In my small bucolic New England town sitting at the foot of rounded tree-filled mounds of earth we call mountains, I am nestled in the valley of the Housatonic with my fellows. Humans are not necessarily the majority of inhabitants here, although they claim to be in charge.
Some of us have been here a long time and some of us have been here longer. Personally I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. My own history in this place where I live now is very brief – I just moved in a year ago. Before that I was somewhere else I hadn’t lived long in and before that the same. I have always been welcomed as a native although that is hardly the case. Before my ancestors came here, they were some place else. Who can say otherwise?
It happens that here, where I live now, there are many we call Hispanic, they have been here far longer than I. They might have moved here, as I did, recently or years ago but they are only called Hispanic because the country I call mine invaded their country and won.
For some reason, perhaps because of the might of Teddy Rooseveldt and others, I do not call myself English-German-Dutch-French-Irish American, nor do I have to fill out forms or be counted as anything much. Demographics in this country have largely confined themselves to my gender and my politics, neither of which I have to explore to any degree.
I once did live in a place – Concord, MA, with three small, quiet rivers surrounding and running through my environs. It was only when they flooded and I had to drive thirty or forty minutes to get to a destination five minutes away that I noticed their existence. Time is relative until it isn’t and now the people I work with who far outdate my contribution to this area are being threatened. If not they themselves, their relatives, friends – you know what I mean.
Living here has become very stressful, we are being raided and rounded up. I used to ask my mother, “What did you think when you heard about the pogroms? About the raids? About the trains? What did you do? How did you act? What did it feel like?”
Her reply, like many of her answers to other questions, was more than disappointing. She didn’t know – about anything. She didn’t know what to do and she didn’t ask. In fact in her life she didn’t feel safe emotionally, I know that colored her heart. And she felt she had made her mark, made her life, even though she felt vulnerable in it as a woman. In truth if she had set herself free with her opinions and desires, she would have been shunned, pushed aside. She was pushed aside anyway and she didn’t invite more. It also wasn’t happening “here.”
Now it is. When Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) is pushed out of a meeting of his peers in the House of Representatives, we are in trouble. When my friends are rounded up all over the country –including the ones I know along this corridor between CT and NY – I am afraid.
Now is the time. This is on us.
People talk of Hitler and his ilk. They only mean they ones we know – Papa Doc, Idi Amin, Pol Pot – to touch the surface. But these days, this month, has caused me to think there are many Hitlers. We are surrounded. I asked a friend who lives in VT and has gone to Canada for decades – weekends visiting friends. She says that after this election when she comes back, they hassel her, take her phone, keep her and her husband pulled over. I asked after the tone of her interaction, what was on the minds of these agents who had been quiescent for decades. How could one person’s voice give them this power, this drive? Did she think they had been waiting for the chance? She thought it was that they could. Now, it was supported, they could be kings, they had a mission. That simple.
In such a simple world, I find simplicity too.
This is the day the electors meet – in their separate states. I confess I didn’t know much about them until recently. I’m not sure what the larger reason there is to be an elector, what role they play in their respective parties, how they are chosen. I never studied it but the news I am surprised to find is that the electors take the heart of the election in their hands far more than I do when I vote. It is clear how much districting counts and how much Democrats lost in the last shuffle – I wasn’t awake – guess I had company.
And they have far more power than they use – or perhaps care to use. They must get something else with the role – I have not been able yet to ascertain what that might be.
This is the day they will send their posts to Washington. By horse or train, coach or truck, perchance to fly: the packages arrive in Washington, in the District of Columbia – another civics lesson unclear, to be opened on January 6th. – is this date the house and senate meet on due to travel time, Three Kings Day? Ponies from the states to D.C. marching with their orders?
Governance is not clear; neither is it necessarily sane or supported by reason. I found this out during my own parenting – and that of my parents’. Quite often thoughts seem to come from above us, or from our wisest place (wherever that is) but knowing anything for sure is a smokescreen as thick as anything growing over the densest of manufacturing cities. With great faith we kneel to a higher being forgetting that the thoughts that we will turn to action are ours and their seeming justice is but a thin slivered veneer of our own upbringing.
