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.
“If you really could take away the suffering of all the people in the world, taking all of it into you with a single breath, would you hesitate?”
Is that fair? Couldn’t you just donate a few dollars to CARE and have that be enough? Could whatever you are doing now count?
In speaking with clients I get that many of us are overwhelmed and generally feel disenfranchised from feeling helpful when we see something happening in the world we really care about.
So, when someone asks for help, then what? Do we give? Do we feel vulnerable? Maybe they will keep asking and asking. Maybe it will all get out of control. Maybe. Maybe.
Yesterday I was at an outdoor festival sitting with friends. A man my friends knew came up to us – he was going up to everyone – and gave us a slip of paper he’d printed to get help transporting people out West to help with a demonstration/confrontation on Native American land. We gave and it gave us a chance to do something helpful for a situation in which we all felt invested.
I felt elated. How often do I get to do something to help a cause I care deeply about. I’m guessing that’s the popularity of the “crowd funded” participation. It’s effective and we can all lend a hand.
Lending a hand is, I think, our basic nature. It is a source of power for us to see our effectiveness or lack of it.
This sounds decidedly like a transaction. If I feel good, I will be good. If I feel in control, I will be nice to you. If I feel out of control, I won’t.
Sound familiar? Kind of homey, isn’t it? Remember when mom or dad had a bad day and came home to kick the dog – or you? Or had to be alone or had to have a drink or had to do something because.
Small moments of altruism can have a big effect on both giver and givee. I certainly feel better today for my participation, however small, in a larger effort. I love giving small amounts of time and money to join a group of like-minded people.
How are you relating to your altruistic self? Have you updated your version of you? Are you willing to take a breath?