Freedom


I’ve always had trouble feeling comfortable in my skin. I can trace it back to junior high journals where I write, “I wonder what it would feel like to be at ease.”  I’ve said this at 13, at 21, at 27, at 33, at 41, and I can say it now. For as far back as I can go, I can point to times where I felt squirmy. I can see little moments where it’s like I’m in a bodysuit made for someone much smaller and I cannot get out of it, but I am trying hard for release. Maybe it started with noticing I didn’t look like other girls. Maybe it started with just thinking I didn’t look like other girls. I don’t really know.

***

Today I can tell you exactly when I started feeling uncomfortable again, sort of off and unsettled. Many people might say election night, but I was a fighter until inauguration day. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to face it. I just wasn’t willing to give up on everything I believed to be true about who Donald Trump showed himself to be. His actions never lied.

There is this life of mine before he became our president and there is a whole new life unfolding after it. There was the life of mature leadership and measured thought and equality and kindness (before) and the life of secrets and lies and manipulation and abuse and isolation (after). I feel whiplashed. I feel like I don’t know my country anymore. I’ve witnessed abusive relationships. I’ve had too much exposure to narcissism. I know enough to know this is bad. This is not normal.

***

Why divide my life into the before and after? Before I lost babies. After I delivered two children who live (still!). After Andrew died. Before I met my husband. After I got married. After my sister came out. Before I knew steady love. After she got sick. Before depression stole my heart. After the roof caved in. Before the fall. All these moments, big and small, all mine. What is the point in before and after? Is it to see that you really did have the sun and the moon at one time? Is it so that you know when the dawn breaks, it is a gift?

***

I have been labelled “too sensitive” and “touchy”.  I react and notice and I have a hard time trying to manage all I am taking in. I know my feelings enough to trust the ones that will pass. I know what to write through, walk off, let go. This doesn’t mean I am always good at it.

I was told to release my negativity, that I need to pray to find joy. But there is a far-reaching and treacherous malaise setting in and it’s not just happening to me. I think I am seeing that this is what it must feel like to anyone not white, not born here, not privileged. Finally, I am tasting a microsant of their exhaustion and I don’t mind letting others know that the power of positive thinking is not going to will away the nightmare unfolding around us. This doesn’t mean I don’t see the good and I don’t experience joy. I have cats! But so many are fearful and in pain.I will not be ignoring that.

***

I think back to my hot pink carpet and lime green bedspread of my seventh grade bedroom. I am sprawled across my bed and  I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is on repeat for me that year. I devoured everything Maya Angelou had written. I know I don’t think about why a chubby white girl from Iowa is drawn into the world of a mute African American girl. Was it the first time I “got woke”? Was this the first time I understood that beyond geography and skin color, our humanity is what unites us?

I am thinking about walking through Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam. I went there when I was 22. I am remembering the beautiful commode and how unexpected it was to find bright white porcelain inlaid with beautiful tiles. It was strange amidst the cramped quarters, the slanted roof and creaky boards. The tenacity and resiliency of the family in the midst of utter terror seems remarkable. I am wondering if this is what will be required of all of us now.

***
My introverted husband, peaceful, loving and tender asks, “ At what point do we become physical with our resistance?”


This morning my web browser history has a site I do not recognize. It is called Guns and Gear.
***

I don’t know anything so I keep writing. I keep asking questions and searching for answers that may not be there. I keep talking and typing towards relief, towards commitment, towards something that looks like a stance, a promise, a protection, a resistance to all that I do not believe in. I keep going. That is all I can do for now. And I won’t “release negativity”when it’s being trotted out on a daily basis for all to see. It’s not mine to release. Somehow, our country brought us here. I certainly didn’t ask for it, but I do know what I won’t stay quiet about what I see as unjust. Because when I am, a different sort of trouble begins.

Freedom is my voice.
***

I heard a young man say that the other day. He’s in jail for reasons I don’t get to know, but when I asked him why he mattered to the world he said, “Because I have a voice.”  And it’s true. Even in jail, he can use his voice to make his presence known.

I am grateful he reminded me that in difficult times it’s more important than ever to speak up.

