She saw among the stones lining the gutter the wisps of grass green as the most tender human hope.
- Clarice Lispector, A hora da Estrela
There must be something beyond slaughter and barbarism to support the existence of mankind and we must all help search for it.
- Carlos Fuentes
As we arrived in the center of the town, at a place called Penn Square (so-named for William Penn, the British-born founder of the state of Pennsylvania), a memorial dedicated to U.S. soldiers who had died fighting the forces of racism, fascism and totalitarianism greeted us, its taciturn combatants cast in stone and garlanded in white by the new snow.
Into the stone are etched words like Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Antietam, names of the locations of some of the tremendous battles fought during the U.S. Civil War (the first of which still stands as the largest battle ever fought in North America). It was a war that saw Americans slaughtering one another on American soil, the assassination of a president and, at its end, the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished the infernal institution of slavery.
In many ways, 2017 was a year of loss. In my own country, Americans watched as their nation's standing in the world eroded, and its institutions came under unprecedented threat from within. In Haiti, there was the sudden death of former president René Préval and, for many, a final loss of faith in the political process and a realization that corruption and impunity have possessed the body politic so totally and across such a wide swathe of political actors that divisions between parties and stated ideologies have been rendered nearly irrelevant. In Puerto Rico, residents there lost their homes, their access to electricity and potable water and - in the hundreds - their lives as Hurricane Maria roared ashore. In the process, they also lost any illusions about how they were viewed by many in the larger United States. In Spain, lost was any delusion that the nation’s Francoist past was totally removed from its present day. In Syria and Yemen, there was a loss of belief that anyone, anywhere cared about what was happening to the defenseless inhabitants of those places.
And for me, personally, there was some loss, too. My grandfather, James Breon, an admirable man in so many ways and the last surviving grandparent, finally succumbed to old age at 92. My beloved cat, Winston, the gentlest creature I've known, passed away at 20. A couple of close friendships frayed in ways that I don't think will ever be repaired. But I was able to see places that mean a lot to me again - Haiti, Paris, Puerto Rico, Havana, Barcelona, - and was even able to make some new friends along the way. 1 was able to publish one book and began work on another.
If 2017 represented the efforts of certain elements of modern-day America to get an illiberal and totalitarian project up and running, 2018 will almost certainly mark an escalation in the assault on the separation of powers, the rule of law and the integrity of our electoral process, all hallmarks of our democracy we must stand ready to defend. But there also seems to have, amid all the loss, been something of an awakening, a realization that, in the purest sense, democracy is not a spectator sport and those who want a voice in it must start that process by showing up in the voting booth, on the ballot and in the streets.