on surrender

Today I’m tired. I’m tired of calling my representative every day to explain things that should be self-explanatory: families should be together; peaceful protesters shouldn’t be arrested; guns are dangerous; health care is essential for well-being. I’m tired of witnessing unkindness and cruelty from Trump and his administration and then, when they get called on it, seeing them cry for civility and politeness. I’m tired of people defending abhorrent practices and policies while claiming that these inhumane acts provide the results we want. I’m not even sure who the “we” are, but I’m sure as hell not happy with the results we’re getting. I’m tired of not trusting law enforcement, the Supreme Court, various politicians. Hell, I’m tired of not trusting some family members because I know they voted for Trump and/or still support him. I’m tired.

The past two days we’ve seen the Supreme Court hand down several decisions that are detrimental to women, to workers, to Muslims. These are not good decisions that have been made, and their effects will be felt for many, many years to come. My thoughts on abortion are complicated because it’s a complicated issue. You know what isn’t? Unlicensed medical facilities should not be allowed to present themselves as if they were licensed medical facilities. I’ve never been part of a union, but it seems to me that all workers benefit from the negotiations that unions undertake; paying a partial fee to ensure that your rights as a worker, regardless of your desire to join said union, are protected doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I’m not a Muslim, but I am a Catholic, and I know that there was a time not so long ago when we were viewed with suspicion and were unwanted. The assumption that Muslims are dangerous, which is what this “travel ban” is, does nothing to heal division and creates whole heaps of problems when it comes to the United States’ ability to claim religious freedom.

What I feel is that we are in the midst of constant erosion. When Trump was elected, I assumed we’d be protected by the checks and balances that are in place for precisely this type of problem. And yes, Trump is a problem. Today, with the news of Justice Kennedy’s retirement, I just want to down a tub of ice cream and nap. I won’t—well, it might just be a bowl of ice cream instead of a tub. There have been quite a few posts on Facebook lately about how resistance happens over time, not over night. A quote attributed to Michael Moore has been making the rounds as well: the one that talks about how singers, when singing a sustained note, take breaths in “waves” so the sound is maintained but the singers don’t pass out. The quote from Dory is also running through my mind: “Just keep swimming.”

Indeed, but maybe it’s okay to step back for a few moments and recognize how bad this is. I wanted a different word besides “bad.” I wanted to say that we step back, take those deep breaths, rest our weary hearts and minds, and then jump back into the fray refreshed. But it is bad. And we need to acknowledge that. What we don’t need to do is wallow or be so overwhelmed that we become paralyzed. By “we,” I mean “I.”

So today I’ve done this. I’ve recognized that this is bad, that this feels like that magic mix of grief and anxiety I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the past eight years. And as I write this post, I feel myself gathering the inner resources to keep moving forward.

So where is the rest for the heart? Where is the gentleness? It’s tempting, perhaps, to say there isn’t room for resting or gentleness; there isn’t time for loosening up and relaxing. But I don’t operate well that way, and I suspect most people don’t. Oddly enough, the hopeful thought that keeps coming to me is an anxiety attack I had nearly two years ago. I’d been having them with some regularity, and I was trying to decide if I needed to go back on medication. I’d woken up in the middle of the night in a panic. Hot, shaky, breathing fast, afraid. Several months before this happened, a friend told me how her therapist suggested that she surrender to her panic attacks. The immediate reaction to such an attack is often to fight it. And yes, until this night, if I woke up in a panic, I’d immediately get up, make tea, put my headphones in, and fight the racing heart and terrified brain. The routine helped me get out of the panic, but I’d feel shaky and alert for a long time afterward. But this night? This night I let the panic wash over me. It was completely different. I brought my attention to the oscillating fan in our room, and the beautiful coolness that brushed over me when the fan passed by. I let that steady me as the rest of my body and brain reeled for a few minutes. Eventually, they stilled, and I felt peaceful again. I felt steady and calm. I felt graced.

There are times we must fight. There are times we wail and gnash our teeth. There are times we put our heads down and push through the chaos. But there are also times we let it wash over us because that creates a focus and a steeliness that strengthens our resolve. When we’re so tired, so anxious, so overwhelmed—maybe the best thing is to turn toward that panic so we can see that we do, indeed, come out the other side.

no more

I’m furious. I am a bundle of rage at this administration and their willingness to peddle hatred and xenophobia and bigotry as American values. I’m astounded by the willingness of regular people—people I know and respect among them—to allow the essentials of what it is to be decent human beings to be steamrolled by this president. I’m disgusted by their willingness to defend the actions and language of this administration. I’m sick and tired of having to give time and energy to worrying about what this administration’s policies are doing to generations of people.

And I’m done being nice about it.

We have fallen into a trap of “agree to disagree” or “it’s my opinion.” For over a year now, I’ve listened as people have pleaded with politicians about health care, immigration, gun control, whatever. “We can all agree,” they say, “that health care is necessary.” After every school shooting: “We can all agree that children shouldn’t be afraid to go to school.”  When white supremacy roars to the surface: “We can all agree that racism is bad.” I’ve not heard it yet, but I’m sure this one’s next: “We can all agree that the children of immigrants should not be taken from their parents.”

The problem is that it’s very evident that we do not all agree. You know how I know this? Because we have people lobbying to make it more difficult to receive health care. Because children are being given shields as gifts before they go into high school. Because in a committee to review school safety, the role of guns in shootings is not being discussed. Because hate crimes against people of color have increased, and white supremacist rallies have become a thing again. Because children are being taken away from parents who are coming to this country—legally and illegally—and placed in detention centers.

