on enough

It seems like a lifetime ago that I wrote that post about being discouraged. March 4. Almost three weeks. And so much has happened.

I started anti-anxiety medication again that day. The need had been building, and I’d done a good job of managing it until a trip to Ireland was threatened by a pandemic. And the pandemic exploded.

After my uncle Shaun died in 2010, one of the ways my anxiety manifested was hypochondria. Over the years, I’ve become much more attuned to my body in a healthy way: sickness happens, and the body has amazing ways to heal and recover. If I notice myself going down the hypochondria path, I know it’s not good. A pandemic is, apparently, a great trigger. As is the possibility of getting on a plane during said pandemic.

The trip has been moved. I am on drugs. I’ve leveled out again.

In the midst of everything, I’ve been reflecting, as have many people, on what isolation, distance, society, health, and preparation mean. We are scaling back. Or we should be. (If you’re not, get on it. Do I really have to tell you that at this point?) One of the things that really wigged me out with covid-19 was the talk of preparation. Once people started talking about needing to have food or medicine or supplies stocked up for several weeks, I freaked a bit.

We got some staples: a bag of rice, some oatmeal, eggs, frozen fruit, canned beans and tomatoes. I got soap and laundry detergent; we did get some Purell and cleaner. We got the things that keep our house going. Not in abundance, but enough.

As we gathered, I thought about what it means to have enough and how lucky we are to be in a position to gather. I have thought about this over and over as the weeks have progressed, as we have hunkered down and simplified, as chaos churns in the world and we work on remaining stable and sane.

When I was in college I was very close with the sisters at Mount St. Scholastica. I joined them for prayer and Mass regularly. One year, I stayed with the community for Holy Week and Easter. On Holy Thursday, the sisters sing a song before their meal called “Dayenu.” (I’m pretty sure it’s on Holy Thursday. This was about fourteen years ago, so my memory is rusty.) It is, as it turns out, a song that Jewish people sing on Passover. It is a reminder of the goodness of God. It is a prayer of gratitude for gifts given by God: deliverance from slavery, miracles of providing, divine presence to the community. The refrain is, “It would have been enough.” If God had done just one of the things, it would have been enough. But God lavished goodness and presence and justice on the people.

What is enough? I get the desire to hoard, to find security in having more than I need. The impulse isn’t necessarily illogical. But after my initial moments of fear, once the medication and better angels kicked in, I settled on this concept of enough. It has been my refrain as we’ve planned meals, looked at what we have, gone to the store, settled in to this weird new normal.

This crisis is stripping everything to basics. That’s what happens in crisis. It’s what happens in grieving. It’s what happens during Lent. The nonessentials give way to what matters greatly: presence, gratitude, stillness, little things. We are pushed into the desert and forced to confront what’s uncomfortable. We lead such comfortable lives, really. And now we’re seeing just how tenuous that comfort is. In many ways, I prefer abundance, lavishness, overflowing. I’m not sure I realized just how much I have moved out of deep grief and have forgotten what is enough.

I am remembering again. The comfort of my husband’s presence and laughter—this would be enough. Stepping outside early in the morning when I let Cully out, feeling the crisp air, hearing the birds that have returned, smelling mud as the earth thaws—this would be enough. Kneading bread and watching it rise—this would be enough. Phone calls with mom as we marvel at this new world and the routines it has upended and created—this would be enough. Finding new ways to connect with friends and family members so we don’t lose our humanity in the midst of this—this would be enough. Music shared on social media, proclaimed from balconies, blasted while cleaning—this would be enough.

This crisis will end. We will return to a semblance of normal. At some point. We will be changed in the process. We never go through the desert unscathed, or, to put it more positively perhaps, without becoming something new. But maybe this time we’ll remember what is enough.

on being discouraged

I’m fucking furious. I went to bed furious. I am angry, disappointed, and discouraged.

I don’t do discouraged.

I do hopeful and excited and anxious and mad and happy and bouncy and splendid and nervous and sleepy. I don’t do discouraged.

