Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No Hard Feelings



The other night, after we tucked the girls in, Brad asked me what I was up to.


"I don't know," I sighed, flopping on the bed. "I kind of want to blog, but I don't know what to write about."


Instead, we ended up chatting about the news of the day and about what was happening on our social media feeds. I read some from this Buddhist book I picked up from the library and fell asleep. I figured the new day might bring some clarity to all the thoughts banging around my head. 


First, I thought I'd write about the weekend's misadventure to D.C. with my sister, Laura, two of her kids (16-year-old Finn and almost-2-year-old Callie in a stroller), Brad, our two girls and me. The one where what should've been a 45-minute(ish) Metro ride into town for the Chinese New Years Festival at the Smithsonian American Museum of Art ended up being a two-hour slog on three trains and a stop-and-go shuttle crammed with, apparently, all the people. How we made it to the museum, which was also packed with all the people, and were able to watch Chinese acrobats juggle hats, drums and an impressive seven lime green balls as well as see a performance of a lion dance. How we made paper lanterns and roosters. How we giggled on the trains and in the shuttle. How while, devouring over-priced cheeseburgers at the Hard Rock Cafe, we discovered that Laura and Keith Richard's have eerily similar handwriting. And we got this picture of my ridiculous nephew. All was not lost.





But I don't know. I've written that story before. The one about bright spots on a crappy day.


Then, after reading a comment thread on Facebook about getting older as a woman in a beauty-obsessed culture, I thought about finally writing that rant on body hair upkeep. The one where I'd bemoan all the time I devote to waxing, plucking, shaving and brushing just to maintain socially acceptable levels of body hair and how futile it is because the second I catch the rearview mirror in my car on a sunny day I realize there's no escaping looking like an adolescent boy with all the haphazard hairs sprouting from my chin and upper lip.


But that seemed too trivial. Especially in light of how tumultuous this week has been. I haven't really wanted to write about the unrest, because it feels a little too unwieldy to make sense of and also because everyone else is writing about it. But I can't stop thinking about it. And well, for me, writing helps make sense of things. 


So here goes ...



***

I've been careful about following the news lately. I've found it's a rabbit hole I can easily get swallowed in that is damaging to my mental health and so is also damaging to my interactions with my children and others. I can't be angry all the time, you know?


That's not to say I'm trying to remain blissfully ignorant or anything. I'm following what's happening in our nation right now. Just not obsessively. Not all day. 


I know enough to feel like maybe I should be thanking our new president. I'm not being disingenuous. For all the fury he's ignited by all those executive orders he's signing, he's also been a catalyst. He's awakened the lions in our hearts. He's opened our eyes to how precious our democracy is. How it straddles the line between fragility and durability and how it does so based on our actions. 


It is not a constant. Not something we can take for granted. It lives and breathes as we all live and breathe. And I can see it now, better today than ever before.


I want to be careful though. Which I is why I digest news in moderation. I feel if I allow the outrage of this past week to sink too deeply, that it will start to darken my heart. And I think what we really need right now is open hearts. My friend, Debbie reminded me of that. 


She's been traveling down South and posted on Facebook about a walk she took around Charleston, S.C., hoping to visit some tourist spots. She stopped a man to ask if she was going the right way and he gave her directions. They were about to part ways when she looked over her shoulder and saw a church.


"I said, 'Is this the church where the shootings took place?' He paused, looked over at the church and then back at me again, 'Yes, ma'am, it is.' We then had a lovely conversation. I asked if he knew anyone who was killed and apologized that this happened. We had an AMAZING conversation about things happening in the world. He told me that people need to stop worrying about what people look like because we all bleed the same. ... 
The other day someone asked me how I find the people and experiences that I do. Without hesitation I said, 'Because my heart and mind are open.' My hope is that more people will open their hearts and minds to others. Live in love and not react to fear. I choose to believe and operate on the premise that people are good and it is proven to me time and time again. 

Choose love. Look into the eyes of others and listen to their story. Choose connection and community. Change the world one conversation at a time." 

See, what happened at that church the day of the shooting, what happened the day Debbie stopped by, what's happening in our airports, it's all part of the same story. 

Today I took the dog for a walk and listened to Krista Tippett's recent interview with Rep. John Lewis. During the interview, they talked about the Beloved Community – Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for a world that does not tolerate poverty, homelessness or hunger.


"... You live that you’re already there, that you’re already in that community, part of that sense of one family, one house. If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it’s there, for you, it is already there." 


I can see it happening right in front of me. In photos from the Women's March. In the more earnest, impassioned conversations I'm having with friends, families and neighbors. And in posts like these from Lily's teacher:




The key to the success of our Beloved Community is inclusiveness and openness, not only for other races, religions and cultures, but also other viewpoints. 

Even those we disagree with. Those that frighten us. We have to listen so we can understand what's behind it. 