I am thinking of him and the daughters he discussed with pride. I am thinking of the music he says he writes in his head when he can’t find a way to express himself. Even confined, he is not quiet.
***

It’s true I want to remain kind and that I want to treat anyone I encounter with kid gloves because everyone is under some duress. I have no idea how what’s going down is shaping my neighbor’s life or affecting my friend’s children. Or maybe I know, but I can only think about it little bursts. But none of this means I have to be quiet. That, I think, would be the worst thing.

***

What I Know

It feels like a weird time, doesn't it? Or is just me?

Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and too many people in our country have been killed since that day. The lack of movement on this pressing issue baffles me.

The people in Aleppo are being bombarded....still.  

The man we elected to be our president seems to lack compassion for the very people he will be leading and respect for the office he will be taking. 

With all that in the works, I add a friend who is ill and other friends who are caring for aging parents with complex health issues. 

It is freezing in these bluffs of mine. The wind is whipping the snow, which sparkles in a way that seems almost like a taunt. 

Today at my kitchen table, I am picturing a mom like me, huddled in some tiny room with her kids at her feet, trying frantically to text a goodbye to loved ones, so certain is she of her death. 

All of this makes me wonder why am I here in this warm home with a full fridge and enough blankets to share. What is my point? 

I work all of this out with friends or on the trail with my dog or in a private writing group or alone, staring at the computer. 

I am compelled to read stories, the stories of people who turn tragedy into a life that shines not with success but with vitality. I turn to poetry because I am not the first human to turn such issues over and over. How do I live in troubled times and the problems loom large, but I am only one?

When my husband rolls out of bed and hits the ground running, he knows how many people he will care for. Twenty or more people will come through his door for an office visit in various increments of time ranging from fifteen to sixty minutes. He will say through word and gesture, "I am here to help you." That, to me, seems so perfect. He has a record of people he has helped- a tangible list and a paper trail to prove it.

My life looks nothing like that.

I wake up, the pets gather, I drink my coffee and read. I think about what I'm reading and then see if my charges are up. We do the family breakfast dance and scuttle for this and that and after a flurry they are gone. I wrestle with my pages, I make appointments and organize groups of people to do this (practice compassionate listening) or that (speak up about women's rights) and tidy and manage a family life.  

I come back to write and look at my charges who want to eat (again!) and I am grateful I can feed them. I do not have to text my loved ones good-bye. I can heat up the cast iron skillet until it is perfectly warm and place slices of bread buttered just so.The sizzle and pop as the butter hits the pan is a comfort and this is what moves me to tears. The normal of  my life is not in direct proportion to the normal of our world. I am the odd one out carrying on as is.

I care, I try, I seek, I look, I offer, I hold, I look, I resist, I attend, I retreat, I listen, I speak, I move, I rest, I wait.

Does anyone really know what to do in such dark days like these? I carry on believing I cannot be the only one.  

And so I settle on the grilled cheese and a steaming mug of tomato soup. The warmth is something to sink into. It is my offering and I already know the scene so well that I play it in my mind before it happens. 

"Hey sweetie, here's your dinner."

My son will barely look up from his book. He will mutter a thanks and take a huge bite off the corner of the sandwich. He will then blow too harshly across the top of the mug and soup will spatter onto his page. He will wipe it so it smears and then shrug. He will dip the eaten corner into the soup and then wait for it to cool as he dives back into his book. 

I like that I know this, and for now, it is the only thing I know. 



"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time."



These words by Dr. Maya Angelou have been rattling around in my head all week.

This was the conundrum we faced in this election between two woefully imperfect candidates. One has too many detriments to list but include misogyny, racism, and blatant narcissistic attributes. The other whose emails and complicated history and lackluster campaign failed to incite enough excitement within her own party to bring people out to vote against a vile and bigoted man.

She lost, and I am wondering what the rest of us will lose as well.

I have tried to wade carefully through the muck of people’s complicated hearts through conversation and social media.

I have learned, among other things, that I am an elite liberal, a whiny baby, a sore loser, and a libtard
(liberal retard). I have learned this has been God’s will. Trump is some sort of prophet for whom we are to “Praise Jesus!”.

It has been enlightening on many levels.

