Transformation of waste into nourishment.
Life itself captured in the cycle of a breath.
As I read the news this morning, two images jumped from the screen. This one:
In an accompanying story, Biden was quoted, “George Floyd’s last words — ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ — have echoed across our nation.”
And this one, an advertisement across the top of the same page: “Just breathe” on a pretty sweatshirt.
These two images, in contrast, illuminate the vastly different lives people are experiencing in America in 2020.
These two images, side by side, bear the question:
Do you believe that, in our country, such stark disparities should exist?
One image implies that the wearer should enjoy life, and 'let go' or 'exhale' all the rest. The other image implies that breath (life) itself is threatened.
This is not a question of socialism. This is not a question of who works harder or who pays the most taxes. This is not Republican v. Democrat.
When you look into the eyes of a fellow human being, do you believe that they “should” have access to air, clean water, food, shelter, safety….
Or, do you believe that those precious resources are reserved for people who “deserve” them. (Models of who is “deserving” will vary).
Do you believe there is “enough”?
And if you do, or if your spiritual tradition calls you to act for those who are persecuted, it leads to the next question: What will you do about it? it
Breath, one thing that inarguably unites all living beings. Breath—the site where the parasympathetic and autonomic nervous system are both in play: the site where what we can and cannot control meet.
Humanity's collective gift is that we imagine futures we then create. We have made the moment we are in.
What will we do next?
The timeline of 2020 and the liturgical calendar have had some interesting synergy.
This year Lent began on Feb. 26, and in America, the CDC also announced the first US coronavirus case of unknown origin in California (the state I live in). Without any travel history or exposure to another known infected person, this was the first case of possible “community spread.”
Coronavirus was already rising to the front of people’s minds and, as is often the case, they looked to their political and spiritual leaders for guidance. However, churches were still open for Catholics to receive their ashes and there was no fear or messaging against doing so.
On this first day of Lent, President Trump at a White House briefing said, “So we’re at the low level. As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.” In short:
We have it under control.
Lent asks those practicing to pray, fast, and give alms. Lenten practices here in America have become very individualized—many choosing to give up something like sweets or adding something like daily exercise—often it’s less a spiritual exercise and more an attempt to lose a few pounds. Which, to be fair, if you are looking at your physical body as a temple loaned to you by the divine, it is important that a certain amount of care is devoted to it…This is usually how I have approached Lent—trying to use it as a period of self-improvement.
But the concept of “Self” is key here. We rely on our personal discipline.
For most of us, the “self” is comprised of our ego; ego being most concerned with visible markers of success. We want to look like we are in control, productive, and unfazed. We want others to admire us…we certainly want to be enviable (rather than full of envy ourselves). This period of ‘giving things up’ has become about “showing” how disciplined we are.
But as the 40 days of Lent passed in 2020, everyone, not just Catholics, have been asked to give things up. I believe that the things we’ve recently been asked to give up (leaving our homes, gathering with friends) have sparked fear and anguish because it directly challenges our illusion of control.
During this time of ‘sheltering in place,’ we are asked to confine our own healthy bodies to protect our neighbors from being infected if we are, in fact, carriers without knowing it. There is fear, and boredom to various degrees. Cycles of tensions exist, or cycles of abuse in some homes. Some people have backyards to stretch out in. Some people have pools. Some people are crammed into dwellings with double, or triple the intended occupancy. Some families are living in cars. Some outside. None of this is new and none of it has changed due to the pandemic.
Jesus preached beyond “what” is practiced. He was very conscientiousous to speak about how we practice. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6 New International Version (NIV) He goes on to say not to make a big to-do about fasting. These faith practices are private, not for show.
What I’ve noticed recently is the uptick in online performances of social distancing. Soapbox speeches, and shaming for those not wearing masks…then shaming those for wearing masks at the expense of first responders. Speeches that wag fingers at those not staying home (and then, perversely, making exceptions for the folks they’re visiting).
Coming to the close of Lent, recalling Jesus’ directions on how to practice faith…it got me wondering, what does the practice of faith actually look like, from the outside?