But today? Apparently I do.

After Trump won the election in 2016, I was visiting with a friend from the South. (Not Missouri, jerks. The real South. I’m so not in the mood.) She said one of the most painful lessons she learned in 2016 was how thoroughly we were lied to as children. (We are both white, just for context.) “We were told that we lived in a post-racial America,” she said. “We were told that skin color doesn’t make anyone unequal. And yet, here we are with racism exploding around us. How did this happen?”

I acknowledge that we were blind. Of course racism existed and exists. But we thought it was somehow better than it had been. We had been told it was. We believed whoever told us this.

I’m having a similar revelation today. All my life I’ve been told that women can do anything. We are capable and competent and intelligent. We can be treated equal to men. We can do the same work—sure, for less pay perhaps. But we can do it. Okay, maybe we have to work a little harder than the guys, but that’s all right. We’ll be super prepared to do whatever it is we want to do. Because we’re girls! And girls are awesome! Girls have power!

Fuck.

The girl did her homework. She ran circles around her competitors in debates. She had plans. She had plans for her plans. Did you notice that? Did you take the time to see how she laid out her vision? Not only did she say what she wanted to do, but she acknowledged it would be hard, there would be challenges, and she had a fucking plan for that. She incorporated the plans of other campaigners into her plans as they dropped out. She made moves to build a coalition, not a celebrity cult. She acknowledged the need for “unity” while also standing firm on holding the criminals currently in office accountable. Other candidates have hedged on that: in other words, all the criming, and nepotism, and emoluments violations, and unethical behavior get a pass because, hey, we won! (Assuming, of course, we win. Again, I’m discouraged.)

Sexism played a part in 2016. It’s still playing a part now. And this time it’s even less hidden. Back in 2016, sexism hid under dislike of Hillary because she was a Clinton. It was hidden in the “establishment” against a “revolutionary.” (I believed and still maintain that Sanders’s campaigns have given a home to “woke” sexists.) It was blatant in the comments that she was “shrill” or “arrogant” or “dismissive.” Hillary thought she had it in the bag; she assumed she did, and so did everyone else. Right up until the moment a misogynist got the votes in the right places.

But this time I thought it would be different. I should have known. I think Warren learned the lessons of 2016 and came prepared. That’s why her ideas are so thorough. I also think that’s just how she operates, so maybe it’s instinct more than anything. But, again, how much of that instinct is ingrained from years of having to work harder just to get the same? Surely reasonable people would see all the pluses. They’d acknowledge negatives. They’d weigh pros and cons. They’d see her dance around a bumbling Michael Bloomberg and certainly, certainly, they’d see that she could handle a different bumbling “billionaire” just as effectively and easily.

I was wrong. Words like “viable” and “electable” started creeping in to the discussion. No longer was the race about her ideas or plans or goals. It was about a “path to the White House” and if she could “take it all the way.” It was about finding code words for avoiding voting for a woman. And that, my friends, is a huge problem. Because we’ve allowed sexism to seep into our vocabulary, into our psyche. We don’t even know we’re doing it. Until we wake up one morning and the person most qualified for the job is losing big. Because people don’t think she’s “viable.” I could flip a fucking tanker over that. (See: Wonder Woman.)

I know that not everyone sees the world as I do. We all have different lenses and experiences and contexts. There are reasons to prefer the other candidates. But I have long thought, even when I was supporting Harris instead of Warren, that those reasons had sexism or racism hidden at the root. Even liberals have bad lenses sometimes.

Eventually I’ll feel better. The women who have campaigned this season aren’t going anywhere. Except back to work. And that’s probably what makes me the saddest and most hopeful. We keep on keeping on. At some point, I’d love to see us women flip some tankers, light some fires, let out a primal, gut-wrenching scream that releases all the rage, all the injustice, all the bullshit.

But there’s laundry to do. And dishes to wash. And kids and husbands and parents to care for. And bills to pay. And meals to cook. And work to get done.

So much work to get done.