“The fisherman know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reasons for remaining ashore.” – Vincent Van Gogh
During the George Floyd riots I watched Minneapolis burn. I took my kids out during the daylight hours and showed them the aftermath. I showed them the still smoking burnt down police station and the nearby “help” center where people were handing out food and groceries to the community. Commercial buildings with apartments on top had spray painted “Do not burn, kids live here.” The looted stores. The red cross vans. The smoke. People wandering around the street in shock.
I have no experience with warfare but seeing building after building destroyed and burned to the ground, it is easy to imagine the devastation war brings. Yet this wasn’t warfare. It was a cry for help. A demonstration of rage. A push back from systemic repression. It wasn’t warfare because there was no clear enemy as racism is integrated into my state and my country in ways I may not ever fully understand.
Not even two years later, protests are mounting again. This time to defend the systemic repression of women’s rights. The current has shifted in the ocean and storms are brewing. For some women, this will be the second time in their lives that they have marched for autonomy over their own body. Seventy-year-old women are writing their lawyers phone number on their arm, putting aside money for bail, and stepping out into a sea of madness that they have faced once before.
Civil unrest is scary. Mob mentality can shift quickly and have lasting consequences. The insurrection of January 6th is the most recent reminder of how unhinged people can become when their fear turns to rage. It’s debatable of what they were afraid of, but I think the short answer is change.
When I think of Vincent Van Gogh’s quote I wonder if there was singular issue he was thinking of when he said it, as I have my doubts that an abstract artist mind like his was simply pondering the habits of fisherman. I wonder what he would have to say about our current state.
When I think his quote today, I think of all the people who feel the need to do something to protect themselves and their loved ones. I think of those going out to cause a disruption as a demonstration of their seriousness of the topics at hand. I think of all those who do not want to fight but cannot flee. I think that crossing the ocean is a necessary journey that will cause us to perish or bring us to a new way of life.
I don’t have answers. My practice of stoicism has caused me to be cautious of any action based out of fear. Perhaps, my current illness is a gift has it has muted my outrage. What I wish to tell my future self is that justice and equality is a virtue I must protect and that I need not focus on the boats lost in the storm, only the promise of uncharted outcomes across the horizon.