The holy books are full of stories, characters, and prose written in such a way that begs interpretation (whether you believe those texts should be contextualized historically or not). But some of the simplest directives are probably why the books have had such longevity: Do not murder. Do not commit adultery…While folks have worked hard to interpret loopholes they are pretty straightforward. But, as I’ve watched the continuous and mounting politicization of this global tragedy—one that is having consequences for everyone but is affecting the most vulnerable in a much more intense and lasting way—I have tried to focus on my own practices. Or rather, my own “how.”
For many of us, Lent, far from being a release from control, has been a practice of being in control. Our outward practices are proof to our community… ”I am good. I am worthy. I have given up alcohol” or “sugar” or “smoking” or “caffeine” or…”fill in the blank”…So often these performances supersede the inner work which is harder. Meditating on questions like: What is sacrifice? How do I simplify my life to take only what I need? How have I shown up for the poor, the prisoners, those who have less than I do? What is the meaning of my hours on this earth? How do I live (not perform) my values?
In the Gospel, Jesus spoke about the wise people listening to his guidance being like those building their homes on rock. Meanwhile, those who listen but do not act “will be like those who’ve built on sand.” When the rains and winds come, the house will collapse, ruined. (Mt 7:26-27) Some of us, in the increased politicization of our country, have traded our own introspective processes for voices we believe “represent” our beliefs. Republicans might look to Trump or Limbaugh, Democrats might look to Pelosi or Sanders, and Catholics…we might look to Pope Francis. And I think this is fine…as long as we don’t stop there.
Today, April 9th, 2020, is Holy Thursday. This is when Catholics commemorate the last meal Jesus had with his disciples; when he gave them the tools of being in community—sharing words, and bread and wine together. Pope Francis made sure to note today that 60 priests have died in Italy, providing bodily and spiritual care for the sick. They showed up for their community, no matter the cost.
Holy Thursday also commemorates the day when God incarnate was, himself, very much afraid and lonely and yet still found a way to be in service. The human embodiment of the divine washed the feet of his disciples, whether they were “worthy” or not. What a statement.
What a take away for those of us who, on April 9, 2020 find ourselves afraid and lonely! What might we still be able to offer the people we are confined with and the people in our communities?
Perhaps it is time that we renew our concern with our own sense of discernment. Instead of looking to our leaders to tell us what to do, perhaps it is time that we look inwards to decide how we want to be. How will we show up for our families and for our neighbors? How will we be in service to “the least of these”: the hungry, the sick, the poor, the imprisoned…the strangers? Are we “social distancing” out of fear for our own bodies? Or care for theirs?
Perhaps, if we are able to move with our fear, as Jesus managed to do, we can find a way to transcend that fear in the service of others. aises-priests-during-mass-in-coena-domini-in-nearly-empty-st-peters-basilica-full-text/
And, if we can, what an extraordinary Lenten season this will have been.
When my daughter’s father died, I recall feeling weird that I had taken photos of the open casket. When I became aware of the Victorian practice of commemorating the dead in daguerreotypes it made me feel less ashamed that I had needed to find a way to hold on to that moment. To be able to have something physical to ground my pain and also be able to contextualize it as my life moved on.
Images, photographs, and video are ways that we make meaning out of our world. In these static images or in the case of video, unchanging moving pictures, we are able to create space around the memories. By looking at them while in different moods; we can feel ourselves change in relationship to the image over the course of time. Perhaps something has shifted. Or deepened. Or perhaps, there is an understanding that we have become stuck.
Today, in contrast to even the late 90s (when his death occurred), we have an unprecedented access to imagery and moving pictures that track the course not only of a lifetime but for many of us, each day. As with any technology there is a danger of abuse—that these past images become more important than the current moment or that we use them to create and cling to a still image of ourselves and our relationships that no longer serve us.
I remember being acutely aware that I didn’t ever want my daughter to see the photos I’d taken at her father’s rosary. I didn’t ever want to cause her pain—seeing an image that she probably wouldn’t have remembered on her own (she was two-years-old when he died). More so though, I think, was that I didn’t want her to understand how deeply torn I was from the experience of his loss. I didn’t want her to see me that way, ever. What was it that I was trying to hide? Weakness? The deep vulnerability of loving? Or was it simply the recognition that my healing process had the potential to open her wound?