There is no person-made system to fix every system every time, forever. Much as we might try to insure stability through rules and habits, things change and we change, not always in sync with our times. Change comes when it comes, ask the glacier and the sun.
There is a saying about the tough getting going as the going gets tough. I would like to posit that the tough who resist change – in this case the browning of the world and the rise of differing states of being, are deepening their foxhole while the floodwaters rise.
There is no substitute for adaptation to what is. Our lives are directed by our thoughts and when wishful thinking is not recognized for what it is, suffering follows. My liberal heart knows this well, and in the suffering of my moment, in the pulse of my ideals there is a thread, a path to higher ideals and intentions that I will do my best to voice and walk.
Whoever you are, wherever you go, I will turn to look for you, no matter what. And in my mind and heart – my human, flawed, beautiful and political heart – I will remember the trend of this country’s young voters; pale blue, it was sparsely, selectively progressive and a beautiful shade of Robin’s egg blue.
So much news – fake and true – is swirling about. So much to respond to, react, beware, act on. So many petitions to sign, money sought and I want to give. I want to give my heart and mind to the mysteries of this immediate life. I don’t know what will happen next. Some, more prescient than I, have noted the coming of these times and predicted them. I didn’t notice. Where was I? I was basking in my liberal world, so many gains I thought unassailable. I didn’t see it coming. My eyes were filled with tears of joy for me, for my “other identified” friends and loved ones. Where was I? I was in Washington D.C. which finally felt safe. I was in the corners of this Rebublic where I finally felt safe.
Will I be able to sift through all this information? Will I be able to know what is true from what isn’t?
Luckily for me I subscribe to a Buddhist newsletter – unluckily for me, even after way over three decades of adherence to this philosophy, I find it nearly impossible to implement – easily.
OK, so nothing’s easy. I get that. I really get that now! Here, for instance, is advice under the heading, “There Is No Blame.”
OK, right there I’m behind, not up to speed on this one. All I’ve been looking for is who and what to blame! “There are no human enemies,” says Sylvia Boorstein, “only confused people needing help.”
I couldn’t agree more – about the needing help bit. And the confused, ignorant people. Exactly how I see it, yes.
I listened to Van Jones express his fear of the people who voted for the president-elect. He said he was afraid of his supporters, not those who voted for him – he might agree with me that they are the confused needing help. No, he said, it is the people who support him in his daily tweets/life, the ones who give him policy ideas and recommendations for cabinet members.
It’s hard to think about the powerful having more power and easy for me to fall into the well of complicity in thinking I have no power to help the earth hold us all better. I have as much power as I ever did, it is there for me to take when I get through my distractions.
Blame, anger and despair are my chief distractions now and I look at them as resistance to action, excuses, if you will. The seduction of finding and assigning fault feeds the Ouroboros of my anger. Taking Sylvia’s lead – reading her article to the end – I leave you with a quote.
—“the familiar image of an infant left in a basket on a doorstep with a note pinned to its blanket: “Please take care of me.” The natural impulse, for all of us, would be to pick the baby up, to care for it. I try to think about the world as an abandoned baby, left in dire straits by parents who could not care for it well. Could we be the benevolent agents who pick it up and, without blaming, take care of it?”
In my role as a communicator – all creatures, animals, your forebears, mine – I sometimes receive a letter. Since most are not handwritten – or written at all – I don’t have much trouble with interpretation. This most recent missive is from a dog.
By the way, I was going to write about the world situation, politics, ethics, (now, there’s a word that hasn’t risen its head for quite some time!) the beauty surrounding us this autumn, but I kept making draft after draft, never getting it quite right. And then, when I was looking up, I got this letter. I’m not sure whose dog it might be. I’m doing some research on that. In the meantime, see if it strikes a chord.
Dear my Now person with whom I live and to whom it might concern,
Why did you bring me here and what do you want?
