Skip to content

And Then (With Some Work) There Was Light

When I was a kid, the nightmare I had over and over again always began the same way: I’m eating a bowl of Cheerios at the Formica-topped table in my mother’s kitchen. Her pretty, white ruffled curtains, encouraged by a gentle breeze, float in and out of open windows. A loud bang, like an unexpected gunshot, jolts the spoon out of my hand, the milk sloshing from my bowl and spilling across the table. The noise is coming from the closed door leading to our basement, and it grows louder with each rhythmic thud, the thumping in my chest doing the same. I know the wooden door is locked, but as the banging continues, the top panel heaves and the door’s metal hinges strain. As I watch, wide-eyed, the wood begins to splinter, fraying like a worn blanket. I sprint to my bedroom and dive under the bed. I hear the crash as the door gives way. The gorilla is coming for me.

For years, this recurrent nightmare filled me with dread. Until I was old enough to understand that it was simply a representation of my inner childhood fears. Once I looked at it for what it was, those fears no longer had a hold over me and the nightmare disappeared.

I’ve had a similar experience recently with grief. Just like in my gorilla nightmare, I’ve tried to run and hide from it, often taking refuge behind a stack of books and the tv, as well as my refrigerator and wine cellar. But no matter where I tried to hide, whether by losing myself in a book or movie, or keeping the pain away with a glass, (or three) of wine, just as I began to relax, convinced I’d outrun and outsmarted it, Grief would find me. And when it did, I’d close my eyes, refusing to meet its evil gaze in the only act of denial and self-protection left to me. Grief responded to my feeble attempt at repudiation by plunging its razorwire-sharp claws into my heart, the pain taking my breath away and driving me to my knees. And that’s when I realized there was only one thing left to do:

I opened my eyes.

What I’ve come to realize is that fear and grief are cousins, maybe even twins. Both have the ability to make us cower, to make us want to run and hide. Even worse, they often freeze us in our tracks, rendering us unable to think, to move, and sometimes, even to breath.

It took growing up for me to face and then to understand my gorilla nightmare fears. It took a lot more for me to face and understand grief. But to be honest, the real reason I finally faced both was because I was tired of having them hold me hostage. I hated the power that fear and grief had over me. Still do.

These days, many of us are reeling with the fear and grief of a world that seems to be lurching in a direction that is simply untenable. Reading Project 2025, the plan that is the right wing’s long-held and long-worked for dream, turns my stomach, its foundational ideas based on conservative and evangelical Christianity determining every aspect of our society. It’s a plan for a world where a small handful of powerful zealots, led by a pathological, lying, wanna-be dictator narcissist at the top, decide the rights the rest of us will have and thus, the kind of lives we’ll lead. And apparently, the right wing majority on our Supreme Court have decided to hasten the arrival of this plan with many of its decisions, including its most recent: that incitement of an insurrection is a core constitutional power afforded to a president.

All of this, and so much more, seems like a scary nightmare of the worst kind—one that may actually become real. Understandably, the potential of this fills many of us with gut-wrenching fear and unending grief, maybe even rendering us powerless. The feeling of having no control or say over our lives may be a new experience for some of us who have always had food on our table, a roof over our heads. Or the ability to get a good job, the color of our skin never making life harder, and sometimes, making it a whole lot easier. For some, the feeling of being powerless offers a small taste of what many immigrants who are simply trying to create a better life for their families must feel, or what many people of color, many of the poor or homeless or people who have mental illness or live with domestic or police violence have felt for decades.

What to do?

For me, I’m done allowing anyone, or anything (I’m looking at you, fear and grief) to hold me hostage. Sure, I have no ability to decide whether or not my preferred candidate is too old to run and win. That decision is way, way above my pay grade. But I’m done making excuses for my inability to convince my party to take my winning advice, from who should be at the top of the ticket to what the party messenging strategy should be. Instead, I’ve asked myself: “What’s my message?” And the answer, for me, is easy: I do not want to live in a country where my granddaughters have fewer rights than I did. Where a president is somehow above the rule of law that applies to the rest of us.

This morning, my yoga teacher took the class through The Warrior series of poses. As he often does, he introduced it by asking us to think about what it is that we all stand for. He asked: “What are the beliefs and values that you will defend?”

Good question.

We ended yoga class with the Wheel of Life pose. It’s a tough one, with legs and arms going this way and that, stressing muscles and ligaments I didn’t even know I had. But the pose is one of my favorites, filling me with joy as I bend and stretch into it, even as it challenges me to do that which I find difficult. Painful, even.

