Helplessness

Each morning recently, after I wake up, I lie for a moment and watch the early morning sunlight dance off the trees. Then I roll over, open my phone, and read the latest stories on what is happening to immigrant families in this country. My heart pounds, my thoughts race, helplessness and hopelessness fill my body until I cannot read any more. I throw back the covers, hurriedly dress, lace up running shoes, and pound my anger and grief into the pavement.

I return to our home to hear the voices of my daughter and husband and find myself drawn, immediately, to them. I want to see them, hold them, let their immediacy run through me like medicine for the ache that does not really go away.

It stays as I make breakfast for my daughter, her little feet padding through her home as she greets the day, our dog, her “friends” (stuffed animals), so excited, so happy, so fortunate. I sit down as she eats and have to pull myself back, again and again, to the solid wood of the table, the lilt of her young voice, her questions, her gaze, her love, so beautifully present. She is here, in front of me, to hug and feed and scrub down afterwards.

On some days, I then deliver her to her wonderful caregiver so I can work. I thank any God that might be listening for this kind, exemplary woman who cares so profoundly for my daughter and the children of several friends. And then I sit down and drag my attention to work, again and again, as it moves away to keep reading the stories and looking at the pictures.

In the middle of the day, I hike. As my legs push up the mountain, I wish I could give the same energy to actually making some difference. I want to hold all the children. I want to brush away their tears, heal their ache. I want to hold the parents. I want to tell them how deeply I am aching for them, but the words sound hollow even as I think them amidst my climb towards the sky.

After more work, I pick up my daughter. She is dashing around naked by the little “kiddie pool”. I wrap her softness in my arms and breathe in the faint echo of baby smell that still lingers, thankfully. As we drive home, I let her questions and stories and thoughts fill me, a mantra to tie me to the now. We spend the evening between trees and the plants in our little garden and around the dinner table with her father.

After dinner, my heart breaks open for the ninetieth time that day as I watch her put a diaper on her stuffed animal monkey and think of the children helping other children change their diapers. I duck into the bathroom and read another story: a mother, released on bail, is trying to get back her eight year-old daughter and has been told she may need to wait several months. She says she feels like she is going to die, she feels powerless. I want to hurl my phone into the toilet. I want to scream. I want to do something, anything. My daughter bangs on the bathroom door. I open it and exclaim over Monkey’s beautiful diaper.

I’ve donated, I’ve called representatives, I’ve signed petitions, and I feel completely helpless.

In the evening, after all the curtains are drawn and the lights are out, my daughter stays in my arms longer than usual for lullabies. Often, these days, she is ready for her crib before I’m ready to let her go. She is growing so fast, and her body drapes around mine as I sit in the rocking chair. I sing. I sing for her, for myself, the traditional, soothing songs. I sing for the children, in “shelters” throughout our country. I sing for the parents whose feelings I cannot fathom, but the little I can imagine would break me into a thousand pieces. I sing for their strength.

I don’t know what to do, so I open my computer and let these feelings spill into words. Ultimately, the words do very little, aside from allowing that feeling of spill for at least a moment or two. Ultimately, all I can do is say: if you are reading this, and you feel helpless, I’m right there with you.

ADDITION to this post:

After sharing this on Facebook, I received some really beautiful, thoughtful replies urging me to stay strong and inspired. First, I’m so glad that those individuals are in this world, making a difference, carrying so much love. Their comments clearly come from a place of deep commitment and vitality. I’m so grateful. The comments and my reaction to them also provided a great opportunity to reflect on something that I wanted to share, in case it is of use to anyone else. What I realized I needed to communicate is that, while this piece reflects the grief, anger and helplessness I’m feeling, I also feel very strong and incredibly inspired. For me, grief does not preclude strength. Some of the most inspired, creative and love-filled moments in my life have come from grief. And, strange as it seems, helplessness does not even preclude inspired, loving action. In this case, it is driving me forward, to fight to eliminate helplessness. As I look around me, I believe it is really important that we learn to feel both grief/anger and even helplessness AND strength, love, commitment and inspiration – all together! When I push aside the grief and anger, I feel myself dissociating from what is happening. However, as those commenting so beautifully stated – we do not want to drown in grief and helplessness and not act. We must feel the whole package, reflect and act consciously. For me, that package is the beautiful, complicated truth of our interconnection. So, I will continue to feel, feel deeply, and act consciously from that place of connection. 