I realized recently that I have my own unique digital archive. No longer can a family return to one photo albulm to recontruct the past. My emails, photos, and videos constitute a singular strand of experience that do not duplicate the singular strands of those people I am most close to. My husband has his own archive, my adult daughter her own...Each of us with our own tiny pocket computers are documenting our lives in accordance to our own desires and values--the documentation and the sharing of that documentation becomes a unique form of communication. We choose to keep this documentation private or we curate it for public platforms. It is either deeply revealing or highly performative...sometimes both.
In contrast to documenting, tearing up photos or erasing them might be a ritual of healing too—a finality—but in our digital culture, pressing a button doesn’t quite hold the same power. There’s a pervasive sense that the image still lurks somewhere in the clouds—not quite gone. ‘Cancel culture’ has made us trigger happy to bury images and ideas that make us uncomfortable.
Sometimes, images spur within us a deep sense of shame. For myelf, this can be similar to the feeling I have when reading somehting I wrote in my youth. There can be an embarrassment when we resist the images and ideas of our past selves, even if we feel proud of where we managed to end up. (How many of us have "before" and "after" photos living on our phones that we would rather die than have publicly revealed.)
Because of this "cancel culture" impulse, I think that there is a great value in checking back in on the images of both our personal histories as well as our shared personal and cultural ones. Allowing ourselves to feel the passage of time through viewing can be healing and we should not deny ourselves the tools we need to reclaim stability when experiencing a loss—whether from a death or of a changing relationship (at home or in cultural space).
Perhaps, my most important take-away is that an image, as with any art--visual, experientially shared, or written--is a potential platform for communication about a person, an idea, or an era. The images we keep can be painful, but it is in the communication around them, even if the dialogue is only an internal one, that there is healing.
Is as easy as taking your shoes off in the grass
And putting them back on before you hit the pavement
I am 39. It struck me this MLK Day that I am the age that Martin Luther King Jr. was when he was assassinated.
Do you ever do that? Measure your life against another?
Like when I was 33 and all I could think about was, ‘that’s the age Jesus was when he was crucified.’
And then you think, goodness…what have I been doing?
This MLK Day, my social media current looked like this:
Wave 1: People sharing MLK memes.
Wave 2: People sharing various MLK articles from the day. (In 2017, many of these focused on documentation collected by the FBI and peoples commentary on whether or not that documentation was real or part of the FBI’s smear campaign on MLK. This year the articles on my feed focused more on not whitewashing MLKs legacy and remembering him as an unpopular radical.)
Wave 3: People sharing their own judgments on the people in Wave 1.
Dear White People, if you do nothing to organize against racial injustice, extreme inequality due to capitalism or America’s Imperialism, don’t post a MLK quote. Just…don’t.
Quoting MLK is the bare minimum. Posting an except from MLK does not absolve the racial sins of the past year. This day isn’t about making you feel better. Fight white supremacy.
Wave 4/Part 4: I write this.
Reflection and critique are important and uncomfortable.
Can they happen without a composite villain? Is it possible to critique and change a system without labeling and judging an entire segment of the country? Am I only asking this question because I am uncomfortable being lumped in with, “Dear White People”?
If a (conservative), (white), (male) person posts an MLK meme; should my immediate response be one of ridicule or admonition? Is it the outward performance of hypocrisy or of basic goodness--the desire to want what is good for his fellow man? Is the desire alone commendable even if it is not (yet) accompanied by right action?
A straight, white, Trump supporting, man posts an MLK meme. (Hypothetically, this person has not completed the great social media purge of 2016 and so he will, on occasion, see a post from someone who does not share all his ideological beliefs.
Hypothetically, he still has one or two liberal offshoots that he hasn’t pruned yet from his social media accounts.) The next post he sees from, let’s say, his liberal niece is:
“Dear White People, if you do nothing to organize against racial injustice, extreme inequality due to capitalism or America’s Imperialism, don’t post a MLK quote. Just…don’t.”
