week 1 reflections

Well, the first week is over. And, from a political standpoint, it was pretty horrible. The flurry of executive orders, the petty arguments about crowd size, the injustices unleashed and given license. This is not good.

The opportunities for outrage are constant. This week I read an article about self-care in the midst of this environment. There are some great tips there. One of the best echoed something I’ve been contemplating ever since November 8: my energy can’t go everywhere all the time; find what matters most to me and dig deep. Others will be doing the same and much ground will be covered. I am still discerning what these issues will be for me.

And here’s where I keep returning: I’m Irish, at least in part. My mother’s family comes from Ireland and Austria. I don’t know how hard it was for our Irish ancestors, but I know that there was a time in our country’s history when there were signs posted that said, “No Irish Need Apply.” We were the unwanted. There are people facing that same sign today with a different nationality or race listed. They are now my neighbors, and what am I doing to let them know that they are welcome? 

***

My heart keeps breaking. On Wednesday, the executive order for the border wall was signed by Trump. I know there are many things that still need to happen before a wall goes up; I know that there are hoops to be jumped through. I know that people have a close eye on everything Trump is doing, lawsuits are being filed, and he’s not going to get away with much of this crap. As a whole, we are stronger, smarter, and more fierce than he is.

But symbols and symbolic actions matter. We break bread, and Jesus is in our midst. We wave a flag and pledge our allegiance. Someone signs a piece of paper saying members of certain religions and countries are not allowed, and they become the enemy. This is not okay.

So what symbols of resistance am I using? The safety pin is still on my necklace. And this week, my snarkiness came out full force: I painted my middle fingernail gold. A little “Eff you, Trump.” It is, perhaps, an immature and disrespectful protest, but damn if it doesn’t make me smile every time I see it. In addition to being stronger, smarter, and more fierce than Trump, I’m pretty sure we also have a much better sense of humor.

***

And that leads me to what’s been getting me through. Where is the good? Even though there is so much to be angered by, so much to be overwhelmed by, it’s important to find the graced moments and give thanks for them. Last weekend I went to two We Banjo 3 concerts. (Check them out. Do it. Your life will be better as a result.) The first concert was on Friday night, the day of the inauguration. I went with a friend who had never seen them before. It was one of the best music experiences I’ve ever had. Their songs lifted us out of the fear and anxiety of the day. They sang about love, and they played with passion. They did what they do and invited those of us in attendance to enjoy the party. It gave me so much hope.

The next day, the day of the Women’s March, I watched my Facebook feed as women and men all over the world marched in solidarity for equality and love. All. Over. The. World. Not just DC or the States. The world. I have more thoughts on this, but I need to gather them. For now, suffice it to say that seeing all of these people gather peacefully and hopefully brightened my outlook considerably.

One more thing that’s getting me through: doing the same ol’ stuff. Baking, writing, quilting, loving Patrick, snuggling our pets, reading good books, calling Mom, spending time connecting with friends, laughing with coworkers. Maybe, even though it isn’t flat-out or big resistance, continuing to be who we are is the best way to say, “You can’t take this from us.”

 

here we go

When I was in seventh or eighth grade, our social studies teacher told us that we were living in a pretty boring time in history. I guess she was right. It was 1997 or 1998. Bill Clinton was in office. The budget was balanced, there were no major wars taking place, and things in general were pretty stable. Sure, the nineties had their problems and conflicts. But women weren’t having to fight for the right to vote. Blacks and whites didn’t have to sit at different counters. We didn’t have to practice air raid drills, and there wasn’t a war in Vietnam to either fight in or protest. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t chaos.

As the years have passed, and as things have happened through those years, I’ve often thought of my teacher’s words. We are no longer living in a boring time.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’d prefer boring. This isn’t to say I’m happy about or accepting where we are today. Rather, and perhaps this is merely a function of looking at the world as an adult instead of as a child, the problems that are bursting through the surface now were simmering under it in the nineties. I clearly recall the LA riots that happened after Rodney King was beaten. Twenty-five years later and African Americans are still trying to get us to pay attention to the fact that they are beaten and killed—which has been happening for centuries. In 1992, Melissa Etheridge told the world that she’s a lesbian; Ellen kissed a woman on television in 1997. But Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell became policy in 1994, gay and lesbian parents were rarely granted custody of their children in the case of divorce, and Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998. And still, hate crimes against LGBT people continue; misunderstanding and ignorance abound.

After the election, I was visiting with a friend of mine who lives in the South. We were discussing our devastation following the election. “I feel like we were lied to,” she said. “When we were growing up, we were told that racism was dead. We’d gotten past it. But we haven’t at all.” I completely got what she was saying. You could tell us that if we’d taken half a second to look around, we’d have realized that racism was alive and well. True. But the nation’s collective story has been, for so long, that the institutionalization of racism is over. Bathrooms and drinking fountains aren’t segregated! Neither are schools! Blacks and whites can eat together and even get married! We’re so freakin’ advanced!

For better or for worse, the election of Donald Trump as president has brought forward the lies we’ve told ourselves. It’s pushed us into a fascinating, scary, challenging time. I don’t want this to be our story. But it is. As a liberal, liberated woman, I thought the phobias and -isms happened in pockets, that we just had to keep our eye on them and do what we could to quash them quietly. Oh, how cute I was before November 8, 2016.

