Against Panic

Against Panic, by Molly Fisk

Panic is a valid feeling. If you’re reading this around the time I’ve written it—in the immediate aftermath of violence, rioting, and looting at the US Capitol Building, encouraged by the sitting President of the United States—you’re probably feeling something. It might be a pretty intense something. Maybe panic.

You’re not over-reacting. Your emotions are valid. The title of this post, and this poem, are not meant to imply otherwise.

(If you’d like some encouragement and advice about acknowledging and caring for those emotions, let me refer you to Sarah Gailey’s excellent, compassionate suggestions on “staying grounded in impossible circumstances.”)

Something I’ve learned is that feelings and behavior are separate, and that I can’t control the first of those. They just happen. My job is to acknowledge, sift, and figure out what to do with them. My job is my behavior.

This is where Molly Fisk’s Against Panic is a help to me. While holding space for me to feel what I feel, it says also: This is not the final word. It implies that “this too shall pass,” but in the gentlest possible way. It doesn’t tell me to buck up or stop worrying.

I love Fisk’s line about searching your memory. Not your heart, not your feelings. (Or your newsfeed.) Remember beauty, remember relief. You don’t have to be happy, or deny the unhappiness you feel. But remember how you have weathered pain before. Remember what it feels like, what it looks and tastes like, to come out the other side.


Ursula Le Guin said that we have to imagine the future. I’m thinking about how that might involve remembering the beauty we have loved, and imagining how we might bring that memory forward.

In Adam Zagajewski’s Shell, memory has a double-edge. There’s a poem to acknowledge grief.

Barbara Kingsolver wrote (I can’t recall where) a line I return to often: “You can do hard things.” I’ve got it written (in sticker form) on my glasses case, so that I see it every day.

I’m just free-associating now, dropping shiny white stones to light my way home through the forest in the growing dark. My last stone is cheesy, maybe—but sometimes that’s just code for feeling embarrassed to speak in earnest. As an awkwardly earnest human, I’ll risk the cheese.

Over the holidays, my family watched The Last Jedi again.* At a pivotal moment, when nearly all is lost, other characters are quoting Leia Organa: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”


*It’s too bad Disney never finished that trilogy…

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