selfishness

I am a reluctant activist. It isn’t something that has come easily to me. I’ve never marched in protest. I never put antiwar bumper stickers on my car even though I was against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I rarely donate money to organizations doing justice work. I will occasionally sign a petition, but I have to really care about it because I don’t want the constant e-mails asking me for . . . more. I’ve never given much thought to what it means to actually stand with those on the margins. Even though my life has, on occasion, bumped up against those margins.

There are certain issues I care very deeply about. LGBT rights, gun control, women’s rights. These are my priorities because they’ve affected me personally.

With this election, I’m coming face-to-face with my own selfishness and blindness. It gets very  overwhelming very fast. My community has a significant and vibrant Somali community. I know next to nothing about them, except that they experience prejudice daily. Over the past few years, stories of black men and boys and women being shot, beaten, and/or killed have gained prominence in the news. We’re hearing over and over and over again about the inexcusable and unjust treatment of people of color. I’m only now beginning to see that I need to care about this too.

We have people trying to protect their water and sacred ground in North Dakota. The peaceful and unarmed protesters have been met with military tactics that have caused great harm. This has been going on for months, and I’ve mostly ignored the news about it. And there is news about it, contrary to the notion that it’s not being reported. It’s a matter of me not looking hard enough to find it. But now? I need to be looking because this matters greatly.

Catholics have a great vein of social involvement called Catholic Social Teaching. It’s something I’ve been aware of for many years, but I’ve never delved into it. I, like many Catholics, have treated it as a fringe concept, something to take or leave. But it’s not that simple. If we truly want to live the call of Jesus, if we are truly transformed by our experience of Eucharist, we are called not merely to bump against the margins but to step over them and be with.

On the Friday after the election, I added a safety pin to the necklace I wear every day. The use of safety pins to signify “safe people” started after the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and since the election here, people have been wearing them to show their solidarity with marginalized people. I want to be a safe person for those around me—people I know and people I don’t know. The safety pins have drummed up a bit of controversy, of course. Those who wear them have been accused of “slactivism” and of wearing them only to make themselves feel better. I suppose I’m guilty of that myself. But I wear it for a different reason: to remind myself that I can’t afford the selfishness I’ve allowed myself for years. This election has shaken me significantly. The safety pin is a sign to others that I am safe, yes. But it is also a sign to myself that I cannot sit idly by while others suffer and feel unsafe.

As I grapple with what to do in the wake of this election, I wear the safety pin so I don’t forget that I’m being called to something here, not simply to have an opinion and share it with a few chosen friends. I am being called to action, even though I’m not quite sure what that action is yet. It will become clear, but for now, I’ll keep wearing my necklace.

mirrors, part 1

This is hard. I keep thinking it’s going to get easier. Or that we’ll wake up in a different world with a different result. The utter desperation has subsided; I’m not panicking. But I’m also not settled or comfortable.

And why should I be? Why should I have been? Injustice is not new. The long list of -isms that Mr. Trump and some of his followers embody is not new. People have lived in fear every single day of their lives for a long time.

What’s new is that I recognize my role in this situation.

It is very tempting to cast blame after this election. And, to be honest, there’s plenty to go around. Pick your favorite scapegoat. I’ve certainly thought of a few myself.

But I can’t lay blame at the feet of others without looking in the mirror first. I am also at fault here. There are conversations I didn’t have simply because I was afraid of hurting feelings. I avoided, for the most part, trying to change hearts and minds in any real, meaningful way. Posting an article on Facebook might be cathartic, and it will certainly show the political/theological divide among friends, but what does it accomplish? This doesn’t mean I’ll stop using Facebook as a means for sharing or gaining information, but perhaps we’re being called to the difficult conversations. With real, live people. In person or on the phone.

I still don’t want to have these conversations, though. But who benefits from that? No one. Maybe I need to let people in to my frustration and anger. Maybe I need to articulate that a vote for Trump feels like a betrayal. Could I listen with charity? Not yet, but I need to get to a place where I can.

And maybe this is part of our learning process. How often do I actually talk with people? I talk to them; I try my darndest not to talk at them. Have we lost the art of discourse? Am I able to hear where people are and meet them there? Do I share honestly or do I merely skim the surface?

It’s hard to look in the mirror when there is so much to fault others for. Mr. Trump has not done himself any favors, and he continues to dig himself deeper into the hole as far as I’m concerned. I do not support him; I do not think he’s a stable or qualified leader. I have thought that since day 1 of his candidacy. Unless he changes radically and quickly, I’m likely to think this for the next four years.

But I can’t do anything about his leadership or personality or lack of integrity. What I can do is talk to the people around me. These are not easy days, and the days ahead won’t be easy either. The conversations will probably be rough, but maybe they’ll smooth the way for better understanding, more compassion, and a bigger heart.* For everyone involved. Maybe.

 

*This isn’t to say that we don’t call out injustice and discrimination when we see it. That’s absolutely part of the conversation. I really want to yell NOOOOO at the top of my lungs and leave it at that. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to respond well to that, so I guess I have to find another way to converse.

language

Ever grieved? It’s horrible. Dark. Scary. Anxiety-ridden. Often lonely. I have grieved several times. It has defined me. At different moments in my life, I’ve embraced this definition of loss; at other moments, I fight it kicking and screaming, or, more honestly, shaking and terrified.