We don’t all agree, but what’s going on isn’t “disagreement.” We have a major difference in morality. Our sense of common good and decency is misaligned.

I am not a perfect person. I do not have all the answers. This is a complex world with complex problems. But I firmly believe that adding trauma on top of trauma is not the way to solve anything. And that’s precisely what Trump and his minions are doing. It seems that our immigration policies have been broken for a long time. Detaining people or deporting them is not a new practice. That doesn’t make it right, then or now. What is different is the rate at which this cruelty is taking place and the acceptance of such cruelty. It’s been pointed out to me several times that this is a country of laws. It is, indeed. But laws can change. Slavery was a law. Women not being allowed to vote was a law. Interracial marriage was banned by law. Laws can be wrong, even immoral.

And this—taking immigrant children away from their parents during a time of crisis—this is immoral.

I believe that people fleeing their home countries and coming to America—especially right now—are desperate, not freeloaders looking to cheat a system. I believe that women seeking asylum from domestic abusers should be protected and given every assistance to heal physically, mentally, and spiritually. (That should go for anyone fleeing an abuser.) I believe that children, barring abusive situations, should be with their families, not torn away from parents as a “deterrent” for “criminal” behavior. I believe that if you’re so concerned about immigration, you should check yourself: most likely, you have an ancestor who fled to this country, possibly out of desperation. Take a moment to think about what that person had to endure so you could sit here and talk about “breaking the law” and “making America great.”

Sometimes I put on West Wing to remind me of what our government can be. Today, I watched the episode in which Bruno rails against the fear of being liberal. Take the two minutes to watch it, and, if you’re like me, come away refreshed.

No more.

unfurling

A transformation is occurring in my thinking and self-definition. If you go back through some of my posts, you’ll see that the concept of being shattered, broken open, is prevalent. Shattered. Broken. Hard words. Sharp words.

I am seeking softness, gentleness.

Anxiety teaches a person to be attentive to breath. After Shaun’s suicide, I held my breath a lot. Not on purpose. But I never felt I could catch my breath. I gasped for air all the time. When my mom came to be with me during that time, she noticed it. I hadn’t realized I was doing it. At my first therapy session, my therapist taught me breathing exercises, ways to get through a panic attack by counting breaths slowly. It’s easy to take breath for granted. It’s empowering and powerful to become intentional about breathing.

I notice it now, when I’m holding my breath because I’m nervous or upset or just not paying attention. There’s a tightness that develops in my stomach, my shoulders, my everywhere. I breathe deeply again and the muscles relax, remembering that anxiety doesn’t have to be a permanent state. I unfurl.

Our trip to Ireland during the first week of March this past year did not start out ideally. The flight from Amsterdam to Dublin was cancelled due to snow in Dublin. We stood in line for hours, waiting for plans to be made and our travel fate to be decided. Our luggage was lost: mine for a few days, Patrick’s the whole time, until we got to the airport to come home. We went from Amsterdam to London, where we spent two days wandering about wishing we were in Dublin. We were frustrated and, truth to tell, probably frustrating.

Eventually, though, we made it to Ireland. We missed the Dublin portion of our trip, but we did get to spend the full six days we had planned in Galway. After two trips to Ireland I’ve learned that I settle differently there than I do anywhere else. Ruffled feathers smooth. My feet feel more stable, more connected to the earth. I unfurl.

Since losing my job in October, I’ve gotten pretty regular massages. It seems counterintuitive to spend money on a “luxury” like massage while my income is less consistent, but I’m finding it to be necessary, not luxurious. These aren’t your nice fluff-and-buff massages. This therapist digs in. This past week, she worked on my legs. I have some bruises, but my knee isn’t hurting when I walk, and I’m realizing how much I was protecting something without even knowing it. We do that a lot, you know: protect parts of ourselves without recognizing that’s what we’re doing. Massage is helping me to see this tendency in my body and my being.

Several weeks ago my massage therapist did something magical to the muscles between my shoulder blades. I could have sworn she pulled them up out of my back, stretched them out, smoothed them, and put them right back where they belong. I breathed easier after that massage. I felt more open, more expansive. I unfurled.

As the years pass, I’m noticing that the yearly anniversaries of death days and birthdays that our family honors don’t hit me quite as hard. They bump up against me, let me know they’re around, accompany me for a few days. Before Shaun’s death, which caused me to regrieve my dad’s death, my dad’s anniversary was horrid. I spent the first two weeks of February increasingly tightening, pulling inward, hardening—only to fall apart on his actual anniversary day. The next day, the day after, was miraculously better. I could breathe again.

The tightening still happens, but it doesn’t seem as tight. Until I get to the days after. This past week—the week after my dad’s birthday, Uncle Kevin’s anniversary, Uncle Shaun’s anniversary—I’ve noticed how much deeper my breaths have been. I’m not anticipating the next Day. I’m unfurling.

We hold so much. We are held by so much. It’s easy to tighten one’s grasp rather than loosen it. I don’t know why this imagery of unfurling is so present to me these days. It’s a word I keep returning to, though: unfurl. It makes me think of the way a peony blooms—from a tight ball, helped open by ants, revealing elegant ruffled petals. Being shattered or broken isn’t a bad thing; it’s what happens sometimes. But other times the process isn’t as fast or violent as shattering and breaking imply. Sometimes it’s a slow unfolding, a gentle expansiveness, yes, an unfurling.