In the world of the lovingly kind
I’ve found myself caught in a bind:
Consumed by my hate
It made my gut ache
’Twas a matter far over my mind.
Of course I can always deep breathe
Whenever I’m starting to seethe
But hate’s the wrong path;
There’s just too much wrath,
So my ideals I tried to retrieve.
This effort is surely ongoing
The seeds of contempt could keep growing
As malevolent eyes
Ignore COVID’s new highs
And the pain in the streets’ overflowing.
But one thing I’ve learned is that thoughts
If dwelt on can leave one distraught;
Accept that they’re there,
Make space for more air,
And allow them to flutter aloft.
Thus I’ve moved beyond being whiny
And reduced trump so he’s quite tiny He’s gone from my head, I don’t hear what he’s said…
My plan, on Day Two’s, working finely!
And, because my inner critic suggests this reflection is self-indulgent when there’s so much grief in the world, I’m adding a delightful, gently philosophical video that I hope you haven’t seen before and I think is guaranteed to make you smile.
Its title: “Amazingly simple theory for a happy life.”
I noted in my previous post that the title I used above was a response from my friend, an African American woman, to my efforts last year to encourage dialogue on race in America.
She sent me her reactions to the events described in Wednesday’s post via email, and I feel her words are yet another important message for us white folks to hear. We hear them, but do we reallyhear them?
Can we feel them? Can we picture ourselves in the situations she describes? And how will–or will–any of this affect our actions going forward?
Can we transform the outrage we feel now to effect changes, staying the course, because it won’t be quick or easy?
Here’s my friend’s response:
I would say what’s happening now is no more an awful time in America than it has ever been.
It’s awful for a huge percentage of black people and people of colour ALL OF THE TIME because of poverty, institutional racism, disparities in healthcare, lack of basic clean drinking water, healthy affordable food in our own communities, disproportionately high incarceration rates…I could go on.
It’s only when something so heinous happens to us (as though that laundry list wasn’t already enough) and we take to the streets in protest, that people really talk about what must change in America.
I worked with Christian Cooper for 5 1/2 years. [Note: She describes what happened to Cooper below.]
He’s a Harvard graduate and worked in the Editorial Department of a medical education company. Chris is one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. The trauma (and yes–it’s a trauma) that he sustained grieves me more than I can express.
This one hit home and saddens me as much as it terrifies me. It saddens me because that woman injured my friend and altered his life. Will he ever be able to quietly go about bird watching–something he loves?
It also terrifies me because it makes me realize just how lucky I am every day that my family members and I have managed to survive in racist America.
I’m lucky that my son–who was pulled over twice in one night for speeding on his way back to college–wasn’t shot by those police officers.
I will not excuse him driving well beyond the speed limit both times. He was wrong; however, as a young black man, being pulled over for something as minor as speeding can get you killed. HAS gotten them killed.
I’m fortunate that I wasn’t dragged from my car and thrown onto the ground with a knee placed on the back of my neck, when I raced up the turnpike in my BMW M2 trying to make it to Hermès in Short Hills to drop off a watch for repair before the store closed.
I’m lucky that when my husband and I pulled into the service area behind a restaurant just outside of Barton Springs, Texas, and a cop raced in right behind us, that we weren’t shot and killed.
We were returning from my husband’s tennis tournament in January. It was after 10 pm and dark. We didn’t know the area well but were simply trying to coordinate where to grab a late dinner.
The cop thought we were about to conduct a drug deal. What saved us was our age (50+) so we “didn’t fit the typical profile,” he said before driving away.
It’s THIS. Every. Day. Of. Our. Lives. It’s exhausting. It’s exasperating. It’s maddening. We always have to look over our shoulders.
We always have to be prepared to justify our presence in spaces that white people still believe are theirs alone: luxury stores, exclusive neighbourhoods, first-class lounges in the airport, and apparently, Central Park.
We continue to be vilified. We are labeled as thugs when armed white men with assault rifles are called patriots for protesting being quarantined during a global pandemic.
Police (and without riot gear, I might add) simply stand while angry white people, armed to the teeth, scream in their faces on the steps of State Courthouses.
The white college student, accused of double murder, was taken into custody “without incident” this week.
What if that suspect had been black? Just being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bank note was apparently enough to get a black man killed.
The image of that police THUG with his knee on George Floyd’s neck harkened back to segregation and slavery. It was an everyday occurrence to have white men violently putting us “in our place.” The glee they had knowing they had power over our very lives and deaths.
The white woman who threatened to call the police on my friend Christian had the same glee in her voice. “I’m going to call the police and tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”
This was a potential Emmett Till scénario, and it’s 2020 and this was in New York City, not Mississippi.
What does that say?
I’ve stopped watching the news or even reading it online. I’m not on much social media either because it’s all, more of the same information about the hatefulness in this country and the spreading cancer of nationalism and racism that is infecting as many people as the coronavirus pandemic.
I simply don’t want to expose myself to that because I don’t want to be infected by the level of hatred–which is easy when you are angry.
Believe me, I AM angry. I just am too tired to keep fighting a problem that will never change.
I wanted to give my friend a real hug–not a virtual hug–and to tell her please don’t despair; things will get better. But how could I do that?
Months ago, I had an encounter with a police officer when I didn’t realize I was passing a stopped truck by crossing into a “no passing zone.” I apologized profusely and handed over my license. The officer took it, went to his car, and returned.
