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  • katherine halligan

Let It Go

The inside of my freezer currently looks like Elsa took up residence and had a temper tantrum there. A really big tantrum.

The seal has failed, and while we await a replacement part (delayed, due to COVID), it is locked into a cycle of freeze-and-thaw-and-refreeze, resulting in beautiful, jagged ice formations that grow bigger by the hour. My children delight in opening the door, just to see what might be in store; there isn’t a lot to do these days since our schools are closed again (also due to COVID), so this is excellent entertainment.

In fact, so little happens these days (within the four walls of our home, if not at our nation’s Capitol building, where far too much has happened) that last night they shrieked with excitement at a strange light in the sky. “Mom, come fast!” they yelled. “There’s a rocket taking off in the sky and it’s coming towards us!” With my heart in my mouth, terrified that the Dictator-in-Chief had used the nuclear codes (which he still possesses, despite all evidence that he should not) to blow California off the map, I raced upstairs, thinking I could at least hold my children in my arms at the very end.

It was, in fact, an airplane, coming in for landing at Long Beach Airport.

Having gone from a flight landing every four minutes to almost no air traffic overhead, our skies look radically and apparently unrecognisably different these days — as does the entire landscape of the United States. Due, of course, to COVID. But due also to the evil lunacy of the soon-to-be-ex-President.

There was a different plane in the sky on Wednesday. It crashed into the Capitol building in a way foreign terrorists failed to do 19 years ago: it was a domestic airline called Trump Air (or perhaps it was a hot air balloon), and it was propelled by his lies and fuelled by his hatred. And on an existential level it was a far greater threat to our nation than what did happen on 9/11.

From airline disasters — both allegorical and real — to mini freezer dramas, there is a real mechanical failure afoot of late: so many parts of our democracy are broken. As we limp to the finish line of this horrific and devastating four years, I have thought often of Elsa over the past weeks (of course I have — haven’t you?), and the meaning of her words, “Let it go,” particularly as they pertain to our outgoing leader. He needs, of course, to let it go: he lost, fair and square, just like the other side sometimes loses. That is the nature of democracy, and however we might dislike the other side winning, we accept it and move on. We let it go, because we need to look ahead. Sometimes, things go wrong; sometimes there are hanging chads and sometimes corrupt, craven leaders who attempt to bend the outcome to their will. But if Al Gore managed to let it go, then surely this is what all must do who have lost. Let. It. Go.

And speaking of loss, there is another sort of letting go that too many are having to endure: the letting go of a loved one. Around the world, but especially in the US and especially in Los Angeles County — a mere 15 minutes from our doorstep — hospital resources from staff to ventilators have now become so scarce that they will soon have to start rationing care. LA has just appointed a triage team charged with making impossible decisions about how to mete out care: who might have the longest life left to live if they are administered to, and who might have less time or a lesser quality of life and therefore will be refused treatment, and then the families of those who lose that cruel game will be told that they have to let it go.

But Elsa isn’t talking about that sort of letting go, or about giving up, or about the letting go of the cataclysmically destructive anger that this week quite literally engulfed the nation’s Capitol (as opposed to the nation’s capital, which has been engulfed by similar if less overtly violent anger for four long years). Elsa is talking instead of letting go of the constraints that have held her back, about finding her freedom and coming into her own.

It’s her line “don’t hold it back anymore” that particularly chills my heart this week, as we look ahead to the remaining days in which the raging tyrant has no reason to hold back anymore. And it’s the prospect of his rage throwing out yet more deadly daggers of ice into the heart of the very nation, of the very people whom he is sworn to protect, that makes my blood run cold.

For those of you who don’t have two small daughters of a certain age and therefore haven’t watched Frozen dozens of times or had the soundtrack inserted into the CD player of the car permanently from 2014 to 2016, I should pause to explain that when Elsa becomes frightened and angry, her emotions manifest themselves as ice and snow. She conjures up a terrifying snow monster which scares off any who would attempt to approach her in her isolated ice castle, and accidentally shoots an enormous shard of ice into the heart of her sister who has come to save her.

