Longing to trump hate? Become love!

fullsizeoutput_2468This past week, I felt I had been forcibly ejected from my own garden and into a world I do not know. More specifically, it seems I’m in a dense forest where I am incapable of making sense of all that surrounds me. Overwhelmed, I’m tempted to locate a snug den, a deep cave, where I can hide and protect myself until this whole thing ends. Such hibernation, though, serves no one, and so I must venture further in – but where? How? The path ahead seems so uncertain.

I’ve been told by some that it’s time for us to protest, to take to the streets to let our voices be heard. It’s cathartic, people tell me. Furthermore, they insist, because such protests play important roles within the legacy of social justice, we must accept our own responsibility. I see the truth in all they say, and yet, I hesitate. In fact, when I bumped into a protest occurring in Midtown the other day, I didn’t join in, even though I participated in some of the earliest protests against the war in Afghanistan. Why not?

The goals seem uncertain; the tactics too varied.

Other than being bound by passionate emotion, protesters appear to have little else in common. In the protest I watched, some participants, with heads bowed down, seemed to be praying as they walked; others shouted chants as loudly as they could; a few more aggressively pushed their way forward, obviously angry, and maybe even willing to lash out at anyone who dared obstruct them. To many, such an image of diversity is beautiful, and I did glimpse some beauty. But this I know:

Those of us who didn’t vote for Trump are not the only ones who see this image; neither are we the ones who control what others see.

The signs people carried varied widely. Probably, the most striking was a hand-written one obviously made by a child that simply stated, “Boo Trump.” However, the two or three “F… Trump” signs present couldn’t be ignored – and they won’t be, not by any media unit that seeks to show how hateful, ugly and disrespectful Trump protesters are. Given the violent connotations of that word, our claim that our protests are peaceful and non-violent is discredited. Even worse, such a sign gives many people ample reason not only to condemn the march itself, but to hate those comprising it.

We also cannot control the message reporters choose to emphasize. The next day, I cringed as I read a New York Times account. The reporter noted that one of the apparent leaders of the march admitted that many had not even voted. My heart sank because I had to ask the obvious question: Why, then, in having not fulfilled their civic responsibility to act as informed citizens, do they expect to be given their right to protest in whatever way they choose? I could see the many ways conservative media outlets could manipulate that fact. Even more reasons to distrust, even despise, protesters now exist.

Therefore, because I do not want to magnify the media’s ability to promote and increase the hate that now exists, I will not march… yet.

I will march when we act in ways to fulfill the promise of the sign that far outnumbers all others in these protests: Love trumps hate.

And I know its possible to fulfill it. I have seen it happen.

Many, many years ago, when I was no older than 5 or 6, early one evening, my mother, who was watching the nightly news, began calling out, “Bernie, come here! You’ve got to see this!” Of course, I stared at the screen myself. On it, firemen were aiming big hoses at a crowd of black people. Even women were thrown back by the water’s force, and then onto the sidewalk, where they curled up in balls. By the time my dad joined us, my mom was crying out, “That’s not fair! That’s horrible. They only want what we want!” Due to the fact that nothing within those protests could justify at all the violence directed towards the marchers, my parents could see for themselves the brutal and dangerous injustice they faced. And, in that moment, my parents’ hearts were cracked open. Love, indeed, trumped hate. Although they never became activists, I’m pretty sure their voting habits changed. Neither did they raise my brothers or me in a racist, hateful household.

Therefore, rather than rushing to the streets so that we can release all these emotions that now rage within us, let us truly follow the paths of the justice-advocates before us.

Let us become the love that trumps hate.

We must calm our emotions so that we respond to the many threats now arising, rather than reacting immediately, sometimes without wisdom or integrity. We must also put aside our own egos and our insistence that each and every one of us has the right to speak and act as we please. Once we accept the discipline and humility required to be led, both wise elders and young prophets will come forth to train us, to inspire us to endure whatever anger and violence others may cast upon us. And they will unite us in vision, goals and tactics so we may move forward as one body, one mind, one heart.

We will become the love that will trump hate.

As for me, the path ahead emerges – there is a way out of these woods. Fear subsides; hope increases.

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An Unimaginable Ejection

Right around 3:00 a.m. on November 9th, I saw that the unthinkable had happened. Donald J. Trump attained 278 electoral votes and Hillary Clinton conceded the election.

Stunned, overwhelmed, absolutely crushed, I wanted to scream:

How could we have done this? How could we have just elected a man who had spent months promoting racist, sexist, xenophobic notions, almost all built upon lies?

Where am I?  I couldn’t help but wonder.
Surely this couldn’t be the United States I know and love,                                                            not the country so widely revered for its devotion to freedom for all.

Of course, there had been warning signs. I saw them. In his rallies, when Trump mocked a disabled reporter, people laughed; when he encouraged people to rough up protesters, they did; when he called for a return to law and order, they cheered; and when he even admitted to groping women and rarely – if ever – paying taxes, they shrugged. Clearly, the man appealed to people.

