The LOVE Is Already There

Last Monday, around 11:30PM, I received a private message from an old high school friend. She wanted to share with me the FB post of another classmate and friend of ours–a post that poked fun at folks like me who are using FB to stay informed and to connect with like-minded people looking for constructive and loving ways to protest the policies of the new administration. It was a clever, for sure, but snarky too.

I might not have answered if I weren’t determined to stay awake. You see, my 17-year-old daughter, Peanut, has Type 1 Diabetes. Lately her blood sugar has been dropping during the night. When this happens, I read or watch TV until her blood sugar numbers are in the safe zone. I have a nifty little app on my phone that alerts me to Peanut’s low blood sugars, and I had just returned to bed after watching my daughter drink a half a Gatorade, when my old high school buddy popped in on Messenger.

I was fatigued, and I had to stay up, and my heart began to race. I responded (not unkindly at first although eventually I did get pissy) and this unleashed in my old friend a bundle of ugliness.

I’ve been pondering this post for over a week now. In the meantime, I turned 50 and was the recipient of many lovely birthday wishes, an Italian cream cake baked by my mother an outspoken Republican and baker extraordinaire, and three champagne toasts. I attended a visitation for an old friend’s father and was sung Happy Birthday to by the lovely ladies cooking the funeral dinner.

I finished a book called Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russel Hoschild in order to try to understand the whole “Make America Great Again” business. I remain baffled (but this might be mere stubbornness) although Hoschild’s book was both an illuminating and tender examination of the tremendous gulf between liberals and tea partiers and a call to action based on empathy.

I’ve had lunch with friends and lunch with daughters and lunch with mothers. I sat on the porch with my husband on an unseasonably warm day and we drank beers and willfully ignored the fact that it’s not supposed to be 65 in southern Illinois in February. I watched a bunch of 5th grade girls play basketball and grieved for those days when my own children played 5th grade basketball.

According to my Fitbit, I’ve logged 54 miles walking and pondering the conversation I had with that old friend. First I wanted to shine a light on her late-night rantings. I mean, who starts a mean-spirited political discussion with someone at 11:30 at night in a private message? I wrote (in my head) reams of scathing responses that were not empathic at all.

And then I waited. You see, she said one thing to me that evening that I want to focus on here. She wrote to me, in response to my latest blog post about love, “none of us, NONE are buying into your…’I love everything and everyone and every person.'”

She’s right.

That stings. Because I want to love big and expansively. I want to “love the hell out of them,” as Martin Luther King Jr. told his followers. I want to L O V E the way I believe we are intended to, and still I fall short.

I do NOT extend my love to donald trump or jeff sessions or betsy devos. I talk a good game about love because I really do believe in it. But let me tell you, there are days that I spend most of my time watching MSNBC and reading The Washington Post or The Guardian, and what I am filled with is definitely not LOVE. It’s a twisty, knotty, tangled derisive, divisive outrage. And there are days when it threatens to blow my head off (did you see how they silenced Elizabeth Warren as she read Coretta Scott King’s letter?).

So how can I in good conscious continue to write about LOVE?

In the days since my old friend took me to task for writing about love, I’ve listened to John Lewis’s interview on Krista Tippett’s On Being more than once. I printed the transcript from the interview, and I have scoured it for some formula that might help me love those I do not want to love–because that is part of the problem. I want to parcel love. NO sending love to those not worthy of such an elevated feeling.

John Lewis describes love as “a way of being” He contends that love is “a way of action. . . It has the capacity, it has the ability to bring peace out of conflict.” 

I can sort of wrap my mind around this. Love, not as an elevation of feeling, but as a “way of being” in this world. This is what I aspire to. It’s hard work. This sort of love demands presence. It demands that I open my arms to the world as it is, not as it should be or as I would like it to be. It demands that I look at the world as John Lewis does to believe that “the good is already there. The love is there.”

It’s just up to us to make it real.

 

**on another note, yes. I did turn 50. But the blog will remain The 49th Year. Keep reading and loving.

 

 

Despair and Hope

So Meryl Streep called donald trump out last night at the Golden Globes without saying his name even once, and he tweeted her out this morning calling her an overrated (btw, you don’t hyphenate overrated) actress and denying again that he did, in fact, mock a disabled reporter. I defy you to watch the video and not see in trump’s actions the grossest display of hatefulness and ignorance.

I don’t know what to do with this information. My first instinct is indignation–you know the kind, stomach all in knots, heat rising from the knots, brain threatening to explode out the nose, eyes, and ears with the injustice of the fact that this creep is going to be the President of the United States.

That’s how I feel at first. But then it’s despair. This despair is a full-body wash sort of feeling. It rolls on from the head down like a dark, heavy blanket someone plucked from a corner in a dank basement and threw over me while I wasn’t paying attention. In other words, it’s real.

But this particular blanket of despair isn’t thrown when I’m not paying attention, it is thrown because I AM paying attention. I could spend my time on this blog listing the trump falsehoods I’ve read in the past few days, the latest Republican-controlled Congress abuses of power I shared on FB or retweeted on Twitter, but you can get that information anywhere–it just depends on where you look. Instead, what I want to do is take a gander at my reaction to this despair–or rather to admitting despair.

I come from a long line of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps midwesterners. One of my mother’s favorite admonishments was, “Buck up.” And for the most part, that was pretty good advice. I do tend toward emotional over-the-toppery. That said, “buck up” can be internalized and when this happens, I believe it can normalize some bad shit.

When I write on this blog or in an email to a friend that I am feeling despair due to the inevitable inauguration of donald trump, my committee starts up. You remember the committee, don’t you? Some folks call the committee monkey mind while others nicely refer to them as the devil’s advocate.