As I write this, the inauguration has happened. I haven’t watched any of it. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t even try. So far, the world hasn’t ended, though it feels untethered. I feel untethered. Not that I’m flailing, but it’s like our nation’s security blanket has been ripped away. Yes, that’s a little dramatic. President Obama wasn’t God, but I certainly felt like he knew what he was doing and would keep us safe. Or would try to. And would care while he did it. I don’t think that’s at all true about our new president.

So here we go. A time that will not be at all boring. A time that demands we show up and speak out. A time that requires hard work and much prayer. We can do this.

this feeling

My dad died when I was five. He had colon cancer. The time between his diagnosis and death was very quick: three weeks. I remember snippets of that time, a slideshow of chaos and confusion and grieving. I don’t remember how my mom kept us going, moved us forward, moved herself forward. Somehow, though, we kept making it.

One of the things I’ve always admired and appreciated about my mother is her ability to honor moments. It’s a very liturgical approach to life: noting the sacred in the little moments and the big, acknowledging that it is important to pause an experience. She brings reverence to anniversaries that is reminiscent of solemnities and feasts of the liturgical year.

And so, as I was growing up, we honored the Big Days with dad. We went to the cemetery every year for his birthday, Christmas, and death anniversary. We’d pour coffee or Coke on his grave, sing an appropriate song, steal a flower from another grave for him occasionally, and leave a kiss on his headstone. It was holy time together. She still goes, and when I’m in town, I like to go. It is a time to pause and remember.

For many years, I struggled with my dad’s death anniversary. Even now, almost twenty-eight years later, it’s a day I’d like to skip. There is a tension in the days leading up to his anniversary. A heaviness descends. Some years are pretty simple; other years knock me flat. I think there’s been only one year without tears. Now that I don’t live in Kansas City, I’ve created my own rituals for dad’s anniversary. I honor that which is most difficult.

I mention this because I’ve felt a descending heaviness leading up to Friday’s inauguration. I feel the need to prepare. It is strikingly similar to how I feel about dad’s anniversary. I know this feeling, and, therefore, I’ve known for a while that I need to make this a day of, oddly enough, reverence. A part of me wonders if I’m letting the inauguration, and a Trump presidency, take up too much space in my head and heart. But I don’t think so. This is big. It is looming. It is awful.

That doesn’t mean I let it be only that. My dad’s death was big and awful. And I wish he were still here. But much grace came to my life through his death. One wonders, then, where is the grace in this chaos? I don’t know yet. But on Friday, I’m going to create space for grace to enter: baking a cake to share with coworkers, finding a way to pray with our Muslim neighbors in the coming months and years, wearing a shirt that boldly proclaims that I am a feminist, attending a concert by Celtic musicians with a friend, sharing a cup of coffee with my husband before we rush off to work for the day. Moments of ritual that can ease the burden of challenge.

I’m curious. What, if anything, are you planning to do?

on vulnerability

I have anxiety. At various points in the past six years, I’ve taken medication to help manage this anxiety. I go to therapy when necessary. I try to make sure I’m not overly sedentary—though being active is not a strong suit of mine. I write and read, talk to my support people, get decent sleep, and eat (mostly) healthy food. I do not hide my struggle with anxiety, but I also try not to make a big deal about it. It is a part of me, but there’s a lot more to me.

After several years of being off medication, I went back on it in August. A combination of factors pushed me to needing this again: the gun violence in Orlando and some in the Cities; work stress; family stress; the election. I was having panic attacks in the middle of the night and occasionally at work. If I was stopped at a stoplight, I got nervous if there were too many cars around me. I was afraid of being trapped. Crowds, which have never really scared me before, started to terrify me. I was always looking for ways out of situations. Escape routes became crucial.

At some point during the campaign, it occurred to me that our nation is experiencing a collective panic attack. We are afraid. What we are afraid of differs. For some of us, it’s The Other. For others, it’s financial ruin/collapse. For still others, it’s the destruction of the environment. Globalization. Violence. Technological insecurity. Religious persecution. War.

I think some of these fears are completely valid; others make no sense to me. But to someone else, those fears make total sense.

I do not operate well when I’m afraid. None of us do. Fear is an important instinct when we are threatened, but once we start treating everything as a threat, we have a problem. This is, perhaps, where we are these days.

The week before Christmas I saw a billboard for a local store. A woman was holding a taser in a defensive position. The sign said, “Give the gift of security this Christmas.” My jaw dropped, and then I started laughing. Because, really!?! Christmas has nothing to do with security. It has everything to do with vulnerability. Which is what makes it so revolutionary, so incredible. We have just celebrated a feast of extreme vulnerability: a pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth and her husband searching for a place to stay in a dusty, unknown town; an inn’s stable, full of animals and dirt, the only place available; a birthing that was human and divine; a baby born to save the world. A baby. Naked. With no weapons or supplies or skills. A baby who cried and suckled, eventually crawled and stumbled. A baby whose story involves the cross but does not stop there.

And yet, we clamor for security and safety.

I am dreading the inauguration. I do not want it to come. Our world is going to change because of this. Fear is present. In the midst of that, as I think of that baby born to a young woman in a stable, I pray that I may cultivate vulnerability in the coming years, that I may step into what breaks me open and live there with faith.

This is not a time for security and safety. It never was.