Who are you? Perhaps I should have asked that first. Perhaps I should have had you fill out a form but I don’t know how to make one. If I were you that’s what I would do, I would make you fill out a form and then I would teach you how to sit up straight and beg and roll over. I wouldn’t show you off to anyone, that’s too embarrassing for anyone, even a human being. But first I would have you fill out a form. Now, back to you, why did you bring me here? Why weren’t you better prepared? Didn’t anyone tell you what it was like to be with a dog? I know you would use the expression “have a dog” but I don’t like being had. I like being with. I don’t know what you like. I don’t think it’s being with because you leave me all day and ignore me all night so, back to my question. Why? Why am I here? Why did you put me on a plane and drive forever to get me and drive forever to put me in this place you call home. I don’t know what home is. I never had one before. I always heard they were what every dog wanted. A home was what we dreamed of back in the kennel. We never thought of it in the wild, on the streets of the wild. We only were told about its existence when we were taken to the kennel. We thought it would be better than the kennel, we didn’t like the kennel much because it smells bad and the light is harsh. But we didn’t have to fight, that’s a relief, and we got food. When I think about it now, from this place you call home, that I have to call home – whatever that is – the kennel had some nice parts. People for one. People who were cheerful and I could tell they were doing their best, whatever that is. But I learned from those who were doing it that “best” means a smile even though it switches to a worry face as they go by. When they see me they smile and sometimes I smile back. I’m big on sharing, it’s something we did in the Pack. Being here, I’ve learned to appreciate that. Even though it’s not so smelly here and the light is better. I miss the smiles in the kennel. I don’t even know where the kennel is or whether I’ll ever see it. I don’t know whether I’ll ever see the happy face on the counter or the bowl of what I learned to call treats by the desk where people talked on the phone. I found out the phone is very handy. You can do all kinds of things with it and if you use it enough all sorts of things happen. Is that how I got here? Back to why am I here? Was it the phone? Back to my question. What do you want? Why did you come to get me? Why did you make such a big deal, drive hours and hours with that determined look on your face. I assume you looked like that before I was in the car. You certainly look like that now! Maybe I caused it all. That’s a terrible thought. This is truly a bad situation. What am I doing here? Why do you want me to be here? What do you want me to do? What do you want to do? How are we going to manage this? Didn’t they train you before you came to get me? Didn’t anyone tell you anything about what it would be like. They treat you like a saint, but you’re not. I won’t say I like the smell of the street wild or the lights and I won’t say it wasn’t confusing, but I learned things there. I learned where to go and who to trust – well, for the most part. I don’t know who to trust here and there is no place to go, no place to learn the ropes and no one to learn them from. Let me repeat, “Why am I here? What shall I do? Where is there for me to go? I saw you writing on a form they gave you to fill out at the kennel, what did you say? What do you know? How does it relate to me? What do you want? Why am I here? Why did you bring me here, all those miles, in that traffic, how did you decide to do it? Why did you decide to do it? What did you decide to do and what can we do about it?
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not change the world of the black men and women – the grandparents of the men dying today and yesterday and the day before – who were alive in that year. But it did put the possibility of equal rights in our minds if not our hearts.
In 1963 I was traveling with my husband and four month old baby daughter across a vicious ice storm in the Oklahoma panhandle. We were freezing cold in the night of slanting sheets of ice, our VW Bus only heated with acceleration and we were hardly making any headway to bring on the heat.
Kennedy had just been assassinated and nothing felt sure or clear in our young lives. We were heading to Monterrey California to the Army Language School where my husband would learn French and probably be sent to Vietnam. (He ended up not going to Viet Nam – in its wisdom the army sent him to Germany because he already spoke German fluently.)
We saw in the storm ahead a glowing motel sign, it was late, our daughter was crying, we were bone tired after driving since four that morning. We walked into the office, there was a black couple ahead of us. The man behind the counter told them there were no more rooms. I pulled my husband’s sleeve. “Let’s go,” I said. He said, “wait,” without looking at me. I hesitated and stayed behind while he went to the counter. The man smiled, “last room, sir,” he said.
I wish I could say that I got the other couple and we shared the room but they were gone and I was shocked into numbness. In that moment I didn’t understand. I looked at my husband and was about to say something like, “but I thought they had no room.” Maybe I did, I don’t know. I only know my own confusion, my distaste for the experience and my wish for change.
