I took this picture when I was furious. I had walked away, taken a breath, and turned around and around, looking for something to stand on, that would bring me back. It worked. Gandhi has been quoted: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or in his actual words: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Sometimes I wonder what a pinball feels like, after it’s rolled around, and knocked past all the flippers, bumpers, and ramps, and it comes to rest. Maybe a little vibration still ringing through it, maybe not. Maybe just heavy and still.
A pinball doesn’t know it’s going to be knocked into the chaos again, but a person knows. I know. It never ends. Right now, I am resting after a course of chaos in my own minuscule life. And, I’m immersed in socio-political chaos, just like the rest of you—a chaos of our collective hearts that just won’t level out.
Because I am trying to carve out a sustainable way to be in this world, for my next forty years of life, I am taking the time to listen deeply. To all this exuberant hatefulness. I am not letting it bite me, or pull me down…but it stings. Here, in my family’s home, our little hub, I am both insulating us from, and playing heavily with the fire. I am taking turns–taking it in, and then resting. I am wading into the dialogue, because I am learning how my family will live, with our hearts and imaginations untrampled, in this bitter yet abundant world.
When I feel, in my body, how I imagine the physics of that pinball might, I ask that one dangerous question…is it me, in my own existential angst suit, or is there too much going on right now, all around me? Then, when I’m not sure, or the line is a little too blurry, I pull that little loose thread, and see how far back it goes. I call it “dot mapping.” How many dots of hard humanity does that little thread wrap through and around? I do it fast. No overthinking. How many things have happened around me, mine or not mine, that are squeezing my heart and making it hard to breathe?
Right now, a little jostled and bruised, I’ve pulled a long thread. Put on your inner Muhammed Ali and follow me through only the most memorably disgusting dots. Take a breath, and put on your brave. That’s what we tell our kids, right?
I’ll start with Beyonce. I did not watch the Super Bowl. I did not see her perform. I saw, on Facebook, someone post something about “how dare she.” Immediately, like a prairie dog, I full-on popped out of my lazy scrolling posture. What? This is a thing? (First, I am white. This person is white.) This person broke my heart. My embarrassed, fragile, white heart. I don’t understand racism. Oh, I know it won’t die, but it is a language I will never try to learn. The part of my white brain, where racism might have tried to grow, is filled with all manner of overgrown wildflowers, and bees thrive there, and I don’t know, maybe a feral cat or two, but racism? No. Never.
I immediately googled her music video. There I sat, on my privileged couch, and bounced beats to what I thought was an amazing tribute to her own lineage and pride. I sat there, feeling privileged, that I got to see that, and cheering her on. I asked everyone I know, “Did you know people are mad at her, for this?” and I showed them, and they all were a mixture of squeamish white shame and in love with her. That made my heart sick…sick beyond any remedy.
The shootings. All the shootings. The bombings. The terrorism. Here AND everywhere else. All the fighting after the deaths. All the self-righteous disregard for the soft human flesh that was ripped and torn. All the excuses and preaching. All the evidence that some of us have totally forgotten, that we are all here together. That we are supposed to eat together, pray together, and hold each other’s babies. That if my child fell in a river, or your child fell in a river, every blood-filled human standing around would jump in and save those babies, or die trying, regardless of our many differences. And some don’t believe that to be true, because they’ve let their hearts harden. I don’t know what to say to you, if you don’t believe me. I would jump in that river. I don’t care if your heart is hard or you are hateful toward me or not. I don’t care if I can even swim that well. I’d try to save your baby.
The election year. Will kill some of us. Wait, already has. The wall. Trump’s wall. Every word that spews free from his mouth. The wailing against Hillary, comparing her to a demon. The memes about Bernie being old and therefore inept in some way. The vilifying of our president. The unmitigated hatred people were proud to express, all through his presidency, whenever they wanted, and just because. No listening. No thoughtful reflection. Just blowing hateful steam, and refusing to even try to see how that job is the very hardest job any human could ever undertake. Of course he’s doing it wrong, and none of them can do it right, and not because they are old, black, female, or…what else? What else do we love to poke and joke about?