I have learned that some people did not understand that they cannot cherry pick qualities in their candidates. That people are reacting to the whole package we will be getting rather than the issues they voted for seems genuinely surprising to them.

I have learned that my son sees this future president as scary, but he's got a plan to deal with him. “I guess we will need to babysit this guy, huh?”

I have learned hatred and it’s evil cousins are alive and well. The day after the election a woman was waiting in a gas station for her oil to be changed. A man she knew blasted through the entrance to the counter to exclaim, “We got rid of that bitch!”  A few states further south, a white friend’s black daughter returned to her dorm room to find “Make America White Again” signs plastered to her door.

Because my kids are watching and listening intently, I have not been wailing out loud. Instead, I let my tears fall silently in the middle of the night as I let my mind wander a little too far down a dark path. Should we build a bunker? Will there be a nuclear war? Where can I hide the little savings we do have from the stock market? Will Mr. Trump clue me in on all those loopholes he managed? Not likely since I am not in that tax bracket but, wait!  If you don’t pay taxes are you in a bracket? As I contemplate my need for a drink of water, I begin to ponder our water. And the air and clean energy. Will Minnesota ever have snow again? I try to recall his environmental policies and my heart sinks. There are none.

But when I wake up I go to my computer because no matter what, my curiosity drives
me. It is the one constant written into the DNA of who I am. On I go to social media and the news. I don’t limit myself. I don’t hide or block or unfriend. I want to know what all the people are thinking. I want to see who people are showing themselves to be..

Nothing surprises me.

We are as big and as messy and as complicated as we have ever been.There is so much gray area in each of us, but many do not see their gray. I keep this in mind as name calling ensues. I stand firm in my desire to ask questions. I redirect, ferret, and open my heart. I tell my story. I reach out. I engage because I want to understand. I say, “ I don’t believe Republicans are racist. I don’t believe you condone hate speech.” I get blasted. I retreat, and begin again. If I am a libtard so be it, but who and what are you? What do you believe in? Why? Tell me.

It is clear the fear we feel for our lives and country is real on each side. A paycheck and health insurance make a single woman desperate and willing to cast her vote for a person she believes she sees fully. Single issue voters will never turn away from their party. The constitution, pro-life, and guns are their passion, their hard line. Curiosity is my fuel. I learn this is not the norm. No one asks me a single question.

One other irrefutable fact is that hate and racism are alive. I see it and I feel it from the swastika graffiti and loosening tongues and hate crimes and marches and the protests born out of fear that some believe is a total overreaction. I don’t agree at all with any act of violence though I can try to understand the emotions that drive it.  My guess is people who are confused and disappointed in what they are seeing have never been in an “Other” category. Maybe their way of life or who they are has never been maligned. Sexual assault victims have been living with PTSD for the entirety of the campaign. Other than a select group of white women and men, millions of people fear being rejected and/or bullied by the man who will lead us because of what he has already shown himself to be. I k we have learned from experience that if you have been bullied or assaulted you either retreat and shut down or lash out. Some are lashing out.

Were the outcome to have been what so many had expected, I do not believe I was in for a picnic. There would be calls for impeachment, road blocks to progress at every turn, and the background noise of "kill that bitch" would ring constantly in my ears.But those whose fear has been growing been throughout this campaign would feel, at least marginally, that perhaps our country had chosen to stand up against The Bully.

This was not to be.

On January 21st the first African American president will turn over the reigns to a former reality tv show star and man proudly endorsed by the KKK.

Despite all of this, I want President-Elect Trump to succeed. I have nothing to gain if he doesn’t.

I know one man alone cannot bring our country to ruin. I will never be stupid enough to believe such power is absolute in this great land. And yet I have also been taught to never underestimate the power of one voice. If this is the side I land on, the one most powerful one must be mine.

I will call out bigotry and hate, a hard line none of us can cross. It is the root of all we see unfolding before us. If we can’t agree on that, the problems we face are much bigger than name calling.

Whether Mr. Trump will lead us to unity with grace and compassion remains to be seen. Perhaps the better question is why wait?

Let us lead ourselves..

I will do my part.

I cannot wait to see it.