Yes, I saw all that, but this too I knew.

We had come so far as a community. Rather than teasing the disabled among us and taunting foreigners, we increased accessibility to both groups, and benefitted greatly from their labor and talents. Instead of bullying each other into submission, we peacefully protest wars and unjust treatment, and celebrate LGBTQ weddings. Realizing that the ruthless crime bills of the past were decimating neighborhood and lives, especially those of color, our community leaders have begun to repeal “stop and frisk” and “three strikes you’re out” policies. And as for greater respect for women – well, his opponent was our greatest symbol of just how far we thought we’d come.

Yes, I knew that debates raged about costs, true patriotism, traditional values, and the safety of our streets. And yet, I honestly believed that once people entered the voting box, and the excitement of being in such raucous crowds had settled, that our respect for human dignity and personal freedom would prevail. But as I stared at the numbers on my cell, I knew that I was wrong. Feeling absolutely defeated, I stumbled back to bed only to toss and turn the night away as one image dominated my thoughts:

Everything I held to be good and true had been completely uprooted.

Grief wrapped itself around me as I mourned the apparent destruction of my deepest values. How I ached for those who would be most affected by the changes of policy that may accompany those taunts and jeers of Trump. Even with my husband next to me, I felt so insecure, so alone, ….. so isolated. It seemed as if I had been kicked out of a beautiful garden and into a cold harsh world I do not know. How I pitied myself, and those I loved, realizing then that I wasn’t the only one so awash with grief, the only one jerked into a new reality. Many of us that night were ejected into unpredictable, unknowable, uncertain territory. Again, I wanted to scream:

How could this have happened? How could you do this to us??

But who were the “you”? Our analysts tell us that it was the white working class – non-college educated men and women – who most supported him. They were the ones who marched into our polling places eager to elect someone who promised to make their America great again. None of the rest of us saw or understood their passion, their determination to uproot the system.

We didn’t see it coming – not at all. But this I’ll admit, I should have.

In having been raised within a working class family by parents who never went to college, I once lived in a home where money was earned through hours clocked, not a salary contracted, a social class which valued strength and common sense, not book-smarts and good manners, a life where everything could be threatened by a lay-off, an accident, or a politician’s refusal to respect laborers. Yes, I remember that experience well. One Saturday morning stands out. For over two hours I sat crying at the kitchen table after having broken both arms. The day before my dad had been laid off, so, without health insurance, they needed the cheapest hospital, a search that took time. That delay cost them. My arms swelled so badly that I was admitted to the hospital where I stayed for three long and expensive days.

In fact, as I was growing up, my parents’ very lives were threatened more than once by low pay, unexpected lay-offs, and heavy tax burdens. Fortunately, given the arc of their lives, when they retired in the early 1990’s, they possessed ample savings, and their combined benefits covered most of their needs. In contrast, a generation or two later, those who would be their peers do not have such resources. Well-paying jobs have been made obsolete by technology; manufacturing plants moved; robots eliminated much of the need for skilled labor. Once respectable service jobs are now viewed with disdain and rarely provide living wages. Routine, even sacred, benefits are inadequate or even nonexistent. In short, women and men who do not attend college – of any ethnicity – no longer have the ability to create and sustain stable and secure lives the way my parents’ generation eventually did.

I must ask myself – if I had never won the scholarship that allowed me to attain a college education – what would I be doing now if that were still my reality? At the very least, shouting, even screaming for attention, for justice. I may even have voted for Trump, the one who says he’ll bring back jobs, hold companies liable, make such a life great again.

That last thought humbles me.

It forces me to realize this: long before this election, other people were ejected from their beloved gardens of security and safety and into a cruel world they did not know, a world which – by all indications – no longer valued their labor, their service, their very lives. That world, however, was actually already populated by many of today’s targets of Trump’s cruel jests, people who had never been able to reap the riches and rewards of our society. Rather than accepting each other as victims of injustice, though, the inhabitants – both new and old – believed those who told each group: “There is your enemy! He is to blame for your suffering!” And so fear, hate and despair flourished. And we are where we are.

In having been ejected from my own small, safe world and into this one:                            what am I going to do?

Am I going to blame others for creating this mess? Reject Mr. Trump as “my” president? Allow self-pity and fear to conquer me as I struggle to stand in this new place?

No, I’m not. It’s time for me to release my place of privilege, to enter more fully into the experience of others, to seek to see and possibly understand the suffering of all people, not just my chosen few. It’s time to plant seeds of beauty, hope and trust out in the open, not just in my own small zone of comfort. It’s time for me to believe that somehow – all shall be well,” a task dependent upon accepting this truth:

we are “many members, yet one body,” and so,                                                                                “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it,” *                                                             regardless of who that person may be.

It’s time for us to work together to unite the many states of mind among us.  Only then  may the collective insight, wisdom and compassion we so desperately need arise. Only then do I believe we can overcome what we’ve done.

*lines from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12.