I have a good feeling I know what his response will be. Perhaps just anger at the liberal, hippy, bullshit. A lil inner monologue of: ‘They will take any opportunity to attack America. Even using a great American as a shield.’ Perhaps, if I’m generous in my imagination, he’ll have a tinge of shame underneath the eye roll—the anger covering some deeper vulnerability?
But that isn’t what I want from him. I don’t want to evoke a response that makes him double down on his beliefs. I want to invite an opening within him that wants to learn from someone else’s experience. It’s certainly what I want people to inspire in me—an invitation to question and learn...and the safety in which to do so.
So what are the other tacks this hypothetical niece could take?
But I know the response that is not helpful to invite a conversation or spark a new idea. So, for now, I can stop doing that?
Putting these thoughts to rest (but not for 364 days)
I admire Martin Luther King Jr.’s ability to be uncomfortable.
I want to cultivate that skill in myself and model if for my children.
I admire his advocacy for the poor of world. He did not limit his love or compassion to live within the imaginary lines and rules humans are so good at creating.
As a person who is 39 years-old: HE WAS NOT DONE.
He wasn’t done. He wasn’t done teaching or advocating or suffering for his causes. He wasn’t done having victories. He wasn’t done learning.
When I read from his first published works and then his last, there is a clear evolution of experience and growth. There is no way that at 39-years-old he was ready to be made into a static image: Not of a “whitewashed” moral icon—Not as a state-hating Black radical.
So the lesson for today is: I am not done yet. I will learn and grow and change. I will continue to ask questions—to invite opportunities to see from a different perspective—and with any luck, inspire others to do the same.
Our cultural continuity has made it possible to look deep into our past. This is quite a gift—the ability to analyze history—as opposed to dealing with regime changes or violent revolutions that leave people gathering the broken shards of their culture: deciding which pieces can be put back together…or which are better simply retooled as weapons.
Prosperity has allowed us an intensified scrutiny directed at our chosen heroes. The 80s to 00’s America sheltered a variety of revered figures from forefathers to gurus. But America is using a new lens to shed light on the men and women we claim to have made us. The past few years we’ve seen accusations launched to topple, or at least sully, the memory we’ve collected and maintain.
Martin Luther King Jr. is no exception.
There’s a call to make sure that we, as a country, don’t “whitewash” MLK’s legacy. This is a calling out of the narrative that I was taught (in the 80s and 90s).
I was taught that colorblindness is the ideal. That the aim, the ultimate goal, was that I should not look at a person and see their color first. Our cultural aspiration, the correct way to honor MLKs legacy, was to look at a human and ‘judge them on the content of their character.’ There were “I Have a Dream” coloring sheets. Sometimes, we were treated to a quote from that famous speech. And we called it a day.
As adults, the narrative has shifted. Folks my age are unlearning what we once held as gospel truth. The new narrative is that there is no such thing as being color blind. That concept of colorblindness renders people, their experiences, and the shared ancestry that includes slavery and Jim Crow, invisible. It robs people of their pain and their power. There is also a revived interest in MLKs passion for peace and economic rights for people within and outside of the borders of the U.S.
This ability to turn over the past again and again is a gift. I don’t believe it’s a bad thing. Even if we have to re-order our beliefs; even if the re-ordering is uncomfortable. In fact, as a culture, it’s how we continue to grow and allows us to, hopefully, flourish.
To me, this is MLKs legacy: his commitment to discomfort. He acknowledged the pain of change. He encouraged creative suffering. Perhaps, the first step for parents and educators is to read the canon of work MLK left behind. It is more time consuming than ‘I Have a Dream’ coloring sheets to be sure, but it provides an opportunity to bring MLK’s work and vision into how we move forward as a country instead fo trying, comfortable as it may be, to have a static image of the past.
In MLK’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, he wrote:
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans.”
“These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”
I have a knee-jerk reaction to hearing the current use of “whitewashing” probably because I’m, well, white. It makes me uncomfortable.
It’s worth sitting with that for a moment.
Me: What are you doing?!
BodhiWan: Decorating the tree.
BW: I'm being a butcherbird.
Me: That's awesome.
BW: It is awesome...but not to the untrained eye.
Unfortunately, I did not photograph the tree at the height of it's glory. They had really gotten a pretty phenomenal amount of junk up there--which was impressive.
