Overwhelmed? Try Copying The Constitution

As a vata with an inclination toward crowd anxiety, I knew I couldn’t demonstrate against “45,” the president whose name exhausted me. I admired #resist posts on social media, especially when brave souls backed up words with protests, but my power lay in quieter actions. My restless mind couldn’t even sort out what to wear: pink, red? Safety pins represented ally-ism one day and a hollow gesture the next.

On Inauguration Day, I took my racing thoughts to the New York Public Library. Under the 52-foot ceiling of the Rose Main Reading Room, I passed a selection of Jack Kerouac journals and breathed in the musty scent. To my left, I encountered a small group hand-copying the U.S. Constitution. Their sign said they would stay until closing to write out our governing legislation, a 229-year-old document that is the oldest continuously used constitution in the world.

The original signers

A self-proclaimed history nerd, I nodded to the organizer, a trim woman in her 70s. Then I settled into a heavy wooden chair that moaned as I scooted closer to our table. With a marker, I sketched “We the People,” trying to match the dramatic gothic strokes.

Calm swept through my entire body. My bones sank downward, making me feel present and focused. I continued with the preamble I used to know by heart. Without thinking, I chose cursive, so different from thumb-typing onto a device. In my head, I heard the rich voice of my 7th grade teacher whose passion turned each word into a poem:

… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity ...

Warmth passed through my fingertips. I stole glances at the document with the other participants, and noticed the gleam in their eyes. After a year of hurtful campaign coverage, the language we copied felt harmonious. Yet our meeting felt rebellious.

“I always go the other way,” said Ana Marton, a New York-based architect and American citizen since the 1970s. As Marton worked on the Amendments, she said felt a Zen-like pull to it. “This is experiential,” she said. “When you see a road from the plane, you don’t see the pebbles.”

Malcolm, my cat, reviewing my 43-page handwritten copy of The Constitution

“It’s a different way of resisting,” added artist Morgan O’Hara, the organizer who spent the day with handfuls of markers and generous stacks of paper. Her impromptu project filled me with so much oxygen I continued at home, copying a few sentences before bed. As the internet exploded each day, I got the sense of being held. In answer to the travel ban, O’Hara began leading Constitution Days every other weekend at the same table in the library.

From Jan. 20 to March 4, my Constitution grew. In front of my new companions, I gleefully finished the 27th Amendment pertaining to Congressional salaries. At home, I stapled all the pages together to create a trail from the front door of my apartment to the pillow on my bed. My favorite sections included the 18th Amendment banning alcohol. Begun in 1920 and repealed in 1933, the measure was best enjoyed with a glass of wine. I couldn’t imagine a world without spirits. Nor could I fully fathom my freedom to vote, which the 19th Amendment granted to women in 1920.

As I admired my progress and the sheer volume of paper, my cat sat on Article V, outlining ways to amend the Constitution. A wise feline, he illustrated to me how flexibility and structure can outlast anyone with a tangerine pallor.

If you’d like to copy the Constitution with a group, join Morgan O’Hara 1 to 5 p.m., Sat., March 18 in the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library.

--Ann Votaw

#stories #opinion #NewYorkPublicLibrary

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