At the library last week I picked up this book "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times" by Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun (you can draw your own conclusions on why the book might have appealed to me. ;) 


Chodron relates a story told to her by her spiritual teacher, Trunga Rinpoche. In it, Rinpoche was traveling with attendants to a monastery he'd never been to before. As they got close to the gates, they saw there was a large guard dog with huge teeth and red eyes, that growled at them and struggled to break free from the chain that held it. It looked as if it was going to attack them. They walked through the gate, keeping their distance as they passed the dog.

"Suddenly the chain broke and the dog rushed at them. The attendants screamed and froze in terror. Rinpoche turned and ran as fast as he could – straight at the dog. The dog was so surprised that he put his tail between his legs and ran away."
The lesson of course is age, old. You have to face your fears. Confront them. See them. It's interesting to me that Lewis had a similar message in his interview. That as part of his training in nonviolent protest, he was told to make eye contact with whoever might be harming him. Confronting the fear in himself, but also creating a human connection.
"...You have to grow. It’s just not something that is natural. You have to be taught the way of peace, the way of love, the way of nonviolence. And in the religious sense, in the moral sense, you can say in the bosom of every human being, there is a spark of the divine. So you don’t have a right as a human to abuse that spark of the divine in your fellow human being."
I've been thinking about this idea – finding the spark of the divine in my fellow humans. Especially the humans I find most frustrating right now. Even if I can't quite locate the divine, I can at least find the humanity in the people whose behavior I struggle with.

Like our president, for instance. I found myself wondering about his obsession over the crowd numbers at his inauguration. Like, he can't let go of it. He can't accept the idea that maybe fewer people showed up for his inauguration than at previous inaugurations. And it's easy to laugh it off or say he's being silly and ego-centric. It doesn't seem fitting behavior for a grown man who is now leader of the free world. 


But it's also sad, too, right? I find myself feeling sad for this man whose own worth is tied so closely to the number of people who show up to watch him being sworn in, to the amount of money he has or the number of celebrities he calls friends. Here's where I find the humanity. 


We've all been this person one time or another who wants to be popular and wants to be liked. We've all felt like we had to prove ourselves worthy of love or admiration. 


I keep thinking about a middle school cafeteria. A microcosm of social hell if ever there was one. I picture our adolescent president sitting on the fringes of a table full of the popular kids desperately trying to get their attention. To be one of them. And maybe they humored him because he was a rich kid or because he knew people who knew people. But they never really liked him. And they laughed about him when he wasn't around. They tolerated him only as far as he was useful to them. They certainly didn't stand up for him in public (see these two).


Having been on the fringe of my own middle school lunch table I understand this feeling. Fortunately for me, I also managed to navigate out of it and found some true friends along the way. 


But I don't think our president has. And so I have to wonder what happened to him as a child. How did he become the man he is today? Because I can all but guarantee that whatever happened was very painful. It's the bullet that has nestled deep into his heart, the thing he can't reveal for fear that this golden tower he's (kinda literally) built around himself will collapse.


Finding compassion for our president doesn't mean I've found acceptance for him or his policies. I haven't. But I won't demonize him. Doing that only hardens my own heart. 



***

We have a long way to go in all of this. I don't think we'll ever reach a point when we've arrived. We'll never get to rest on our laurels and congratulate ourselves for the utopia we've spent generations creating. Just as we as individuals never stop growing, learning and becoming, neither does our society or our democracy. This period we're in now is a growth spurt, I think. Painful and awkward, but still a step ahead of the day before. 


I mentioned this idea to a couple of friends who were visiting the other day. That our nation is waking up to the fire that had never actually gone out (Billy Joel, anyone? anyone?) -- OK and I wasn't all that poetic during our conversation. That is neither here nor there. My friend Danny made a really good point. He agreed that this groundswell of activism is positive, but it's also painful for the people directly affected by our president's actions. 


This might seem like an obvious thing to point out – I mean obviously there is pain for the 5-year-old who was detained at Washington Dulles International Airport for hours waiting for his mother. Pain for any individual who learns that the country that they sought refuge in and call home might no longer want them here. And this pain comes despite all the protestors who come out in droves to welcome them home and decry these executive actions. It's painful and scary.


So while we can celebrate our new-found activism and passion for justice and progress, we have to do so while being mindful of the pain and discomfort of those whose behalf we are fighting.


For those of you who are still with me, I apologize. I've rambled a lot. Maybe I should've just stuck with writing about Chinese New Year or Chin Hair (did you know you can call them chiskers! My friend Kristen told me that. It's like I'm morphing into a cat! An insult to cats everywhere!)


Maybe next time I'll stick with less ambitious rambling. 


Either way, I love you really and truly.


I'll close with this song by the Avett Brothers that I've been listening to a lot lately and that I also feel is inexplicably relevant.



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