Fire and Ice… and Hope

In December of 1920, Robert Frost published what would become his most famous poem of all time, “Fire and Ice.” (Don’t worry – this post isn’t literary criticism, but I would like to set the stage for my thoughts.) The poem was not like his prior work; it was compact, succinct, but layered with meaning. It came in the wake of events that rocked American society and it came in the year that ushered in what we now know as the “Roaring Twenties.” Here are a few things that happened in 1920:

  • The League of Nations was established, and while he was at the work of establishing it, Woodrow Wilson suffered a blow to his health that rendered him an invalid. His wife, Edith, made decisions on behalf of her husband and became America’s de-facto female president. Many history books edit out some of that story.
  • On September 16, 1920, the worst terrorist attack in US history up to that point occurred on Wall Street. The event was enacted using a horse-drawn cart carrying a homemade bomb. The nation didn’t see another terrorist event that surpassed the destruction of that one until 1995. As a response to the Wall Street attack, the US saw the Palmer raids, which were poorly planned (among other things) and ruined one man’s political career forever while teaching another man – J. Edgar Hoover – how to better navigate the American political system to his favor in an upcoming presidential election. 
  • Women gained the right to vote after an American suffrage movement that spanned almost 300 years (282, total). 
  • The 18th Amendment – Prohibition – was passed. It was also openly ignored to the point where many of the most negative statistics (drunk driving, violent crime, murder, federal prison populations, etc.) drastically increased. 
  • The “Lost Generation” – expats who stayed overseas after WWI – took the literary world by storm and ushered in a new movement in literary history. 
  • The KKK decided to revitalize itself by capitalizing on media publicity and inciting acts of hate toward all ethnic groups they didn’t consider to be “white.” It took 50 years for law enforcement to eradicate the leaders of the organization after such rapid growth, and the damage still exists in society today. Their actions made for captivating news, so the media continued to cover it.
  • A man named Ponzi came up with a certain type of financial scheme, creating a new kind of theft.
  • Mass media was born when the first commercially-owned radio station broadcasted the presidential election results. In his book, 1920: The Year That Made the Decade Roar (2015), Eric Burns called it, “the birth of American mass media.”  

Almost 100 years later, I see current events and the lines of Frost’s famous poem play on repeat in my mind. The lines are shown in this post in Italics. Let your own mind find the parallels in history and in words. 

We can do better than this. 

Some say the world will end in fire,

Riots arise from protests. Cities ignited where riots have escalated. Brushfires, lightning strikes, the inescapable heat of being human. Buildings that built history ablaze, stores smoldering, law enforcement vehicles eviscerated. Innocent lives have been lost for far too long, so the people cry out for retribution. Those lives matter.

Some say in ice.

Silence in the face of terror, or worse – apathy, hypocrisy. Deceit. Lockdowns due to plague, violence, distrust. Fear lurks in our conversations and our minds. Its insidious implications interfere with our hearts, destructive as the diseases we are dealt in a new decade.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

Desire for power. Desire for wealth.

Desire for more.

But also desire for control. For health and healing. For justice. For equality, individuality, safety, peace. For happiness, for meaning, for fulfillment. For feeling valued.

Desire for Love.

I hold with those who favor fire.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called them the “summers of our discontent” and the “summers of our riots” and explained the reasons these events erupt. It is when emotions ‘run hot’ and when anger ‘boils over’ that the hurting humans take tragic action. It is when too much is piled on to be ignored – when too much has already been ignored – that we self-destruct, continuing to decompose, to fester, too late to pretend that the heat and stench aren’t overwhelming. Humanity was not meant to devolve into the binary bilge of inequality and pain.

We were built for relationship. Science and religion both agree on that point, at least. That happens so rarely; it matters.

But if it had to perish twice,

We cannot continue to ignore and perpetuate disregard for human life.

We must stand up, together, and insist on living. We must insist on allowing others to live in harmony with us, with the same privileges and opportunities we have, applied with equal measure without separation or bias.

I think I know enough of hate

I am not black. I am a white female with all kinds of issues, but none of them are issues I have because of how much melanin my body has produced.

I know what fear is. I have experienced it. I battle PTSD, so I fight fear daily. I know loss. I know the gnawing grief of knowing there is a new hole in your life you can never fill because someone you love has been taken from you unexpectedly.

And I have never had to attribute any of those things to skin color. I cannot begin to imagine what life looks like from that point of view. It would be disrespectful to say, “I understand.”

No one should be able to imagine it, but people live in that space every day.

I have family, friends, coworkers, team members, and role models who represent not only multiple races but multiple nationalities – and they are indescribably amazing people. My life is richer for knowing them. My heart is grieved for the struggles they have faced. Many of them have faced those struggles alone and have never complained, pressing on in the face of opposition and oppression. They matter.

I also have family and friends in law enforcement who have sworn to protect all lives, and they are grieved by the actions of others who are supposed to stand for the same ideals and swear the same oaths, but who didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. And my life is also richer for knowing them – the good ones – and for watching them show up when called to make sure all of those same lives – the people living them, I mean – are able to exercise their rights to speak, to protest, and to demand that we do better. It is what they were called to do.

Families are often divided by the inability and unwillingness to take a deep breath, listen, and work together. I have watched my family live this division on more than one occasion. The only possible outcome is hurt, blame, shame, and division.

I pray for all of us daily – for family, friends, coworkers, the neighborhood, people – for protection, for comfort, for peace, for hope. For safety. For favor. For love.

I battle fear daily. I cling to hope. And my battle with fear is nothing compared to the fear so many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, and friends face each day.

To say that for destruction ice

Silence in the face of injustice is cold companionship.

Downplaying the current reality is self-deceit.

Failure to self-reflect and self-examine our personal truths and where they came from, failure to identify deeply-rooted habits and narratives that stem from ignorance and tolerance, and failure to actively decide to eliminate barriers of inequality is failure to function with a whole heart.

And whole hearts are what keep us warm, what connect us.

Is also great

100 years ago our nation saw a series of events that paved the way for society.

I would call a few of those events ‘progress.’ The other half were erroneous actions held up as a mirror in time. They reflected (and still resonate) greed, hate, pride, wrath, envy – all the ugliness that exists in humanity.

And the price of those actions is so great that people are still paying for them. It is unacceptable that white privilege exists and that there is still a systemic issue in our humanity a century later.

And would suffice.

When Robert Frost wrote “Fire and Ice,” it was more than a nine-line poem reflecting on the times.

When King gave his speeches, did interviews, and called for action, equality, and peace, he wasn’t just a preacher on a pulpit.

We can do better than this.

We can be better than this. It is a choice. It is active.

We do not have to continue hurling fire and ice at each other, waffling between roiling rage and haughty hate.

If we do, we are certain to destroy the world.

We can choose instead to stand, to love. We can fight fear and choose hope. Hope eventually requires a bold step. That step may defy the story others want to write for you. That’s okay; they can write their own story. We can write a different one – one with more propensity to persuade, one of prosperity and peace, one that acknowledges the past and agrees that it cannot be repeated or perpetuated.

We can actively love and create hope. It will not be easy. It will cost us our comfort zones, our suspension of disbelief, and our delusions. It will cost us the narratives we write about each other without evidence and it will cost our preconceived notions and judgments. It will take courage and it must be intentional.

It is necessary.

Black lives matter.

People matter.

Be the difference.

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” -2 Corinthians 3:12

“Are we not all children of the same Father? Are we not all created by the same God? Then why do we betray each other…?” -Malachi 2:10

“This is my command: Love each other.” -John 15:17 (Jesus speaking)