20 August 2017

SUSTENANCE

Charlottesville is consuming me. I admit to being obsessed with all the coverage and interviews. It cannot be good for me to watch too much CNN and listen to too many talking heads, but I cannot look away. I am fascinated by how human beings can grow such hate in their hearts and minds, hate that leads them to see others as less than human. It’s a specific kind of selfishness that is truly terrifying. It’s fear. It has always been fear and it will always be fear.

Look into your own family, look at the people you love. Why do they lash out, why do they do hurtful things, even to people they love?  Fear.  


I look at my own children, who I know are good and kind people, and I’m shocked multiple times a week at how vicious they can be with each other, how immediately defensive they are when they feel threatened and fearful. If they are about to get in trouble, if they know they did something hurtful, if they think they are about to get steamrolled -- they are virulently defensive. They feed each other to the wolves.

It’s disheartening to see, partly because it suggests that we, their parents, aren’t doing a very good job at helping them navigate interpersonal relationships. We want them to know, in their hearts, the power of a sincere apology, of raw empathy and kindness. As parents, we know that these things are the foundation of relationships that sustain us and ultimately bring us peace and joy.

Relationships that sustain us: this is what we need in our culture and communities. What is so terribly sad to me is to look back 25 years, to the way I saw the world when I first joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and to recognize that at that time, I thought I lived in a progression that was taking the country forward. I thought I was on and part of a path that was bringing more good into the world, more love and compassion, more empathy and understanding. Less divisiveness.

But when I look at what’s happening -- everything from the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, to the way we attack "neglectful" parents when their children get hurt, to the relentless viciousness of social media -- I am chilled by how far it seems we have gone in the other direction. Children of the world, THIS is why parents are alarmed at what the culture is teaching you, showing you and planting in you. We do not want you to look around and see the nastiness and the vapidness and grow up breathing that air. I do not want my daughters to see the Kardashians, laugh at the shallowness with which that family is portrayed for the sake of ratings, and simply be entertained. I do not want my sons to see tasteless memes about sex, and simply be amused.

There is a through line, for me, between these mindless, slippery slope allowances and the hate and hurt assaulting our communities. Both are about demeaning others and putting things (profit? power?) before people. Neither will ever help us build the relationships we need.

When Trump was elected, I wept bitterly because I felt fear. It was, then, an unnamed fear of something sinister coming, or more rightly, being revealed. I knew, in my bones, that the weeks and months ahead would be filled with things that would make me ache for people, for my children and for the children of people I don't understand, like the neo-nazi's filling the TV screen. Watching recent days unfold, I feel as though I am watching my fears materialize, those fears of what Trump’s presidency would usher in. I knew this would happen. Standing in my kitchen on election night, I wept each time my son came in to tell me that another state had been called for Trump. And I knew we should be bracing ourselves for ugliness, for the infliction of pain and for all manner of affronts to human dignity and goodness. I knew Charlottesville was coming.

How can simple human kindness make a difference? It doesn't seem strong enough in the face of hate marches and seas of swastikas and weaponized cars. It doesn't seem like enough, until I look at the most important times in my own life, those that have transformed me and brought me peace. They are all intimate and personal occasions of connection -- falling in love, the birth of a child, listening to a friend's story of suffering.  The private moments when we are most present to each other are the moments that make us the strongest.  

This is my activism, paying attention to the private moments that connect us all and looking for more and more of them to sustain me.

My children, my sweet children, those I’ve given birth to and those I haven't, I know who you are. I know you are made of goodness and kindness to your core. I know, and you know, that the behavior we are witnessing is antithetical to love and humanity. Find ways to rise above your own fear and defensiveness; find ways to rise above others’ as well. Reject, resist, and repel the hatred you see swirling around us. Learn about it, understand what is out there, but turn to the people around you and cultivate the habits of being that drive out hate. Start with the people closest to you, then turn outwards to others, but keep it going. Never stop radiating love, patience and empathy. Never, ever stop. You are what the world needs now.

30 January 2017

Thank God for Freezing Soccer Mornings

We were up at 6am, in rural Turlock, California, ready to cheer on a field full of 10-year olds competing in their early morning State Cup Quarterfinal.

It was 34 degrees outside -- not so impressive if you're playing winter soccer in Chicago, or New York, or Kansas, but pretty freakin' cold if you happen to be 10-year old California girls and their parents.

The grass crunched beneath our feet. We blew frosty smoke rings from our mouths. We stomped our feet and talked about how it was damn cold but WOW it could be even colder, and at least the sun was out.

We cheered on our girls, hoping to will them to victory with our support and encouragement. And then, we felt heartsick and helpless as we watched them go down in defeat. We fretted to each other that they deserved this win, that the score didn't tell the real story.