What could have been said…

I understand why men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes this year. I really do.

I did not watch the awards ceremony, but, boy, did I hear about it. I imagine there are few who didn’t. The theme of recognizing the work and struggle of women with everyone wearing black, the speeches – from Oprah and others – eloquently and powerfully addressing the work women are doing right now to spotlight both harassment and continuing inequality – it was clearly a different awards show this year.

My friend posted an article that really grabbed my attention, particularly when coupled with her commentary. The article highlighted the conspicuous silence of the men present. Why didn’t they address the blatant and important theme of the evening? Why didn’t they speak to their role in the equation?

In sharing the article, my friend also shared the complexity of her feelings on the topic. On the one hand, she recognized that men can support the women’s movement in ways that are not as publicly visible. On the other hand, if they have a platform, a position of power and the opportunity to reach millions of listeners, shouldn’t they use that opportunity? Others commenting on her post pointed out that no matter what the men present said, it would not have been the right thing and would have taken attention from where it should be – on the women and what they are saying. Anything a man would say in that situation would inevitably come across as self-serving or promoting.

The article and the comments my friend made and received rattled around in my mind all day, along with a question of my own: When we are confronted with a situation in which a group of people have suffered persecution at the hands of another group and we are identified with the latter, through race, class, gender or by some other factor, how can we verbally show support for the persecuted? Recognizing the many, many complexities in such a situation, recognizing all that we do not and can never know about the experience of those persecuted, how can we speak out in a manner that isn’t self-serving, that is truly supportive? Do we have to remain silent because to speak is to step into a truly uncomfortable and complex realm?

Or can we learn together? Is there some way to speak from exactly the place of complexity in which we find ourselves – to address it rather than shove it under the rug or use it as a reason to remain silent?

What if the men present at the Golden Globes had said something like this: “I’m worried about saying the wrong thing here, but I believe to not speak up in support of the incredible work being done by women right now is to not support that work. I don’t want to take the attention away from where it should be: on the work being done, on what the women are saying, on the very real issues they are highlighting, and on the important changes that need to happen. I just want to say that I support this work 100% and I’m here to do anything I can to help make those changes.”

I don’t know about other women, but this would have worked very well for me. I would applaud the man who could stand in his discomfort and not-knowing and speak these words, words that stay focused on the work the women are doing and don’t draw the attention towards the man’s discomfort in the face of that work. To be able to stand in discomfort but not make that the story. To recognize that within not-knowing lies an opportunity to learn. To know that even if the work ahead drives straight into uncharted and potentially increasingly uncomfortable territory, your support is the best thing you can give, especially when coupled with a willingness to learn and to be changed in that process of learning.

I get that it is unfair to place the responsibility of teaching on the persecuted party. To do so is to doubly burden those who have already shouldered undeserved weight for far too long. But we cannot know what we do not know. When we pretend otherwise, we further abuse those who truly do know, who have experienced the persecution firsthand.

As I think about the resurgence of so many movements that seek to address the inequalities and injustices rampant the whole word over, I find myself hoping again and again that we can be brave enough to stand in discomfort. May we be capable of admitting when we do not know. May we be willing to offer support while not seeking to take over the story. May we be ever and always open to being changed in the process of communal learning this world so desperately needs.

And may I learn from what was missing at the Golden Globes. The next time I want to show support but am nervous about speaking up, may I remember the words I would have liked to hear from the men present at that awards ceremony.

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Thoughts on the day a budget is released

I don’t know about you, but here are some things I care about:

I care about the natural world (in case that’s not already more than evident through my previous posts here). Nothings uplifts me more than coming around a bend in the woods to suddenly glimpse a great beam of light slanting between tall trees. Nothing. Unless it’s filling my lungs with the crisp air of fall, or listening to waves pound sand, or smelling moist, steamy, freshly thawed earth after a spring rain. And then, of course, there is the fact that we are part of the natural world. What we do to that world, we do to ourselves.

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I care about people caring about each other. Positively contributing to the lives of others fills me with a sense of purpose. Receiving help, well, that’s edgy for me but I’m working on it and it certainly is appreciated. And I love witnessing unlikely candidates coming together in supportive community.

