On the Wednesday before the end of democracy as we knew it, I walked among spectacular trees at Morton Arboretum, a sanctuary of golden leaves aglow, like sunlight filtering through stained glass — many-pointed maple leaves, free at last from their attachments, fluttering and turning somersaults in the breeze during their glorious, short-lived first and final flight to the forest floor.

On the Thursday before democracy was due to rise from its wreckage, my grandsons and a friend and I sat on a charred log in a similar glowing grove in Thatcher Woods and watched two deer with many-pointed antlers stride purposefully past, as if on some long journey, aware of our presence but taking little note, while the wind brought down leaves in droves like golden snow and we each took turns making up creation myths about how this magical golden forest came to be.

On the Friday afternoon before a Blue Wave of incalculable strength strained to sweep away the deadwood dam that blocked our path to the future and allow the sun to break through the gloom, I walked through River Forest, aflame with color, a feast for the eyes, normally the most peaceful of oases — except on Friday afternoon in the fall when the entire landscaping world invades and starts blowing leaves into the street at decibels that defy speech and disable thought.

On the Friday evening before the Culture War was scheduled to resume in earnest, I sat in a pew in Second Unitarian Church on the city’s North Side and listened to the Carl Kennedy Jazz Trio blend disparate elements and instruments into a coherent musical conversation, hinting at heavenly harmony.

On the Saturday evening before we turned our clocks back and the country reset its clock, either backward or forward, friends met over a meal to share tales from our respective odysseys and update our hopes, flourishing or dashed.

On the Sunday morning before the election that told us more about this nation than many wanted to know, Alan Taylor spoke at Unity Temple of remembering who we are; reminding us that darkness cannot drive out darkness, as Dr. King said, that only light can; recalling the solidarity Shabbat, two nights earlier, attended by 500 at West Suburban Har Zion Temple, responding to the hate-filled darkness that has descended on us; and asking what we are doing to stay spiritually grounded to keep from joining the ranks of the hateful. Fear and anger are a toxic mix. Don’t give away the keys to your soul. The opposite of love is indifference and the opposite of hate is connection. Be deeply relational and participate in the democratic process. We have two wolves within, love and fear. “Which wolf wins?” he said. “The one you feed.”

Feed the wolf of love.

On the Sunday afternoon before the agonizing wait into the wee hours for the too-close-to-call congressional seat — or two or 10 — that would tip the balance of power toward progress or regress, we gathered at Pleasant Home to remember fallen comrade Kathryn Jonas, who would have loved this fall’s forest of colors and loved the Blue Wave, or condemned the Red Wall, but who wouldn’t have stopped, no matter which way the needle leaned.

 On the Sunday night of early darkness, before a greater darkness descended or a new day dawned, I attended the town hall meeting at OPRF’s Little Theatre on the recently concluded documentary series America to Me to discuss how change can take place and whether we’re ready to do what it takes to make it happen. An older African-American man nearby said to a friend, “I hope some good comes out of this, but I think the good will happen somewhere else before it happens in Oak Park. I hope I’m wrong.” Students, however, rose and took over the stage to press their demands for equity now. Less talk, more action. But the talk that followed was actively honest. As Charles, the Spoken Word savant from the series, put it, “Change and comfort don’t live in the same house.” Has Oak Park become a national microcosm?

In the week before we learned so much more about ourselves, whether fear or love is stronger, whether what is possible is immediate or remote, when humanity rose up against the inhumanity of the powers-that-be and discovered which was more powerful, when we found out who we are and who we are becoming, life went on. 

In the week before the most important election of our lives, no one knew yet how Tuesday’s midterm would turn out, whether hope took a beating or rekindled. Either way, life goes on and so must we, feeding the wolf of love, being the light that drives out darkness, remembering who we really are and staying true to who we will become.

The journey is long. Continue on.

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