But more impressive was that little bit of sage wisdom from my seven-year-old:
"It is awesome...but not to the untrained eye."
We often tell our kids to stop something--or tell our kids to start something--based on our own criteria of what is 'good', 'right', 'important' or 'valuable'. On a crabbier or busier day, I might just have easily asked them to hurry up and put all those things away without asking what it was they were up to.
Even as I write this, there is an implication that my seeing and understanding what they were doing somehow gave it value. It would have been just as cool if I had missed the whole thing all together.
What did they learn by being butcherbirds? Who knows really. But here a few observations:
So...lesson learned for the day:
When looking at your child's activities (and interests) don't be too quick to judge...maybe you just need to train your eye.
For awhile I nicknamed the holiday season the “Tinsel Wars” because it was with such dread that I approached the emotional vulnerability and violence.
Yes, I am exaggerating…kind of…
I mean, what do we cling to with more fervor than our childhood traditions? And if someone tries to take them away from us? Oh, baby…watch out.
At the beginning of my marriage, I imagined my husband and I would step into the holiday realm as magicians—we would be (re-)creators of the feelings I had felt on and around Christmas. But then…tinsel.
And really, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Can you imagine my horror when my husband suggested that we track Santa Claus’ progress across the globe ON AN APP until the presents found their way to outside our front door…on Christmas EVE?
What kind of idiocy was this???
My husband cared NOTHING about making sure we had tinsel that would magically appear Xmas morning, or tangerines, or nuts, or new toothbrushes for the stockings….he wanted to put little chachkas in them??? I mean, how did he think we were going to get dental floss this year….magic???
Can you imagine the rage I felt when an ELF ON THE SHELF made an appearance in our house shortly after Thanksgiving? Had my husband had a neurological episode? Was there any other object more obscenely commercial? AND, once introduced and NAMED by our toddler, here it was FOREVER…
How had I made such a terrible mistake in regards to choosing a mate? Why did this man hate me? And why, had he chosen this insidious string of cruel actions and non-actions to show his true colors? I mean, here I was thinking I had hit the jackpot on partners and now….all of this?
My daughter was 13 when her brother was born—which added other layers of complexity to the mix. We always visited her dad’s family on Christmas Eve. What would it mean to them if we started traveling to a new family for the holidays? How would all three different groups (my old and new in-laws + my parents) be honored by celebrating with them? Alternating every other year? Flipping a coin? I was so angry at my husband.
Nothing was right.
I vented to my mom about the holiday negotiations and she shared how she and my dad had cobbled together my beloved traditions from their separate ones. Whoa, whoa, whaaa?
The cohesive image of the holidays of my youth were also the result of negotiations?
Well. That was unexpected.
I wonder now if angry-hurt feelings were the hallmark of those early years for our kids as we quibbled over when to give gifts, how much to spend, what to eat, and where to be? (We tried to hide our conflicts for sure but children generally seem well-attuned to disturbances in the force.)
I wish I could have just come right out the gate asking my husband questions (and actually listening to the answers), but it was my tearful rages and sullen silences that were the precursors to the years of (we now know, fruitful) negotiations. “What is important to you about the holiday season? Are they the same things that are important to you now? What did you love as a child? How did different elements of the holiday make you feel? What are the lessons we want to pass on to our children?
Here are some of our take aways...
Ask about origin stories.
Finding the origin stories of various traditions made it easier for us to see if there were some that we had taken for granted or some we could let go of.
For instance, my husband’s eldest brother was really into weather—hence, him sitting by a weather radio and tracking SC’s progress across the globe to announce to his younger siblings. Thirty years later, this process wasn’t as cool via app plus what had made that tradition magical was his older brother’s passionate performances. Our trying to recreate it in the age of the iphone didn't make sense anymore.
When I was two-years-old, my mother took me to visit Santa. During the wait in the long line, I chattered about ALL the things I would ask for when it was my turn to sit on his lap. It was a long, long list which was a helpful diversion in that long, long line.
When it was finally my turn, my mother watched her exuberant, impressively verbose toddler transform into a very quiet, very still thing. Looking up at Santa, completely dumbstruck. (...‘And what do you want, little girl?’) I was prodded and prompted by him to ask for SOMETHING…Finally I said, in the tiniest voice audible, “A Christmas tree.”