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I care about creativity. There is quote pinned to the board over my desk. It reads: “The creative adult is the child who survived.” (I don’t know where it came from.) Children see possibility wherever they go. Creativity is about moving towards that possibility. Boy, does it take courage sometimes. And to really dive into what might be possible, you kind of have to drop all comparisons, don’t you? But all I have to do is make a quick scan of history to see that many of the most important and lasting contributions to this world were developed through some sort of creative process. Creativity leads to innovative solutions. Artistic expression fosters connection on an emotional level and cultivates understanding. I’ve seen these things to be true.

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I care about equal rights and access. I cannot imagine looking into my daughter’s big, beautiful eyes and seeing hunger that I could not feed, or knowing that she was cold because I could not heat our house, or being unable to provide her with a house or an education or medicine or my time. And that just speaks to the financial aspect of equality. What if she felt threatened or less-than simply because of who she was or who she loved? No way. No one is less-than, except perhaps those who live in such fear of someone else that they believe they must strip that person of respect and rights.

Sure, I care about safety. But without all of the above, what is the point? What am I protecting if my life and the lives of those around me are devoid of meaning? If all the juicy, beautiful, messy and important aspects of life were gone, would we want to live it at all?

These are the thoughts that pound through my head, through my being really, on this day, the day our dear president released his proposed budget. And so I pick up the phone and I call my representatives, and I raise my voice, and I look for other ways to act. And I commit to making sure, making damn sure, that these things continue to flourish in my home and my community and wherever I can promote them. Because my country will celebrate these bright, beautiful things.

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Nous sommes le monde.

January 2015

Okay, let me begin by being clear. The recent attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris was despicable and deserves the world’s attention. We should be shocked when the right to free speech is so violently targeted. We should raise our voices and collective conscience in response.

And…

As I watched social media absolutely ignite in the days following the attack in Paris, I had to wonder. And I was not alone. In the midst of the very vocal protest occurring across the Internet and beyond, a few feeble voices started to echo my wondering. What about the horrific attacks on freedom that occur around the world every day? Every. Single. Day.

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Yes, it was horrifying to see artists so violently targeted due to an act of expression. Yes, it was horrifying to see those attacks happen in broad daylight on the streets and in the buildings of Paris. Yes, it shakes us to the core to see nonviolence met with violence, to see a community stricken by such unjustifiable, unfathomable loss.

And…

On January 10, three days after the attack in Paris, 20 people were killed in a market in Nigeria when explosives strapped to a young girl (believed to be 10 years-old) went off. This was just the latest in a string of attacks that began January 3, carried out by the militant group, Boko Haram, that have reportedly claimed around 2,000 lives. Yes, these events received news coverage, but it has been massively eclipsed by the events in Paris.

Even the recent Taliban attack on a school in Pakistan that left 150 dead, mostly children, received neither the extent of coverage nor the extent of international response seen in the days following January 7.

Why? Yes, these attacks occurred in countries with far-less stable governments than France and in areas less accessible to journalists. But if we stop our exploration of the disparity in attention there, I think we fall short.

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We fall short in what it means to be a part of the global community. We are Charlie Hebdo, yes, but we are much, much more. We are the world. Attacks on free speech, attacks on the right to education, the strapping of bombs to innocent, young girls, we cannot choose which to see, which to bond with, where to unite. We are united in it all. We are the artists, the students, the ten year-old girl. We are the people living in the island nations that are rapidly disappearing due to climate change. If we kid ourselves, even for a second, that we are isolated from these hardships, we are forgetting just how global the world is today.

The odd, bizarrely paradoxical aspect of these horrific occurrences is often the voices of hope beautifully and bravely raised in response. Who wasn’t touched, and deeply so, to see so many join together to march the street of Paris? It is incredible, isn’t it, to see how despair can be met with such resounding hope, such vocal visions of the possibility, always present, of the best, most humanitarian world possible.

So, yes, let’s raise our voices to protest what happened on January 7 in Paris. Let’s be shocked. But can we, please, be equally shocked by the widespread acts of terrorism that continue in Nigeria, and in so many other parts of the world. I get it, it is overwhelming. There is a tremendous amount of suffering in the world. But I believe that it is our responsibility, those of us who are incredibly fortunate to live in safety, security, even luxury, to see that suffering and to do everything we can to stand alongside it and help. Let’s not stand over it all and select what to see, where to care. We are wildly compassionate beings. And we are the world. Let’s stand in the midst of it all and raise that collective voice of hope.

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