There are thousands like me, who want change and who have ideals about how “things could be better.” But the walls I ran into, run into are like the ones from my childhood where I had to sit through movies like The Robe and others of that genre, scared, in a seat alone because the people who brought me could not sit with me. They were taking me on their days off because my parents were neglectful but they could not take care of me by sharing my space – or me sharing theirs. It would take me years to figure that out by myself, nothing was ever said and now I know they could have gotten arrested if someone had noticed. I’m glad children were not “seen or heard” while I was growing up.
This has not gone away.
Yes, there is progress, but the opportunities of the races are not the same, not even close. You know it and I know it. The difference between 1963 with no Civil Rights Act and after its signature in 1964 and years following, was none. Twenty years, thirty, forty – the motel manager – depending on where it was located – probably wouldn’t have gotten away with what he did. But I am very cynical about what people can get away with. The disadvantaged are targeted at the same rate they were when I was growing up, the banks, the realtors, the school districts are little different. How could we have so much “no change” if things were actually enforced? Why would we still need busing if we have equalized our neighborhoods? We haven’t equalized anything. We are awash with bullets now, then we had ropes and we still have the attitudes of the men, and the women behind them, in white sheets holding their ideas, their customs, their entitlements as shield and sword for their intolerant righteousness.
We need better. Too long have we looked upon most of what we see around us as “other.” Whether an animal or a tree or the earth itself, we think, doesn’t have sensations, feelings, intelligence.
Do yourself a favor, don’t name. It’s the first step in separation. We know enough now to have discovered that there exists communication – communion – all around us. Look for communion. Take it when you feel it. Let your nascent or sophisticated vision of your universe expand. Expand with it.
John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he[sic] finds it attached to the rest of the world.” And don’t be looking to be right or smart, Muir walked through miles and acres of American Native cultivation thinking it was “wild” land. It was, we all have different ways to cultivate. Get to know yours.
“Work on the creator of duality rather than the creation,” goes the opening line to a meditation session. This is the “practice.” This is about you. This is about me. This is how we live our lives, with integrity – and I notice as I write, the “grit” in integrity – or with excuses. There is a video circulating of Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, asking questions of John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo Bank who was in office during that company’s scam on its clients.
Her inquiry is unusual in its demands that Mr. Stumpf own up to what happened under his leadership and make restitution. This is not what we have become used to. We are inured to details of horror and no body in charge taking that responsibility.
As usual, the minor employees are being blamed and losing jobs while the policymakers enjoy their unconscionably bloated salaries and bonuses. This is the creator getting off. Perhaps the bank is one of those labeled “too big to fail.”
I’m still figuring out what that means. But I know what not taking responsibility looks like. It looks like any parent not investigating what their child is doing or where they might be going because we don’t have time. It looks like anyone who is “above” the law. The visions of horror we see over and over of treatment by “public defenders” against citizens of this country who do not fit the criterion for equal justice is an abomination. There is no justification for our national racial conduct.
Our minds are the cause of confusion. That we insist on believing what we think and missing the point of how we got to that thought has become a national disgrace.
We hold onto our reactions without restraint. Never questioning what responsibility we have in whatever we see is wrong. From racial profiling to who is trustworthy and who is lying, we loose sight of truth in our avoidance of our own responsibility.
We can laugh at the Trump supporter whose ignorance is being exploited by a reporter asking him to explain why Obama did nothing about 911 – or any factoid manufactured for the occasion. But we don’t hold ourselves accountable – or the reporter – for telling the truth and asking questions that might inspire thought. It wouldn’t sell “likes,” or whatever the going coin is.
We don’t demand of ourself our own “truth in advertising.” Well, we can say, “advertising’s been corrupt for years.” It’s not that it’s not true, it’s that we are unlikely to believe anything and we don’t expect truth. Of ourselves even, which leads me to the “creator.”
We are the creator. No matter what you believe about how we got here, we are here, and we won’t do a good job of it until we take responsibility for ourselves and our lives. Until we stand up for what we believe – which takes knowing what we believe, which takes knowing ourselves – we are the problem. We are the projector and director. By not choosing our best selves, our greatest truth, our good hearts and holding the line there, we are the problem. When will you be ready to see what will benefit the most people, when will you act on that while you let go of your fears, your prejudice, your racism, your elitism, your advantages, your favorites, your indifference. When will you let your good heart have its path to your brain? There are more pathways from the heart to the brain than the other way around. Use them!