I call them the committee, and I realize that most of us have one. Their voices rise from and mingle the many important voices of my lifetime, and when I admit to feeling despair, they start in with a vengeance. “Who the hell are YOU to admit to despair? Look around, ya’ big baby.” They are mean and bullying. They want me to shut the fuck up. “Look around at your nice house, your nice husband, your nice kids, your nice town. What the hell are YOU despairing about?”

And it does shut me up. I mean, really, who am I to despair? I have so much.

Whoa Nelly! (and yes, I did look up the origins of this phrase and realize that it means slow down horse–I’m okay with that)

My despair is real. It isn’t negated by the fact that I have a warm house to live in and adult children who still spend much of their time in it. It isn’t negated because I live in a small midwestern town whose mascot is a little white squirrel with pink eyes. The committee can’t negate my despair unless I give them permission to do so, and I’m rescinding that permission today.

I won’t tell myself to “buck up” as it pertains to accepting donald trump and the malicious policies this new Congress promises to vote in. And don’t get me wrong–despair isn’t a resting place. I do know that. But I believe it is a place where I can get some traction.

Despairing is human, and it serves a purpose. I do a disservice to myself if I ignore it. After all, what if Meryl Streep’s committee had badgered her into silence. I can hear them, can’t you? “What do you have to despair about? You are winning a huge award. Look at all those glowing and admiring faces out there? Seriously, Meryl?”

**

Just last night I finished reading Krista Tippett’s newest book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. This book, and Tippet’s interviews on her also essential radio show On Being, delve into the deepest aspects of what it means to be human. Becoming Wise is an essential book for these times, an ongoing conversation that juxtaposes politics and love, hope and despair in an effort to ask questions that might bring us closer to what the Martin Luther King Jr. called a Beloved Community.

 

Tippett posits that in despair, in the depths of darkness–that is where we find hope. She writes:

Hope is distinct, in my mind, from optimism or idealism. It has nothing to do with wishing. It references reality at every turn and reveres truth. It lives open eyed and wholehearted with the darkness that is woven ineluctably into the light of life and sometimes seems to overcome it. Hope, like every virtue, is a choice that becomes a practice that becomes spiritual muscle memory. It’s a renewable resource for moving through life as it is, not as we wish it to be.

And in Daring GreatlyBrené Brown asserts that “hope is a function of struggle,”that hope is a “cognitive, behavioral process that we learn when we experience adversity…”

This morning, as tears of frustration rain down my face, I am also buoyed by these ideas. We, and I use the term with love, are truly in the swamp, and despair is appropriate. I would go so far as to say that despair is essential. A clear-eyed acceptance of the muck we stand in can and will give rise to hope.

It must.

 

 

Of Champagne and Elections

I’m sorry I bought that champagne–a better bubbly than I usually buy (as if I am a connoisseur of good champagne). Truth is, I tend to buy prosecco if I want something sparkly.

But last Tuesday was special, so I walked to the liquor store and I spent some time in the champagne aisle, holding the bottles up, squinting as I read the labels, finally picking one, forking over the money, bragging to the nice man behind the counter–“I’m going to toast the first woman President tonight.” I carried that bottle home in my backpack and the sun glittered in the promising sky. Damn, it was a good day, a brilliant day, only gonna get better.

I’m sorry I showed my girls (yes, the 17-year old was getting a glass too) the champagne, how that crinkly white foil top peaked (still peaks) up over the milk jug, how I winked when I said, “That’s for later when we toast the first woman President.”

That night, a week ago, as the bottle of champagne got farther and farther away from our reality, my girls and I tried to smile. We said things like, “Ohio will go our way–it just takes a while.” or “Michigan is blue. No worries.” or “We can win this without Florida.”

I’m sorry we weren’t prepared. I’m sorry that contrary to everything I believe, love didn’t trump fear, that fear and hate and anger and displacement trumped love. I’m sorry we didn’t drink the damned champagne.

I’m sorry I do not yet feel like getting to work, do not feel like bucking up or getting with the program. I’m sorry that Hillary conceded and that the media got on board with nary a word to the appalling lack of experience Mr. Trump possesses. I’m sorry that the KKK has planned a rally for December 3 to celebrate. Sorry that Steve Bannon will be a chief strategist in this new administration. Sorry that everyone seems to believe we just need to get together behind Mr. Trump as if the republicans haven’t played obstructionist politics for the last 8 years. We haven’t had a full Supreme Court for months!

I’m sorry that when my husband pulled the Clinton/Kaine sign from our yard, all I could muster was a bitter laugh and another deluge of tears. I’m scared and angry and I’m so fucking sorry that anger won’t save the day and that the electoral college won’t save our country. Did I mention that Hillary won the popular vote?

Here’s something else I did–I appropriated my daughters’ grief.  You see, I felt so damn dumb, so tricked, so ridiculously naive. I remembered how I sauntered home with that champagne on my back, how cool and sure I’d been.

 

“I’m so sorry,” I cried.

“Sorry for what?” they asked.

“Sorry for teaching you to believe, for letting you believe we could win this thing.” Yes, I really said that. I may have been feeling a teensy bit sorry for myself, maybe even wallowing. Okay, for sure wallowing.

If I can blame myself for their disappointments, their sadnesses I will. It’s my MO. After all, blame is a pretty good insulator. If I’m all pissed off at myself for failing my kids, then I’m not spending a lot of time feeling their pain, or my own.

They set me straight pretty quick-like. “Don’t be sorry, Mom,” they said. “You didn’t let us believe in anything.” They didn’t say dumb-ass, but I’m pretty sure they were thinking it.

They already know I’m not the fairy godmother of happiness and well-being and safety. They already know that pain and grief and anger are handy emotions to harness when change is necessary. And it’s more necessary now than ever.

I’m pretty sure it’s time to crack open that champagne.