The planet. Is sloughing, folding in on itself, melting, and caving. Refusal to even look at it. Hopelessly continuing to feed ourselves with plastic and make garbage and waste and buy more and bigger and oh my, we need it all. Animals are dying, people aren’t caring. Until it is so bizarre and in our faces, we suddenly care, but about all the wrong things. The gorilla. The child. The mother. All we know to do is blame, and take the scalpel and dissect it in the most useless ways. We don’t know how to hold that warm burning feeling in our stomachs, our pain, and curl up with that until it quiets down, and then, speak, and only to come together and find solutions. We shoot arrow after arrow after arrow of distraction. A new friend Tim nailed it the other day, Buddhism’s warning against the “second arrow.” We shoot a second, and a third, and a fourth, and some of us just can’t stop. Some never, ever stop.
Stanford and all the other rapes, the ones that never, ever, will come to light. Bias showing up in such a completely shameful, powerful way, and wow, I wrote a poem about Lady Justice being a peeking cheater–in eight grade, 27 years ago. I don’t even know what to say about this. This is where my voice gives way to a hurt so deep I don’t even know how long its been with me, and I am likely to just fall into that and never come out.
But now, the newest, most callous argument that people long dead are more worthy of the “big mass murder” headline than the ones whose hearts are still just a little bit warm and dead. Are you joking? Even if I love you, and you said that, are you joking? We, here, in America, we are good at that. Competition, arguing, and castigation. One up-manship. We win! Mine’s bigger, mine’s better, mine can whoop yours, mine is mine is mine is mine. Mine. My beliefs are more important than yours. My choices are more important than yours. The Second Amendment, the Bible, the word of the God I subscribe to, the study I like best, the book that made me believe I have the right to take my rights and pave them all over yours, especially if you are not like me. And you gay strangers—dancing young people full of life just a moment ago, this headline is not yours. (Please, from the softest part of my guts, tell me you are joking?)
What can I do about any of this? Not much. I can keep doing what I’ve always been doing. I hold children, and make them feel big. I am a mental health professional. I am a nurse. Now I am a yoga teacher. I have rocked the body of a baby I loved, who died of cancer, a few days after we giggled together. He, and his family, were black, by the way, in case you might imagine a little white baby. (This is my anger slipping out in little furious ways, in case you are wondering what the point was just there.)
I have sat with, and assisted, countless people who have been crushed by all these things I am writing about, so much so, that they don’t even want to be alive. I have sat, and listened, to people who are racist, who are hoarding their guns, and who are sure the world around them is evil, and therefore they must hide in their righteousness and pretense. I have come home, from all these things, for all these years, and put my heavy head down on my pillow, and slept. Hard. I have cried, I have held back the crying, I have just plain shown up, devoid of anything but numbness, and smiled anyway. I have shown up, with eyes, and ears, and a heart that are pretty darn weary sometimes. And sometimes, I show up with hope, and laughter, and stories, and hugs. Other times, just plain there. You see the common thread–showing up. Guess what? We are all made of the same stuff. We all show up in our own ways. That is all we can do.
And finally, the guns. I have been a member of the United States Air Force. I resigned my commission at the rank of Captain, because I knew I would die, and my soul would die, if I went to the middle east and saw even one child blown apart by my friends or the enemy. That I knew, about myself. In my training, I learned to fire a weapon. We all do. I have enjoyed firing weapons. I have been trained, to think about what it might be like to have to use one in the worst of circumstances. And that, I never, ever took lightly, or for granted. Instead, it’s a cold secret I put away in a safe place, that is just for me, and that’s that. Not a point to belabor, but this is something people might not know about me. So, I understand the gun people. I do not agree with many of their ideas, and I think it has all been taken too far. I definitely am tired of hearing their mouths talk, and their posts fly, whenever any single person has died needlessly, at the other end of a firearm. I am tired of that disconnect from the blood and guts of the matter. Enough. Please, enough. This is my best effort, to show up today, with this dot map fresh on my mind.