skin, she talked about a study she did. She asked a group of people to think about someone they hated, were at the end of their rope with, or disgusted with or angry with. To really get that person in their mind and think about how much anger and frustration they had for that person.

Then, she asked the group this simple question: What if some omniscient being came down and told you, without a shadow of a doubt, this person you are railing against, they are doing the very best they knew how? They are doing the best they can with what knowledge, information, and life lessons they have up to this very moment. Would your feelings change toward that person?

Well, yeah.

And that reaction?  That, “well,” reaction where the anger dissipates a bit; that’s compassion.

But having compassion for someone doesn’t mean they get to walk all over you. Having compassion for someone doesn’t mean you have to actually like them. Having compassion means honoring someone and their struggles and suffering, and wishing them well. And then it means that the hatred and anger and frustration are not ours to carry any more. We have control over that.

Now, I’m smart enough to realize that our actions have consequences, and when we harm others, we should be held accountable. But you can also see, that fear and hatred aren’t working. Fear and hatred will always divide us. Change begins with conversation, compassion and compromise born out of love.

“All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” –Brenè Brown

But our world is changing fast and furiously. History will record our actions and future generations will be our judge and jury.

If you are curious what future generations will think of us, we actually have a glimpse of that in our possession right now. All we have to do is look to other countries to see what they think of us. Their view of the US right now is going to be pretty close to the way history remembers us and these days.

My sister lives in Italy and many of her colleagues ask her to explain what is happening in the US, because they are downright confused and flabbergasted. And where they once feared or hated America, they now pity us. It’s also very telling that the rest of the world has collectively put us in our place by closing their borders to us. Isn’t that an interesting physical representation to how they feel about our country right now?

I am a student of history, I’ve told you this before, my degree is in History. I studied Ancient Greeks and Romans and minored in Women’s Studies. What does that mean? Really, all it means is that I learned how to do research. (Which comes in really handy when you’re a writer.)

One of the things about being a student of history and a writer, is that I know a little bit about a lot of things. I know that when people complain about wearing a mask and use the ‘Hitler’ card, chances are they didn’t pay attention in history class and they probably had a difficult time with cause and effect.

“Don’t mistake inconvenience for oppression.” That’s from a “please wear a mask” sign I saw online.

This political divide over wearing a mask, is one of things history will have a very difficult time understanding when this is all over. Hell, it’s what a lot of us have a difficult time comprehending. Which leads to the deeper question: What are people so scared of? That if they put a mask on they’ll be instantly transported to Hitler’s Germany? (I argue that the open carry, self-appointed militia groups on the side lines of the peaceful protests are the ones making me feel like ‘Hitler’s Germany’. And the thing is, the protesters are protesting because THEY are scared, and the armed folks with automatic weapons and flack vests are out there because THEY are scared.)

That’s a lot to unpack, I know. And I could go on and on into the depths of the arguments happening everywhere right now…

However, here’s the thing, amid my pondering and research and reading lately, I have fluctuated between being scared out of my ever loving skin and of being blessed to be alive during this time.

Whoa! What?!

What did you just say? There ain’t nothing worth blessing in this current time and place. So many people have died needlessly. So many families ruined. So many protesters in the streets. So much anger filling the air. So many jobs lost. So many struggling to get by.

Yes, this is all true.

I recently asked a good friend who is one of the best High School History teachers to date, (trust me, her students can follow the cause and effect. I’ve always joked that I wanted to take her classes and now that everything is going to be online…hmmm, I think I might be enrolling in High School history again.)

So, I asked my friend why she isn’t using her history knowledge to just disseminate the ignorance on line. Because I love watching intellect go up against ignorance. And just as she always does, she pulled me out of the screaming mire I was stuck and allowed me to see the world from atop the desk.  (*insert Dead Poets reference here.)

Here’s what she said:

“As a historian I remind myself that none of this is really new. Mob mentality can’t be reasoned with. People believe what makes them feel better, and no amount of logic can change their minds…trying to prove they are wrong will only cause them to dig in their heels and embrace their beliefs more strongly. You can’t control what other people do, but you can control how you act or react…The ignorant people are scared. Fear is a powerful motivator. They are trying to survive too.”

This has been a big neon sign in the sky for me lately, this fear and compassion lesson.

I have been searching for some guidance and good news in my world, and even some of the spiritual leaders I follow on Instagram have admitted to having a deep fatigue and deep anxiety. That they are living in a limbo of uncertainty. There is a strange comfort in the fact that even those who are ‘supposed’ to have it all figured out, who are ‘supposed’ to be enlightened are human too.

The wind is whirling with so much change, and everything seems out of control and at the same time, there is this horrible thought that this is the way things need to be.

I’ll start with the musical Hamilton for example. What a time for a show about an immigrant, written by an immigrant, performed by a diverse cast to come into our homes. It’s the culmination of a New Renaissance that is part of the change in our air.

One of the most interesting songs to me was called “The Schuyler Sisters”. It talks about how exciting it is to be alive during the days of the Revolution. This encompasses that fine line I was talking about. The Revolutionary War was on the horizon, and British troops were walking the streets in America and remember at that time, the British Empire included 23 colonies and territories on American soil, so planning to fight the British was a treasonous act. Had the British won, those that fought against the British government would have been put to death. (Remember, our forefathers stole this land and then obtained it through treasonous activity.)