He said, “This license is expired. Do you have a new one?” I searched frantically through my bag and said, “I know I have it; I must have left it at home.”
He smiled pleasantly, told me to make sure I use my new license, and to drive carefully. I smiled sweetly, thanked him, and drove off.
He might have just been a nice police officer; there are surely plenty of them. But I can’t help wondering how he would have reacted if he’d stopped my friend…
Here’s how I would reallyreallyreally like to feel when I think about Donald Trump, his Senate Republican enablers, and the thugs who are using the pandemic to terrorize and strut around with their AR-15s and shotguns:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your neighbors.”
“Do not allow your anger to control your reason, but rather your reason to control your anger.”
“As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave the anger, hatred, and bitterness behind me, I would still be in prison.”
In other words, I would like to have the heart and patience and wisdom of Nelson Mandela.
I am—or have been—a conciliator by nature. I’ve never tried to paper over people’s differences of opinion—and how those differences play out in their actions. But I’ve always sought to search for the commonalities among us.
(This blog began with the goal of finding common ground, and I wrote a post early on explaining why I wouldn’t deal with the Elephant in our national living room. But when babies were put into cages and other offenses defying human decency became evident, I found that orientation unsustainable. I’d love to get back to it at some point.)
Through practicing the lovingkindness aspect of meditation, I still try to wish us all well—everyone and every living thing. Even…this President and his enablers. But I repeatedly fall short. Extremely short. Earth to Saturn kind of short.
What to make of all this? I just listened to another tenpercenthappier.com meditation (I’d written about these helpful sessions previously) in which Sebene Selassie, a meditation teacher, explored the various ramifications of anger in our current bizarre environment.
“Anger can be an intelligent emotion,” she said. “It shows us what’s wrong with the world and is a motivation for action.”
I like that assessment. I’d just finished hand-writing a bunch of postcards to Democrats living in a state that will be important to the November election outcome.
These are folks who have spotty voting records, and our purpose is to urge them to sign up for vote-by-mail ballots so they can vote safely and comfortably from their homes.
It was an annoying task that left me with a neck ache and cramped fingers, but I’ll be doing it every week because—as I wrote repeatedly on those cards—“the stakes are very high; protect our democracy.”
That concrete action, multiplied by all the volunteers doing it, could have an impact. So perhaps when I’m so engaged, my reason controls my anger.
Some months ago, I printed on this blog the contact info for all the Class of 2018 Democratic members of Congress who had won in swing districts and then bravely voted for impeachment, knowing they could be jeopardizing their reelection.
These courageous souls are now being targeted for defeat by the Republican National Committee. I was encouraging people to send them donations and/or volunteer with their campaigns. (If you’re interested, you can find the list here.)
.One of my friends from across the aisle let me know he thinks there’s something underhanded about dabbling in politics beyond one’s own district.
But since the voters in the targeted state will play a significant role in a decision that will ultimately affect my family and me directly, I have zero qualms about such efforts.
Selassie also talks about “taking action without taking sides.” That brought me up short. How do we do that? A viewer at the end of her session asked that very question:
How can we not take sides when our politics are so polarizing?
Selassie’s answer was that this is a perfect time for us to recognize our interconnection. “One thread over here can unravel on the other side of the world,” she said.
Pondering our interconnection, which I do from time to time, provides a welcome respite from ranting. It happens when I disagree with my friend from across the aisle. I get angry, but I know he’s a good person with strong values who just happens to view the world differently.
When I get angry–furious, really–at the terrible toll this pandemic is taking because of our dreadful national leadership, I also think about all the generosity and kindness shown by individuals helping others—solid evidence of our interconnections.
I just read an article that I think exemplifies Selassie’s point about interconnections. A 13-year-old Israeli Jewish boy was gravely wounded in 2002 when he stepped on a land mine. Until last year, he was in agony, his foot constantly feeling as though it was on fire.
Then, at age 31, after years of harboring hatred for the Arabs for what they’d done to him, he was operated on by a Palestinian Arab surgeon, an expert in the intricate nerve pathways involved in his injury.
The surgery was a complete success, and a bond has formed between surgeon and patient. (This story is considerably more complicated; if you want to read the details, click here.)
Selassie points out that if we look beneath our anger, we see the fear, anxiety, and grief that’s there. And I know that’s true too.
But we needn’t banish our anger, she says; we can accept it, checking in with our bodies to make sure we’re not permitting the anger to turn into the constant stress that we know can be so damaging.
(A quick inventory would involve relaxing tense shoulders, clenched jaws, tight stomach, and the like.)
So I realize I can hold two concepts simultaneously. One is that it’s important to focus on all the people who have chosen to demonstrate their better selves at this critical time for all humanity.
The other is that I am channeling my anger into actions that I hope will ultimately result in the removal of the forces I find so terribly destructive. Anger leading to action: that feels just right.
Donald Trump and his enablers won’t be with us forever. I remain hopeful that in the near future, the lessons of this pandemic will lead to competent government delivering a much stronger safety net.
We’ll always have our differences, but they’ll be less raw if people are less fearful and anxious about their economic insecurity and lack of healthcare. I believe we can reduce the tensions that have been worsening our political polarity.
It seems appropriate to end with another nod to Nelson Mandela:
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”