A Mother’s Joy Denied

IMG_0008The other day while checking what was up on Facebook, I came across this post written by a friend of mine, a young woman of color:

I am seriously starting to wonder if bearing a child in this day and age would actually be a demonstration of selfish behaviour. The mere prospect of the ways in which my partner and I will HAVE to educate our future child (who, but for a random genetic anomaly, will inherit a complexion darker than his or her privileged counterparts) gets progressively more disgusting every. single. day.

In knowing her as a loving, gentle and creative soul, I ached as I pondered the ramifications of her thoughts. Has it really hit the point in our society when a woman and her partner would deny themselves the joy of creating and raising a family? Sadness loomed. And immediately I wanted to respond, to reassure her that she need not fear so much…. to point out that many people throughout history have asked that very same question given the horrific contexts which they faced. I wanted, too, to tell her that parenthood is never without threat, regardless of the key identifiers of a family and its members. Death can come at any age, for many reasons. No parent is free from that threat and the perpetual grief it brings.

But then, before hitting the blue post button on the FB page, I realized what I was doing. In spite of my good intentions, I was failing to address the actual source of her fear. Neither had I admitted this: Even though tragedy may, indeed, strike my family, odds are overwhelmingly against the likelihood of my sons and grandson (and my daughter too) being intentionally targeted due to the most uncontrollable aspect of their physical being – their skin color. Never need they fret being pulled over for a meaningless offense only to be confronted by someone else’s rage. Never need they worry that one word, one look – however unintentional or justified – can and will be used as a reason for arrest. Never need they live in fear that in spite of their own efforts, education, goals and achievements, within seconds, a person of authority may deem them so dangerous, so worthless, that a shot may be fired at them without so much as a single warning. Yes, some of those people who have perpetuated such offenses against sons and daughters of color are now more likely to be prosecuted, but yet, nothing can erase the slur, the humiliation, the death incurred. As I came to see that vast difference of reality we face as mother and potential-mother, my grief deepened, and a question surfaced:

What can I do to change the reality she faces?

Nothing, I grieved, nothing.

In that moment, my own sense of insignificance, of nothingness, grew as I wallowed in that self-pity, for that was what my grief quickly became. Yes, I love that woman, a relatively new friend of mine, dearly. And yes, if I had the power of – let’s say – a politician or a celebrity, or the money of so many of my Manhattan neighbors, I would pour all I could into supporting whatever drive, program or campaign that could somehow address this matter. But who am I, I groveled. Nobody but a 50+ year-old white woman who doesn’t even have a job. Oh how I pitied myself as I wallowed in that sense of nothingness. I even decided that it’d be best to delete that potential post altogether, given that it could be viewed as yet another condescending attempt to brush aside her very real concerns. But then, as I was ready to simply let the matter go, of all things, a bible story came to mind, Mark’s rendition of Jesus feeding the five thousand. In it, when the disciples told him to dismiss the crowds so they could get food, Jesus replied rather bluntly, “You give them something to eat” (Mk 5:37). When they balked, Jesus took over.

I couldn’t help but see myself as one of the disciples, convinced that I have nothing to offer, or at least so little that it would make no difference. And there it was, my excuse. In reality, as a living breathing human being, it is a lie to claim I can do nothing. Rather, the reality is this: I can only do one small thing, not all that is needed, but something. And, in holding that thought just a bit longer, I had to admit an underlying fear. What if when I try to offer my “something,” someone laughs at me, dismissing my efforts, ridiculing my attempt? Worse yet, what if a peer or acquaintance becomes so angry with what I try to offer that they reject not only my “something” but me as well? Wouldn’t it just be better for me to do nothing, to be nobody, than to risk such derision and rejection?

No, my heart insisted, no! In fact, it drew my attention to one other point I was considering for my original post. I wanted to tell her that if, indeed, she and her partner choose to have no children due to the hate and violence projected by others, then, those perpetrators win, having obtained the ultimate expression of oppression – not only the destruction of life, but the obstruction of life at its very beginning. And if that is what “they” are allowed to acquire, then, not only does my friend lose, we all lose. How much joy, how much love, and how many wonderfully unique individuals will creation be denied if she and her partner – and so many others pondering the same reality – decide such a sacrifice is needed?

And that is why I can’t expect her to bear that burden alone. Not only do I want her to experience all the joy and beauty I have as mother, I want our world to be deeply blessed by the gifts her children will bring to us all. And so, somehow, in some way, I will find something I can do to address this situation, even though, right now, after having wrestled with the matter for a few days now, I don’t yet know what it is. And that’s humbling.

But here it is….one more way in which nothingness manifests itself; one more battle that must be fought. How many of us in looking at the many issues of our times – this one of racism included – in being so overwhelmed by their magnitude, decide that there is “nothing” we can do and so, convinced that we’re nobodies, opt out? Too often I’ve done that. It’s time to change. I may not yet know what I can do for my friend, but, I trust, my “something” will make itself known, and, I hope, you, too, begin searching for your “something,” the means through which you offer your self in addressing an issue dear to you.