I spent the last week or so dividing myself between California and Washington, D.C.
Visiting my big brother Brad there, I worked some remotely but hiked a bit more. I had a chance to tour the magnificent Sequoia National Park and look at trees that have stood for thousands of years, growing ever more up, up, up, despite the ravages of time, wind, fire, and disease.
Drawing inspiration from those mighty trees in that giant forest is a common occurrence. In fact, I noticed on my jaunt to see the 2,200-year-old tree known as General Sherman, that someone even took the time to carve out a message into a nearby barrier: “Live life like a Sequoia.”
I chortled quietly. I thought to myself, I will admit, “how trite.” But as the fresh air and quiet of those ancient woods began to seep into my bones, something in my cynicism fell away. I listened to wind rustle through branches that were more than 1,000 years old. I thought to myself, how lovely that these trees are unaware of the world’s ills and have been for more time than anyone else currently drawing breath here on planet earth.
They just stand there. Beautiful. Strong. Resilient. Magical. And one day, like all things, they will die.
But before then—long, long before then—they just… grow. A branch may fall off here or there, a wildfire may threaten their very existence or stamp it out for a time. But nature always does what nature is best at and that is finding a solution to every problem. The earth is incredibly resilient this way.
A tree with deep enough roots, for example, can be badly burned but regrow once more because, cleverly—oh, so cleverly—trees often keep dormant buds safely underground, just waiting for a day to burst forth into the sun and try, try again.
I weighed this fortitude of the natural world as I recovered from a short, quite steep walk at a high altitude that left me and my often-abused East Coast lungs gasping. Go slow, I told myself. Breathe slow. Walk slow. Be mindful. I had to stop three times. It was embarrassing even though I was far from the only person on the trail left breathless.
So, I would sit for a moment. Feel my heart race and lungs ache. I would close my eyes and breathe in. Then out. I focused on the sunlight dappling the canopy. I broke into a smile when I could suddenly hear birds chittering nearby. I imagined them peering down at me, this clumsy human sitting on a smooth, large stone and laughing to one other: ”Sure, they’re the more evolved creatures. Right!”
Gradually. my breath would return and I could resume my trek. When it was over, I was proud of myself for actually making it. It wasn’t that long of a hike even, and it was far from the highest mountaintop I have been on. But for some reason, in that place, my accomplishment felt bigger than it was.
I was so pleased to be even just a little like these trees: Persistent in the face of an obstacle—in this case, the altitude—that was entirely out of my control.
This thought turned to another and another and on the second day I spent moving through the Sequoia, I had an epiphany of sorts.
A few days earlier I was on the receiving end of harassment and trolling from right-wing types about my coverage of January 6. It was unpleasant and at times, a little scary and intense. But not because I fear the online tirades or hate emails.
I fear what a lot of journalists fear nowadays whenever they are targeted by people who abide in lies for a living: that the harassment could move offline and spill over into the “real” world.
That’s sort of the point for these harassers; they want to shut people up. They want to breed fear and animosity and hatred and they do it without even so much as a second thought to the morality or civility or decency of their actions. Those concepts don’t apply.
They have one mission: to suppress and oppress. To control.
And that’s the thing I realized as I was thousands of miles away from the foaming mouths calling me a fake, a liar, and whatever else — they can try to shut me up by harassing me, but it won’t work.
I do, as it turns out, live life like a sequoia, baby.
I am tall. I am strong with big feet firmly planted on the ground. My hips are widely set, a gene passed onto me by generations of my ancestors who carried babies not just in their wombs but on their backs and hips as they spent more than a century running from fascists in Europe and Russia.
I am resilient and I’ve been through hell and back already before 40. I’ve seen my worst nightmares in this life fully realized. I’ve already seen some of my most precious hopes and dreams—including those I fiercely clung to for over 20 years—burst into flames.
Life has tried, many times, to knock me back, but yet, here I stand, perhaps my bark a little worn, but still standing.
While I full well know that even saying this will likely inspire some asshole to try to actually hurt me and test the bounds of my courage, let me send a message loud and clear: Your harassment cannot shut me up. You cannot stop me from reporting. You cannot stop me from covering the insurrection, something I believe with my whole heart must be held to account or the nation faces a fate much worse than what we saw befall the Capitol on January 6.
You cannot intimidate me into becoming some sycophant for a would-be dictator painted up in spray tan and cheap bronzer.
I don’t write for autocrats. I certainly don’t write for the men who carry their water. I don’t write for the special club of press or legislators or lobbyists. I write for the people and the day I stop doing that is the day I am done writing, period.
So. Back to that epiphany:
Whether I speak the truth politely or I shout it from the mountaintop with as much feeling in my chest as I can muster — the world’s merchants of hate and chaos are going to come for me, anyway.
But my growth, my reach, however small or large it may be, does not turn on whether I am harassed or intimidated. That is just noise.
it is just wind rustling through the trees.