On Tuesday night, as the election results came in, I felt heaviness descend. As it happened, I said hello to Grief. She’s an old friend who’s been with me most of my thirty-two years. I felt her settle in on the couch beside me, heavy with silence. I’m not sure if my husband and our other friend who was with us that night noticed her walk in. But they noticed something, because they were also heavy. Grief is a blanket that surrounds and oppresses rather than comforts, most of the time. I say that because, in addition to her suffocation, there are times when she opens her arms to hold me, stroke my hair, dry my tears. She’s that person who knows me best, in darkness, and stands off to the side sometimes, in light.

I woke up on Wednesday in fog. I did not want to move. I felt as though I’d been through a night-long panic attack. The only thing that got me out of bed was knowing that my coworkers were going to be as upset as I, and being alone while my husband had to work wouldn’t have been the healthiest option.

I moved forward. On Sunday night a friend invited me to join a secret group of Hillary supporters on Facebook. The enthusiasm there was astounding. I loved seeing it on election day. I’ve loved it even more since then. I have friends who are posting about being told to “move on” since Hillary lost. I’ve had friends tell me they should be moving on but don’t feel like they can. It’s over, nothing we can do, get over it. Fortunately, no one has told me to do this yet.

Pretty immediately on Wednesday, I started thinking about moving forward. I didn’t have the energy for it, but I knew it would come. There’s a big difference between moving on and moving forward. Anyone who has grieved has probably encountered a well-meaning friend who has told them the time has come to move on. Let me tell you, that time never comes. We don’t move on from loss. To me, that implies forgetting, letting go, dismissing. Grief is a gathering. You shed what is unessential and unhelpful, and you gather to yourself what is life-giving and good. You hunker down into the darkness and pull that blanket Grief puts over you a little tighter. You pull in, rearrange, resettle. Priorities become a bit clearer and, often, you become more articulate. Energy is conserved for what matters.

You don’t move on after an experience like that.

Instead, you move forward. To me, that implies picking up the pieces you’ve gathered, putting them in order, grabbing that blanket Grief has bestowed on you (because, Lord knows, you’ll have to use it again), and putting one foot in front of the other. We learn things in grieving, and moving on doesn’t acknowledge that process. Moving forward does. It also implies momentum—sometimes slow, but it’s there nonetheless. You move forward because you are impelled to do so, not forced.

I’m witnessing a groundswell of forward motion, and I feel myself being a part of that. It is empowering, and it has helped me pick up that blanket and those pieces and get to work figuring out how to be better. So if you’re struggling with moving on, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to and, forgive the preachiness, but you shouldn’t move on either. You just have to move forward when you’re ready. Take it from one who knows: the time will come when forward will be the only option.

keeping in mind

We made it to Friday. Part of me wasn’t quite sure we would. This has been a week of much reflection and soul-searching. At some point in that process, despite the fact that it all seems overwhelming, it occurred to me that I did something incredible this week: I cast my ballot for the first female presidential candidate of a major party. I filled in that little circle by her name, stared at it for a few minutes, grinned with pride and joy, and reveled in doing something historic.

It didn’t end up the way I wanted. Sometimes it feels like we’re taking baby steps. And, really, we are. It’s 2016, for crying out loud. We had the most qualified person—perhaps ever—running for president. And she lost to a teenager (toddler?) in a man’s body. It’s beyond ridiculous.

Thinking about that creates a higher heart rate and tense shoulders. And I’ll think about it a lot in the future.

But tonight, I just want to offer this reminder. We did something incredible this week: We voted for a woman president, and that deserves some celebration and acknowledgment.

ah, this week

My emotions this week have been all over the place. Tuesday was a day of excitement and joy. I was bouncy and delighted. I was hopeful.

Yesterday was grief. I moved slowly. I needed gentleness and kindness. Fortunately, I got it. And I tried to give it.

Today I woke up a warrior. I woke up angry yet strong. I could feel myself expand. My breathing has been deeper, my spine straighter. I am not who I was on Monday.

I have wrestled with blogging for a long time. Over the past few years, I’ve been writing for myself a few mornings a week. It is sacred time. Every so often, I’ve toyed with how to get my words out there. Or if they even belong out there. Or if I have the energy to put them out there.

The fact that we did not elect Hillary Clinton as our next president has simultaneously devastated and motivated me. What have we done? How do we heal this? So much anger, bitterness, fear, and anxiety has been unleashed. It has washed over us all, and in some, it has taken root. Yesterday, in the midst of my utter despair, I realized that I could not be the ground in which that fear takes root. It would be so easy. But I would be diminished. I refuse that.

So I am here, claiming the adjectives “bold” and “nasty.” I hesitate to do so on some levels. I mean, who wants to be “nasty”? The connotations aren’t the best. I read an article yesterday about the Somali American woman who was elected in Minnesota. In the article, she was quoted as saying that she knew she needed to be bold in order for her ideas to be heard; “bold” does not tend to be a welcome trait in women. She did it anyway. Secretary Clinton was called “nasty” by an adult male who was running against her for office. It’s a word that has been used countless times to characterize (demonize?) women simply because they speak out in confidence.

Today it struck me how very complacent I have become. And this week, as I’ve wondered what in the hell I could have done to make the outcome of this election different, I realized how silent I’ve been. Here or there, I’ll say what I think about given political issues. And I definitely have my opinions. But I try not to step on toes with those opinions (well, most of the time) unless I know I’m in safe space with like-minded people. Complacent, and maybe a bit sheltered. It’s easy to grow complacent when you’re not challenged or challenging.

That ends now. The outcome of this election is deeply unsettling to me for a number of reasons that I’ll dive into later. For now, suffice it to say that being here is a way to ponder, process, expand, and awaken. I’m done being silent or timid as a sign of “respect.” It’s not respectful; it’s cowardly. And I’ve had enough of that.