Any comparisons with our frightened, angry leader, who conjured a monstrous mob this week and shot danger into the very heart of our nation, very definitely end there. Elsa is finally free to explore her strange powers, having been raised to hide them all her life in order to protect those around her, whereas you-know-who has been rewarded all his life for displaying his strange power very publicly and openly, whatever the cost to those around him. Shaped by grief and loss, Elsa is damaged, and the icy dark streak at her core is slightly sinister and sometimes cruel, but she ultimately redeems herself by saving her sister. Whereas it would seem that he-who-shall-not-be-named (forgive me for freely mixing my children’s entertainment references) is entirely cruel, sinister and untempered by any higher loyalties, entirely beyond redemption. Ultimately we love Elsa, in spite of all her faults and mistakes, in a way that we loathe the other one, because of all his heinous crimes.

In fact, so keen am I not to impugn Elsa’s good name and character by comparing her too closely with the villain of our piece, I will state it again: she is a good guy. He, on the other hand, is the arch enemy whose willingness to kill not only the heroine whom he professes to love but anyone who stands in his way, and whose treachery was far more frightening to our older child at the age of four than the more obviously scary snow monster. This is because our daughter knew that Elsa loved her sister Anna, while seeing very clearly that Hans, who had been given the care of the kingdom, was actually the greatest threat to that very kingdom he had sworn to protect; his breaking of the trust the people had placed in him was, for her, truly terrifying. (Ours is a preternaturally wise child. And the script writers of Frozen eerily prophetic — though the treachery of leaders is not entirely new in this world.)

I should also point out that as soon as Elsa realizes the extent of her powers she flees the kingdom to protect her people. Someone might do well to take a page from her playbook, though self-exile to the North Mountain is neither far enough nor punishment enough for him, nor is the threat that Hans faces — a trouncing from his 12 older brothers — even close to the harsh justice the traitor in our story deserves.

One of the many things that scare me right now is the fact that all the highly-deluded-but-supposedly-saner adults around him are frozen by their inability to stop the monster. And in the freeze-and-thaw-and-refreeze cycle of politics, they look ahead to their own fortunes, while only a brave few speak out decisively about fixing the seal before more damage is done. While we were able to rescue our groceries and transfer them to our garage freezer, there is no one to rescue America until the replacement part arrives, too many days from now; there is no backup place to hide until a functional repairman arrives to set things right.

Just as we’ve tried Vaseline and duct tape and other home remedies to patch things up for the interim so that our motor doesn’t burn out as it works overtime to do its job, there is talk of invoking the 25th amendment or impeachment as a stop-gap measure to keep things from getting worse, but these remedies are insufficient and slow; the motor might yet fail.

But I try to remind myself that while the motor may be working overtime, while it may be fragile and damaged, it is still functioning and intact; that, having feared for their lives in the afternoon, our elected leaders returned in the evening to continue their work of keeping democracy intact.

I remind myself that the gloves, like Elsa’s, are now off and we can no longer hide the truth about the problems in this country, where peaceful (Black) protestors are met with violent policing while violent (White) mobs are met with silent collusion from some law enforcement leaders and loud encouragement from far too many elected officials. But I remind myself also that once a wound is open to the air, it stops festering and starts to heal.

I remind myself of the line from Frozen I most often quote to my husband (we call it Wisdom By Disney, for there are a few such nuggets of truth amid the saccharine candy floss): there’s “no escape from the storm inside of me,” as Elsa sings. Before she is redeemed by her act of true love, she is tormented, but in the end she does escape the storm. I remind myself that this storm will pass; that we will escape the storm inside America, too, as the nation is redeemed by its act of true democracy.

That indeed — as we learn from the trolls in Frozen, who are decidedly good and entirely different from all the social media trolls and especially that most grotesque and terrible troll of all (who in fact has just been frozen himself — ha!) — “an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart”… and perhaps it can thaw a frozen, brittle, broken country too.

I remind myself that a fearless heroine and her sweet-but-slightly-bumbling male sidekick are on their way to the rescue, and that her bravery and his kindness will save the day.

(I’m not entirely sure who the talking reindeer represents here, but it might be our newly elected senators from Georgia who lift our brave heroes onto their backs to save them just in the nick of time from the ravening wolves — or it might be the people, every one of us, who helped them ride to victory. I’m also not sure who the loveable snowman might be, but perhaps it is our children, who have started to melt under the pressure of all of these misadventures, but who will — with the right conditions — recover sufficiently to make us laugh and give us warm hugs.)

I remind myself that we can all now begin to let go of what — and who — doesn’t serve us.

I remind myself that after the winter comes the spring.

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