“To high treason. That’s what these men were committing when they signed the Declaration. Had we lost the war, they would have been hanged, beheaded, drawn and quartered, and-Oh! Oh, my personal favorite-and had their entrails cut out and burned!” -National Treasure

Okay, so back to this song. Here’s the lyrics that stood out:

But–look around, look around, the
Revolution’s happening in New York…
…It’s bad enough daddy wants to go to war.
People shouting in the square.
It’s bad enough there’ll be violence on our shore.
New ideas in the air…
…Look around, look around at how
Lucky we are to be alive right now!
History is happening in Manhattan and we
Just happen to be in the greatest city in the world!

“Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now! History is happening…” This is what I’ve been feeling underneath the deep exhaustion and fear. History is happening. On more than one occasion I’ve seen our current world state through the lens of History. Italian History as a matter of fact.

Let me explain.

So it’s the 1400s, there’s recently been a famine and food shortage in Italy which made the people vulnerable to disease. Unfortunately, a Genoese ship provided. That ship carried rats who had fleas that carried the plague to Italy. The black plague spread quickly. And out of fear of spreading the disease, trade was shut down. Many people died. Businesses failed and lot of folks were out of work. (Any of this sound eerily familiar?) Okay, the plague dissipates and with a sever loss of the population, laborers were hard to come by. Suddenly, you have new processes devised in order for more efficient working and production. And laborers could now earn a decent living wage. So say bye bye to the Feudal System, no need to serve a local lord to provide for you when you can earn your own way.

Okay, now you’ve got new money, wealthy merchants by the name of Medici can take over a whole city, proving you don’t need blue blood and a noble lineage to rule. These Medici had money baby. And the money and Medici’s were in Florence. Of course, noble elites were going to be pissed and this would divide Italy’s politics.

Still, new ideas abound as a result of the Black Death. “the mental outlook of people changed dramatically…the plague and its devastation undermined the religious orthodoxy and beliefs. People at the time were no longer willing to accept the status quo. This change manifested in numerous political revolts of the time…the Black Death led to a great questioning of the old certainties.”

So Italians looked to the classics, (you know, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle.) And you’ve got yourself new philosophical studies that lead to new politics.

New Money, new politics, new philosophy, and new science are exploding at this time in history. “This sense that life was fleeting and that every happiness should be seized, led many Italians to seek solace in art and literature and this was one of the factors in the development of the Renaissance. Many of the elite were eager to enjoy the pleasure of life, and this led them to patronize artists.”

Now, not everyone was super duper happy with the new changes. There was a divide; those who clung to the old ways. And helping these folks hold on was a priest by the name of Savonarola. He saw wickedness in these new ideas. Heard of the Bonfire of the Vanities? “Bring your books, artworks, dresses and everything the church sees as sinful! We’re gonna burn it all!”

Yeah, Savonarola had a little taste of power under his belt and the Medici’s power around 1490s was wavering, so Savonarola hypes up the crowds by pointing that this Renaissance was actually the coming Armageddon. The only thing to do: burn it all to the ground.

“sinful objects were collected for months leading up to the ritual, and on the day of the bonfire itself, Savonarola’s followers adorned themselves with white gowns, garlands and red crosses and went door-to-door collecting objects for burning. An enormous pyre was erected in the Piazza del Signoria and it was surmounted by an image of Satan. Representatives of the different Florentine districts symbolically lit the pyre, obliterating the objects of vanity.” 

Italians however, eventually saw this bonfire as a threat to their culture. So, the people turned against Savonarola. The church, who thought he was getting too big for his britches anyway, used his negative stance on the papacy as reason for his execution. He was hanged in the same piazza he held his bonfire.

History is bound to repeat itself, and when you hold these events up the events of the past, there is some hope to take to heart. We are on the precipice of large change. It’s frightening and its coming at too high a cost with too much sacrifice.

But, I don’t think it will be for naught. This is our New Renaissance. This is our rebirth as a country. I heard someone say the 45th president has actually helped highlight all that is wrong and needs to be mended in our country if we are to continue forward as one. He is a needed villain.

What can we do while we hold on tight to this wild ride? Be kind to your fellow humans. Do what you can with what you have where you are. Give yourself some grace and give some compassion to others. Look to what you are blessed and lucky enough to have in your life. Look deeper than the headline, deeper than the meme, deeper than your political party, and deeper than your religious beliefs.

Be good to each other and “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” ― Mahatma Gandhi


  • Valeri

    Fabulous read. I got so much out of this post and intend to share it with as many people as I can. You’re brilliant – thank you!

  • Melinda

    Excellent read Niki…so spot on. It lifted my spirits with hopeful thoughts, and the quotes are ones I will save on my desktop as reminders. Thank you.

  • AM Rasmussen

    You are a brilliant writer. How full this article is! History, culture, movie quotes, common sense and human emotion, all tied together in a beautiful gift that provides comfort and clarity for the reader.
    Thank you.

  • Bob Niccum

    Niki, this is a wonderful article. The way you combine a history lesson (rendered vividly instead of dryly, as others might) with pointers to our own time is noteworthy. Looking forward to seeing more like this.

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