But I’m gonna keep on doing it until I can’t anymore. I’m going to do that pose, and life, as well as I can, for as long as I can, and with as much strength as I can muster. And when I tire, I know there will be others right behind me, pitching in, doing what they can, urging me on until I can’t go any longer, just like the family and friends who’ve helped me understand my fears and face my grief. It’s all hard work. But who said it was supposed to be easy? In my life, the things that were the most difficult and painful, like the birth of my kids, has also proven to be among the best and most joyful things I’ve ever done.

Look, I’m under no illusions that with a little elbow grease, things will all turn out just fine. But if history is any guide, we know that things usually get really, really bad before they get better. That old cliché, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” holds true. And we know that progress doesn’t happen without people working hard, and sometimes for years, to make it happen. I’m not gonna let my country, my freedom and belief in this democracy, and in equity, fairness and justice for all, go down without a fight. Because those who want to keep things the way they are, or drag us back into a rose-colored world that existed only for entitled and powerful white guys, want us to give up. To stay scared and sad. To feel powerless.

It is indeed dark out there right now. Very, very dark. So unfortunately, fear and grief are having a moment. The truth is, they’ll always be with us. But darkness never lasts, especially when we work together to find the light switch. Those twin emotions don’t have to paralyze or own us. This warrior knows what she believes in, what she’ll stand up and work for. Not only for myself, but for my kids and grandkids, and for the generations to come.

Photo by infinyd photo on


  1. Beautiful words, Jill. This fills me with hope. I will be fighting right along side you.

    • Of that, Karen, I have no doubt! Thanks, fellow warrior.

  2. Thank you, Jill, for your hard won light ☀️

    • It would be much dimmer if it weren’t for the PERSISTers! Thanks Cheryl.

  3. Yesterday, I was playing doubles racquetball and, in between points, my partner stopped, looked at his watch and said “how do you feel about immunity?” I didn’t know his position but then I knew we were very similarly concerned. This is monsoon season in Arizona, a terrifying weather pattern that includes extremely high winds and torrential rains. But this morning the sky is an unusual calm beautiful blue. Your comments help me realize I can be scared or decide to do something. For me, it’s to get out, navigate around the weather and find more allies to partner with. I’ll be taking your message with me.

    • Thanks Mike. As my big brother and one of my primary influencers from day one, you’ve taught me and demonstrated yourself how to overcome fear in the face of adversity. Thanks for my first (and ongoing) lessons!

  4. Well said my friend. We must be a community to share common values and strength; to rally people to stand up for democracy. The fear is real but together we can make our future better.

    • Agreed. We need community now more than ever during this democratic emergency. And we’ll need each other in the future, no matter what happens. Thanks for reading and commenting Meg!

  5. Thank you for this deeply personal, thoughtful, comforting, and challenging piece. I, too, am gripped by fear and grief in a whole new way. And here you so beautifully identify the strengths and hope we best realize together. Thank you for this gift, Jill.

    • I think the best thing we have right now is “together.” And maybe, it’s the best we’ve always had. But what I’m most certain of is that “together” is the only way we make things better, which you’ve been doing for years. Thanks Petey!

  6. Thanks Jill for thoughtful, evocative blogs. This one in particular hits home with the underlying pervasive sadness I have felt for 8 years! Fight the good fight as we mst!

    • You’re welcome, Georgie. Thank you for reading, and commenting, and fighting the good fight!

  7. You always inspire me Jill. It’s easy to get caught up in fear and negativity, but I’d rather reach for the hope that my grandchildrens’ future will be better than mine and I will continue to fight the good fight as well!

    • Right back at ya sister! And the future just has to be better. It’s up to us, right? Love you.

  8. I won’t lie. I’m pretty sick to my stomach of late thinking about the near future and the fact that it seems the needs and egos of singular individuals outrank the needs of the people. Period. Nothing gets done in Congress and we have two great grandfathers running for Prez. WTF. You know I’ll follow you into ANY battle, any time, but I feel like I’m waving my sword at the mist. Lead on Sista, show me the way. BTW, is it anywhere near Portugal?? New Zealand??

    • I hear you. The frustration is real, and the stakes are so high. But democracy is and has always been a team sport, the most challenging one in the world, which is why we’re the only country even trying to play it. If you’re too frustrated, or tired, to get in the game right now, I get it, having taken the last year off myself. But that’s why it’s a team sport–we all contribute when and how we can, following sometimes, leading other times. And since you’ve never been much of a follower, I know that when the mist clears (because it always does, even temporarily), you’ll pick up your sword and charge at those bastards coming at us. Because as tempting as Portugal and New Zealand are, this place is home. Love you friend.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *