Post-election Phantom Limb Pain


I am grappling with the new and unsettled and unsettling feelings I have this morning, the first back in my writing place since the Day After, and just the other side of more than 24 hours on the road. Back, at last, to the familiar comforts of my own desk, bed and view of the setting Supermoon just out my window.

But something is missing in the morning blackness, a peaceful time of day when I am usually overflowing with words. There is nothing today but a vacuum. No light. No sound. Only emptiness. I can sense it but I can’t quite find words for it.

It is a kind of loss; a kind of brokenness; a kind of grief for something known and urgently important in my life, now missing. It is like having been mugged or robbed or assaulted without cause–violated. Abused. Something has been violently taken.

And to be sure, there is pain in the injury, though finding a name for it eludes me.

I can remember it being there–the forty years of burden for the state of the planet; the longing to know this place better in its present state before we lose all the songbirds and salamanders, the native wildflowers, the honeybees, the intact forests.

I know that this realm of care once occupied a large part of my daily thought, my hopes, even–once. It was not a vigorous hope then, granted, and it was fading but there was a pulse and some body heat.

And today it is gone. And yet I feel it still.

I have concluded that this is phantom limb pain from my Trump Stump.

In one day, the future that seemed weakly possible–possible in the days of my future great grandchildren five times removed, when the atmosphere would return slowly to health, the coral reefs would stop dying and the planet’s winds and sun would power us forward–all of that has been amputated. But I feel the deep ache of it as if it was still a viable part of me.

Some say regeneration is possible–that the nerves of empathy and compassion can resensitize the stump; that the blood flow of purpose and resolve can make it pink again; that the heat of doing the right thing for the common good in the face of overwhelming odds can let me bear weight on it once again.

I truly hope they are right. I do not care for being disabled in this way, or for this numbing, mind-blocking pain or for the lack of mobility at the keyboard–for how many mornings to come?

There is far more work to do today than just a short week ago. We love our children’s children no less and are no less committed to inconvenient facts that we live by the numbers, not the haughty biases of those who sit in office. And we stand on temporarily-crippled legs at the brink of a failed tomorrow.

Stand. Walk. Run. Rehab is going to be very hard after the grief work is done.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Why do you refer to your current malady as Trump Stump? The Trump Tree is very much alive. It has not been cut down. It may be ugly, misshapen, leafless and stunted but it is not a stump. What you are looking at is a HRC Stump, freshly separated from the trunk and branches, oozing sap at a multitude of fresh wounds. It holds no promise of future growth or fruit production. The stump you look at will always be an obstacle to careless, unaware wayfarers, a stumbling block, so to speak. It’s even too tall to be used as a temporary seat for a wanderer to rest upon. I think it may be best to drill a multitude of large holes in and pour in some stump killer. In a few years, it will be easier to completely remove, making room for more productive plantings.

  2. HRC has not proven herself to be an especially close friend of the living systems of Planet Earth. But she also was not the avowed enemy of prudent stewardship as Mr. Trump proudly promises to become. Both sides totally ignored the most urgent issues facing life on Earth, but Trump’s aggressive reversal of measures that might have given us sufficient time to turn the ship away from the rocks, I fear, will put an end to our chances to make the living world “great again.” Biology and physics do not care who is in office. Nature bats last.

    Until we have politicians with sound current science educations (almost NONE have this) and the ability to apply that understanding through the long lens beyond their four years in power, we operate as if we can make the growth economy go on forever. We already see global signs that dynamic earth systems are breaking down. Climate chaos is just one of them. Inadequate food production, insufficient drinking water, mass species extinction and ocean changes are all crises I want my president to know about, care about and use our collective wisdom and resources to reverse.

    HRC would have done lip service here. DJT won’t even.