Every year thereafter, a few weeks before Christmas I would open our front door to find that Santa Claus himself had delivered my special tree, with a special card attached to it written in his ancient, scrawling handwriting. This was the beloved tradition around the Xmas tree. Fast forward to…
Let tradition transform…
My husband as a new step-father to a thirteen-year-old girl and father to an infant son. This moment didn’t require the fulfillment of a toddler’s wish (or finding some justification for standing in that ridiculously long line). It required relationship building and acknowledgment of new, awkward terrain. It required showing a teenager that she was at the center of this new family when she often felt on the periphery. A new tradition was born. Dad and daughter, together, picked out the tree and brought it home. A new, tree topper was chosen--all purple glitter (cause that is what is cool when you’re thirteen).
Pull apart the feeling from the thing.
I loved the feeling of magic surrounding Xmas. There was a transformation of humdrum space; beginning with the magical appearance of the Christmas tree. Waking up to stockings that had been empty—now full! The overnight multiplication of presents! Each gift wrapped in special wrapping paper (from the North Pole!!!); addressed to each of us in SC’s shaky, old handwriting! I loved the lights my dad put up with great attention to detail. I loved the inevitable burnt smell from the doomed batch of pizzelles or toasting panettone (with the accompanying story of how my mother’s Nonna saved to buy the special loaf of bread each year for her family (was it a whole day’s wages she’d saved, or a week, or a month?—the sacrifice seemed to grow in my imagination each year).
The feelings were not actually about the food. Or the lights. The feeling was knowing that the people around me loved me enough to try and create a magical experience.
Imagination to Creation.
All rolled up in the holidays are our desires to repeat or repair the past and create the perfect future. This time of year can give rise to feelings of loss…It's a sensitive time...we all have so many memories and so many hopes.
There is great relief in the realization that the past (both the perfect and imperfect versions) and the future are ideas we created. Memories have gone through multiple iterations--they are not stagnant, unmovable things. Their malleability has power in the present moment. Our imaginings don't need to be burdens that we lug about.
I feel like my husband and I have started (finally, after a decade) to move past trying to recreate past experiences to gifting the experiences we want for our children and ourselves.
So we ask questions now as a starting place every year, like:
Does holiday magic depend upon overly-packaged, store-bought gifts? Does a holiday banquet have to include meat? (Or if a celebratory feast does feel more complete with meat…might we have a deeper appreciation for it if we weren’t feasting all year round?) How can we honor our elders? Do we keep traditions or consciously transform them into something that is in better alignment with the present without erasing the past?
Tradition, Control...L'il Bit of Both.
The new 'work' of the holidays has become learning how to move into and through change gracefully. My knee-jerk response to change is still to try and stop it (i.e. “Is an undiscussed elf-on-the-shelf grounds for divorce?”).
There can be a lot of fear around the holidays: Will my children still love me if we can’t (or won't) buy what is #1 on their wishlist? Will my parents feel disrespected if we stop making oyster stew on Christmas Eve? Will any changes we make create problems with the in-laws? Are the memories we're making going to wind up on the repeat or repair lists of our children?
Wrap it up. Own the Present.
It's been helpful to remember that, whatever my past memories and future hopes are, everyone I love has memories and hopes just as personally vibrant and vital--and just because I have shared years of holidays with them (parents, siblings, partners, children) doesn't mean that my feelings are the same as thiers.
Annual conversations about traditions have made them richer (or at least have made certain traditions more palatable/less anger inducing) for our little nuclear family. Recognizing the value of what has been gifted to us is so, so important. So are dreams. But sometimes, to own and enjoy the present, we need to carefully wrap up the past and future. Put a bow on them. Cherish them. But put them away.
That's our goal this year. To widen the circle of asking questions, listen to the people we care about talk about the traditions they care about, and not let the holiday noise (pretty as those jingle bells might be) deter us from what we want to create in this moment.
“There’s something I really want but I don’t know what it is!!!” wailed my six-year-old.
I am always floored when a thought-feeling is expressed with such simple perfection. Out of the mouths of babes, right?
