My mom's best advice
On doing what you can in hard times
On November 9, 2016, I peeled my eyes open, hungover, swollen from crying, willing myself to lie there for just a few more minutes before I looked at the inevitable news on my phone—that Donald Trump was officially the President of the United States.
Yes, I was a young liberal stereotype, the kind whose obvious despair and shock on the New York City subway that morning could have ended up on some Instagram feed called OwnTheLibz. I was despondent over how wrong I’d been, disgusted at how my country could throw its weight behind someone so despicable, devastated to relearn the abysmal depths of misogyny.
I was depressed for weeks afterward. Soon, I started shifting blame away from others to myself. I thought a lot about how I had not lifted a single finger to help the Democrats win in any meaningful way. I had assumed it was someone else’s job to help shape the future of my country. Up until then I had been a teen and then twentysomething extremely concerned with myself, and not much else. I barely volunteered, or donated, or got involved in causes I claimed to care about.
My mom visited me in New York not long after the election, while I still wasn’t really feeling like myself. To comfort me, she gave me some advice that shifted my entire value system and how I think about what gives my life meaning. “Why don’t you do what you can in your own community?” she said. “That’s where you can actually make a difference.”
Something inside of me latched onto this advice. I decided to make real changes to better live out my values. Months later, I was matched with a young teenage girl through Big Brothers Big Sisters and spent time with her for three years—she’s now in college and we still keep in touch. After I moved to Austin I made a conscious effort to make friends involved in all kinds of activist spaces, from sustainability to harm reduction to food instability, and I’ve followed their leads in educating myself and regularly supporting their local initiatives. I haven’t missed a single election since November 2016. I’ve also phonebanked and canvassed for candidates and causes I support, and made sure I can say I did my part to try to get liberal candidates elected in Texas (even when they flop hard—looking at you, Beto).
“Why don’t you do what you can in your own community?” she said. “That’s where you can actually make a difference.”
My mom’s advice seven years ago ultimately changed how I think about my day-to-day life, where I put my physical and mental energy, and even how I consume news. There is a simple truth to what she told me: I cannot control most things. I cannot change some of the things that most pain me about the world. But I can make real change by showing up for my community. I can make a difference in a person’s life today.
I am not sharing all this to shower praise on myself; rather I think my mom’s words could be valuable for many of you right now. During this time of acute suffering and despair, her advice kept coming to my mind. There are countless ways I, as one person, can’t help those who I wish I could, some of whom are continents away. But I choose to focus on what I can do to make a difference, and then make it a priority to actually do those things.
If you are feeling hopeless, lost, frightened, overwhelmed, angry—yes, that makes sense, and I feel it too. Let your rage spur you toward action.
Here are some simple ideas. Pick one and just do it. Do what you can today. Take action and do your part. Hold yourself accountable. Put your energy to good use. Then put down the rest.
Reach out to someone you know needs support. One text can go a long way.
Let someone know you are grateful for them today. When someone pops into your head, tell them you are thinking of them, every time.
Think of someone dealing with a lot right now, and do something for them without being asked. Drop off a meal. Do their grocery shopping. Drive them to an appointment. Do whatever you know would be helpful, and don’t make them do any logistics.
When you cook, save some food for an unhoused neighbor, and drop it off to them with a kind note. Better yet, share a meal with them and get to know them.
Find a way to give money to someone who needs it. More than anything, people could really use money. Put it in a card, slip it in a mailbox, make it anonymous. Not only will the money go a long way, but they will feel like someone is looking out for them in this world, and that can make a huge difference.
Bake something and drop it off to a neighbor you appreciate.
Take time to check on those who may be lonely this holiday, including the elderly.
Find a way to volunteer to give back in your neighborhood. Sign up and make sure you get there, no matter what.
When you walk around your neighborhood, take along a bag and gloves and pick up trash. Or join an organized trash clean-up (like Garbage Humans of ATX, where I always meet cool people).
Donate to a cause you care about. Give generously. Set up an automatic monthly donation so you continue to follow through on your commitment.
Make a commitment to get involved with a local organization or cause you support. Choose a time commitment that works for you (weekly, monthly, etc.) then put that time on your calendar and protect it.
Reflect on how you can be patient and present. Then enact those things in your daily life. The people you love will be better for it.
Have the hard conversations. This, more than anything, may be the strongest way to affect change among the people you know and love.
Actions for Palestine:
Contact Austin’s City Council members by 11/29 to add the Gaza ceasefire resolution to the 11/30 City Council meeting.
Other Austin ceasefire action items and recommended reading
Last week’s post of reading, resources, and action items: Links in solidarity with Palestine
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.