Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Ode to the gifts of the horrible year that was

January 11, 2018

From the backseat, on the way to kindergarten, my five-year-old son asked, “Mom, why do scientists make bombs to kill people?” I paused at the profundity of his question, one I too have wondered, then answered humbly, “I don’t know.”

Almost as unfathomable to me is the intentional destruction of American democracy by those elected to uphold it, and their cruelty toward the vulnerable. Daily I ask, how can this be happening? I was told recently that if I could accept that it IS happening and that people like that exist, I would be better able to live my own values and help to create something different.

In 2017, I rode regular waves of existential fear for my son’s future. Will he live in a free country? Will he be able to vote for his leaders? Will his young life be cut short by nuclear war?

By the time the Las Vegas massacre happened, I thought I had become numb. I didn’t feel anything when first reading news of nearly 500 people shot and 58 killed at a country music festival, but then I watched a video that captured the sound of weapons of war mowing down mothers, fathers, teenage daughters and veteran sons. I saw country star Jason Aldean run off the stage in fear, and I cried all day while trying to work.

Over the course of the year, as my Facebook friends posted about their lives, but increasingly not about politics, and my Twitter feed was full of intelligent people discussing the daily state of our government, but not much about their personal lives, I yearned to read someone who would speak to both. I didn’t want advice; I just wanted to hear how they were taking care of themselves and their children within this national context. So that’s what this is, my story about how I’ve gotten by during the most challenging and clarifying year of my life as a citizen, mother and human being.

I woke up on December 31st grateful that we had made it. We are still alive and our country still has a fighting chance. I now know that I’m ok – even while I am sensitive to the suffering of others, and disgusted almost every day by what I learn in the news.

Early on, a teacher said to me, “Don’t let a tyrant steal your light.” These are the people and unexpected gifts that helped me keep my light.

My husband

P1050024He’s kind, smart and sexy. He stays calm when I am not. I love that in his work he serves children from low-income families. It wasn’t until this year though, seven years into our marriage, that I knew for sure he was meant for the deepest part of me. The part I’ve learned to hide. The part that shakes with grief about what is happening to our country and fears we’ll see things we cannot yet imagine and may not survive, at least with our souls intact.

He never shames me for how much I feel or how often I need to talk about what is happening. He doesn’t roll his eyes when I ask how we’ll spend the last 10 minutes of our family’s life if we receive an alert that nuclear war has begun.

When I call our red-state Senators, and wonder if it matters, he says, “Thank you for doing that.”

Most importantly, we talk about how to parent our son now. How do we shield his innocence, engage wholeheartedly in his joy, and prepare him for his future life in our country? What choices do we make that serve both our son and our communal duty to other people’s children? We feel responsible for the country and the earth we leave him and generations of others.

Speaking of… this guy, our son

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Thank God that our five-year-old’s endlessly rejuvenating joie de vivre commands my attention. I know that I will never again have this exact moment with my precious child and I’d be wise to fully participate. With him and for him, I laugh easily, I chase, I cannonball, I wrestle, I build, and I hold on tight for 20-second hugs.

My best friend

As my panic rose on election night, a feeling I recognized from the days before my Dad died, I texted my best friend in Virginia as she hosted a champagne party anticipating a vastly different outcome. She is the only one I could write mid-year during some awful legislative week, “I don’t think I’m very good at being happy” and be assured that to be having a hard time was normal. She sent me flowers with the note: “These days we need reminders that there are still beautiful things in the world. Your friendship is one of the most beautiful things in mine.” And because I know she pays attention, I love that she took a respite from the news to revel in the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It gives me permission to do the same.

The Great American Eclipse

Being with my family in an open field amongst celebratory community was as much a part of this phenomenal experience as the tear-inducing moment of totality. It felt to me like the Bicentennial when I was seven years old riding my decpexels-photo-580679orated bike while neighbors stood on their front porches and rang silver bells. As the eclipse progressed, it was quite moving to sense that all across the country, my fellow Americans were looking into the heavens for something to heal our brokenness. I wondered if this cosmic happening was of the same stuff as Christ.

Dance class!