It wasn’t just her words either; the inflection, supported from deep in the belly, bewailing the depth of frustration at an unmet need—the sound of her matched the words. Elegant expression—perfect communication—impossible to misinterpret.
These are the moments that we, as parents, almost instinctively tell our young ones to stop crying. ‘Go figure it out then’, we think (or say). Listening to someone else’s pain and confusion is uncomfortable. More uncomfortable still is not knowing what to do about it—feeling our own fear rise up to meet that terrifying ocean of feeling emanating from the child.
Or perhaps it isn’t the fear of not knowing what to do as much as it is the deep discomfort that rises up within us that identifies with that specific pain:
“There is something that I really want but I don’t know what it is.”
Is there a greater cultural taboo than not knowing? America holds no sacred space for mystery. Not knowing = stupidity or laziness or…
The senate trial. If a juror walks in knowing a person is innocent it is not a trial. If a juror walks in knowing a person is guilty, also…not a trial.
Dear ol’ Merriam Webster says:
1: the formal examination before a competent tribunal of the matter in issue in a civil or criminal cause in order to determine such issue
Who knew there would come a day when I would wish that our representatives were better at pretending? Like, ‘gee…I know how I really feel about this issue…but I’m going to pretend like there’s room in my brain for new information. I can at least pretend to be open minded to evidence…open to examining facts without pre-determining how to shoehorn said facts into a verdict of guilt or innocence.
I wish I felt more confident about the senates’ competence.
The Merriam Webster definition of trial that really resonated was this:
4: a test of faith, patience, or stamina through subjection to suffering or temptation
broadly : a source of vexation or annoyance
I mean…right?! That description of how I’m feeling in regards to current events is pretty darn spot on.
Given my tangent, when that feeling of want rises up should I pretend that I know what I want to move forward? Should I lean in to creating an illusion of competence? Or, how do I hold sacred space for not knowing? Can I allow that well-spring of deep belly-want to go unanswered for a bit—not trying to fill it with any sort of fix? Will empty space lead to understanding the call?
And more importantly, maybe,…What to do with the six-year-old?
For now, I think I’ll try looking into her eyes and saying: 'You look so frustrated. I think I have that feeling too.'
The optimist within me must believe that hundreds of years into the future, and all over the globe, nobody will ever read that first statement and have to wonder who that president might have been. Hope believes that this behavior from the Oval Office will be confined to the years of the Donald…Shouldn’t we be able to believe that?
If we imagine time and politics as a pendulum swinging, surely it is safe to say that we are witness to the apex of the swing, suspended for a moment in mid-air, suspended in what feels like an eternity (but is really just a blip in the vastness of time) before swinging hundreds or thousands of years in a new direction.
This belief won’t do though.
The pendulum moves back-and-forth on one plane. Our hope cannot doom us to more of what we have already experienced and recorded throughout history, traversing the same pathway of thought and behavior over and over again. Even a 360 pendulum doesn’t quite work to visually represent what is next or what is possible—good God, moving from one plane to a 360 degree scope is too, too frightening for my little brain to handle. (The mental image of the 360 pendulum is an amusement park ride designed, probably, to make you want to vomit…so, I suppose, that part is apt.) When I was 16 (the age Greta Thunberg is now), I never would have imagined the POTUS bullying a child like me. Never. If this is now possible on a limited trajectory, what happens when we open up more lanes to travel?
When I was sixteen-years-old I had my first child. And I can tell you (now) that I was, very much, a child myself. Regardless of my intelligence or potential or drive…sixteen-years-old is a baby in the world. In this moment, I am jealous of Greta’s superpower, allowing her to take the mockery of the “most powerful man in the world in stride ;” my sixteen-year-old skin, tough as I believed I was, would never have survived it.
So what do we do when the landscape changes? (And let’s be clear, poor behavior from people in power is no surprise occurrence, but…) How do we stay vigilantly hopeful or proactively kind? How do we teach our children to be thick-skinned and sensitive—able to fully feel and fully respond to the needs of the day. How do we model this for them? How can we move through moments that are so ugly and not be deactivated by the humiliation?
In short, how do I be more Greta today?