We joked "At least we'll get our Sunday back," since by midway through the second half it was clear that we weren't returning for a 2pm Semifinal. None of us really wanted our Sunday back.

We high fived the losing team -- our daughters -- as they ran by our outstretched hands at the end of it all. I slapped my own daughter's hand as she ran by in a blur, and saw eyes full of tears and a face crumpled in torment. She, with visions of being the next Carly Lloyd, had run smack dab into the wall of 10-year old failure and was feelin' it, big time.

We took the team to crepes afterwards, in rural, sleepy Turlock, where we enjoyed the parent table a few feet from the player table, where they stuffed themselves with crepes piled high with nutella and strawberries and whipped cream: no need for our young athletes to be smart and healthy with no afternoon game beckoning.

It was a bittersweet morning, and I will forever love these days, as gut-wrenching as they can be.

The owners of the Creperie in rural, sleepy Turlock were absolutely thrilled to see us pile into their small cafe. Thrilled, cheerful, welcoming, and then, as our large group kept streaming in, ever so slightly panicked and then downright stressed out by the impact we had on their three crepe machine establishment. It took forever to get our food. For. Eh. Ver.

The owners of the Creperie in rural, sleepy Turlock are, as it happens, Syrian immigrants.

That’s how we spent our Sunday morning, and thank God we did. Because had I not been there, riding the wave and crash of U11 competitive soccer, I would have been in front of a screen somewhere, swallowing up the fear and rage that I find rising in me lately when I see my Facebook feed, check Twitter for the current outrage, and scan npr.org’s pages.

There are more than enough horrors happening in our country these days to fill our every moment and every breath. There are marches to go to and phone calls to make and airports to occupy. There are difficult conversations to have – with people we agree with as much as those we don’t. If we are to be responsible and well-informed, we have to do the work to make sure we are getting real information.

We will see more horrors. Of course we will. The time to wonder if this will be the thing that does him in is over. The time to make this – or the next thing, or the thing after that – be the thing that wakes up our country and unites us in ridding ourselves of this orange cancer is here and now.

But for today, I am grateful for the freezing cold pitch beneath my feet and the chance to watch my daughter lose her soccer game, because I needed a wee-bit of a break from the chaos of the real world. Today, I am grateful for delicious crepes, sweet balm after a tough loss, prepared with love and enthusiasm by a lovely Syrian couple now living in the middle of California.

My daughter is sleeping on the couch next to me, still in her stinky soccer socks.

Tomorrow morning, she will shower. And tomorrow morning, I will call some US Representatives who need to know that I oppose Betsy De Vos’s nomination as Education Secretary and that I want him or her to vote against it. Tomorrow, I will tell a friend of mine that yes, I will go with her to my local representative’s office to thank him for opposing DJT so far and to let him know that I expect him to continue to do exactly that at every turn. Tomorrow, I will search for reliable news sources, and I will resist the click bait that beckons me and my righteous indignation.

Today, I am grateful that I got to watch my 10-year old daughter play her heart out and lose her State Cup Quarterfinal. There’s always next year, and maybe we can go back and visit the Syrians.


01 January 2017

What Can Be Our Response?

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand.
It is wide open. The sword is taken away,
but we do not know it. I am present
without knowing it at all, in this unspeakable paradise, and I behold this secret, this wide open secret which is there for everyone, free.
– Thomas Merton 
Thank you, Thomas Merton, for your words, and thank you to my friend Linda for sharing them on Facebook this morning to usher in 2017.  

Perhaps this is what all angst and anxiety stem from: we are present in unspeakable paradise without knowing it, even while we search for it high and low, with desperation and urgency.  We are searching for that paradise with every resolution, every firm decision to be better, do better, love better.  Paradise is all around us: why don't we see it?  Why aren't we aware of every moment we are living in it?  Why don't we know it?

That existential crisis will be even more palpable in this, our beloved country, as we watch Donald J. Trump assume the mantle of leadership and tweet his strange brand of narcissism and megalomania into the world.  

What can be our response, not only to Trump but to the slings and arrows of daily, difficult, wrenching life?  We must see, enjoy, create, share and demand beauty.  We must make something beautiful and put it out into the world.  We must light that small candle in the darkness.  We must.  It is essential.  It is all that matters.  

Write.  Make music.  Paint.  Draw.  Grow things.  Tend to animals.  Read.  Cook.  Teach.  Design.  Push.  Resistance takes a million forms, so pick the one that fits you like a warm and loving sweater, but pick one or you will spend your time in this paradise feeling cold and shackled.  Pick one, so that you can begin to see the paradise all around you.  Pick one: it is there for you, for everyone, free.

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