By the time summer came, I knew I needed a regular influx of joy in order to turn up my light for my family, my work in the world, and myself. So I thought, “When am I happiest, just for me?” and decided to start dancing again. The DanceFix class I take every Saturday morning is the most fun hour of my week. It is amazing what shaking your booty can do for your spirit.

These Books

Each of these healed and shaped me this year.

  • Paradise in Plain Sight, Lessons from a Zen Garden, by Karen Maezen Miller – Written by a Zen priest who is also a mother, I learned that this life, my life, this very year, this that seems so horrible, this is the Way.
  • Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid – Many times, I had to stop reading to breathe and absorb the sheer beauty of Hamid’s writing. This story of refugees reminded me of how lucky I am. Would that Americans could imagine how easily it may be us needing someone else to take us in.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates – When Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said about NFL players, “We can’t have the inmates running the prison,” I thought of this book and the way Black bodies are regarded as commodities with willing, extreme denial that within these bodies are human beings.
  • Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times, edited by Carolina De Robertis – I found parents here. While most of them are people of color or from immigrant families, having it thus much harder than I, I relished their letters to their children and ancestors, and their unwillingness to give up on our country’s promise, even if it takes a long, long time to realize.
  • Trump and a Post-Truth World, by Ken Wilber – This short, dense book helped me see how our society mirrors individual human development. I could then read about fellow Americans posessing what seems to be an astounding lack of compassion for others, including children, and understand that they cannot yet comprehend that they even should care about those outside their immediate circles of identification. I am the same way at times. It helped me recognize my own judgments, and what kind of leadership we all need to move civilization forward.
  • Pantsuit Nation, edited by Libby Chamberlin – I asked my husband for this for my birthday in December so that I could remember how it felt to read the heart-filling stories of all the different people who make America America.
  • The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy – I read this in the last week of the year, during my son’s 20-day winter break from kindergarten. In it Levy tells of losing her premature baby boy after only 10 minutes of having him alive and on her chest. I would put my son to bed after playing all day, and rather than bemoan my exhaustion, I felt grateful for my luck that I get to be his mother.

My growing ability to see people of integrity “across the aisle”

Along with truth-telling journalists and deeply knowledgeable historians, I so appreciate those across the partisan spectrum who are fighting mightily to save our country from corruption, personal greed and foreign interference. Though I am a lifelong Democrat, I’ve come to respect the integrity of some conservatives whom I may never have read otherwise. Without democracy, our policy differences won’t matter and no one, not even those who seem to benefit, will have a real chance at “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Virginia Election

One of the best days of 2017 was the election of Ralph Northam to the Governorship of Virginia, along with a slew of diverse women and men to the state legislature. My family had already made the decision to move home to the Commonwealth this summer and the thought of having a decent and intelligent leader is quite heartening. I also look forward to being in a bipartisan state as it seems the strongest way forward, even if difficult.

And the little things, like…

  • Breathing into my belly to ground my over-active heart.
  • Yin yoga to calm my body and clear my mind.earrings
  • My Gloria Steinem/Ruth Bader Ginsburg earrings. I wear these (as do my sisters and my mom) when I need bad-asses as spirit guides.
  • Naming three things I’m grateful for upon waking and another three before I close my eyes at night. I hope when I get to the end of my time, I will be able to follow John McCain’s example and “celebrate, with gratitude, a life well lived.”
  • White Sun’s “Ik Ardas Wahe Guru” – listening to this makes me exhale.
  • The Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean – No explanation needed. May we protect them.IMG_6135


Lastly, these words of wisdom from a nightingale

When I wonder how to talk with my young son about the world he lives in and how to navigate our path in a time of such tumult, I think about this passage I read to him from The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with the most beautiful illustrations by Erin Stead (pages 90-91):

Prince Oleomargarine

“When dinner was nearly done, the nightingale excused herself. She shook the crumbs from her feathers and flew up to a high branch. From there, she sang a sweet song. It had no words, but still, everyone present knew its meaning, which was:

The world is beautiful and dangerous,

and joyful and sad,

and ungrateful and giving,

and full of so, so many things.

The world is new and it is old.

It is big and it is small.

The world is fierce and it is kind,

and we, every one of us, are in it.”


That’s it. That’s what I’ve learned this year. Now onward, with heart…




January 23, 2017