I remember sitting in the courtyard, during that same conference call with Sylvia Boorstein,looking at the magenta blossoms on my sprawling succulent in the orange pot. The blooms sprang to life the morning after our terrible windstorm, the greater part of a day and a night, gusts from 70 to 80 miles per hour, the worst I’ve lived through. Through it all I was working on a deadline to develop a website for my July writing retreat. It was impossible for me to give it my undivided attention. No matter what I did I couldn’t separate myself from my fear. The walls of my trailer shook and rattled in the wind. I said metta. I prayed all of us would be safe and unharmed–all the birds and small wild things, me and my neighbors inside our tin cans. But the next morning, when I saw how my succulent had burst into wild magenta bloom in spite of that terrible onslaught, that unbelievable battering, I thought, we need to be like this succulent. We need to respond to what is playing out now on our national stage with our own bright blossoming. Indeed, in the pink pussycat hats, the women’s marches, the way our judicial system is responding, the immigration protests, the country is doing just that. I have been especially bolstered by the fact that our “founding fathers” created our democracy with safeguards. I hadn’t counted on that. And again, I am proud to be a Californian in the midst of it all. I see our legislators and our governor trying to stand up, trying to do the right thing. I read an article the other day about a man in Los Angeles who is offering trainings to local activist organizations, teaching the self-care skills people will have to master in order to not be completely overwhelmed by the needs they are trying to meet now, particularly for those who serve the undocumented immigrant community. He sits them in a circle, places items for an altar at its center, let’s them talk about the toll these times are taking. And I want to honor each of them, every one of them, of you, for standing up. For being in the front lines. For giving response. For being our own fierce spring.
I’m taking Sylvia Boorstein’s online class that spans the year, “Mindfulness in Everyday Life.“ On a conference call in April, a woman asked her for advice on how to navigate the disturbing reality of life now in the United States with our sitting president. It comes up again and again in the meditation communities I’m a part of. I’m luckier than many in this, I think, in that I only read the newspaper. I imagine it’s easier than watching TV news. I can glance at headlines, skim stories, put the paper down when the clenching in my belly tells me to. I can look at still photographs of him, appalled by the ugly twist of his lips. It’s not as unsettling as listening to him “live.” When the question comes up in the conference call, I want to say what I believe is true. I can’t remember now if there was just not enough time left to raise my hand and speak, or if I hesitated, held myself back. Was I just self-conscious? Or did I convince myself what I wanted to say was too obvious? What I wanted to say is we have to have faith. Buddhists don’t work with that concept much. I think it’s because Buddhism is not something we need to take on faith. The Buddha didn’t expect that. He told us to try things out, to see for ourselves. So it makes sense to me that Buddhists may have more trouble in a time like this, a time when we are “forced” to watch an overweight, racist, misogynistic, xenophobic white man try to dismantle all the good that’s been put into place in recent years. Faith may not be an ordinary part of the equation, but we need it now. We need to believe the times we’re living in are a reaction to all the good progress we’ve made around the world. We need to believe this is the “getting worse” part before things get better. We need to believe this is not the beginning of the end, only the last-ditch effort to roll things back before we move together even more fully into the kind of world we want to live in always.
I was ten in 1968, an only child. None of my parents were activists. I was imbued with the spirit of the time but not a part of it. I am a child of the seventies. I grew up with duck and cover drills, crawling under our desks at school and covering our heads (as if this might actually help us in the quake of an atomic bomb). We grew up knowing Social Security may not be there when we reached 65, knowing the world could be destroyed anytime at the press of a button. Maybe it was in the face of this I became an eternal optimist, or maybe it was simply in my nature. But optimist or not, I have lived my whole life afraid that one day I would need to put myself in front of people with machine guns to stand up for what is right. And I didn’t want to have to die like that. In recent years, I’ve shaped a softer possibility for myself. Maybe I don’t have to die. Maybe I can speak up, do the right thing, without risking my life. But our current climate in the United States has awakened all my earlier fears. On the way home from my mother’s last week I met a woman named Liz. She and Zoë and I met at the Fullerton Amtrak station and shared the three seats at the back of the bus on the last leg of my journey. We talked nonstop for hours. Liz told me they threw grenades at the protesters in North Dakota. She said one woman had her arm blown off. She said another had one of her eyes put out by a rubber bullet. She said they used water hoses on the protesters in the heart of a northern winter. I have not researched this, but I’m inclined to believe her. Today between work needing to be done I Googled “Sacred Stone” and signed letters for my U.S. senators and my congressman to stop the pipeline. I called Palm Springs City Hall and left a message in hopes of finding out what I might be able to do to make sure we declare ourselves a sanctuary city. On the way home from Ralph’s before dark I start singing, “Give Peace a Chance.” I want to be able to stand up for what is right, but I don’t want to have to die for it. I’ve heard people are being “planted” to stir up trouble where the intention is to practice nonviolent resistance. The only thing I can think of in my head if I am there when this happens is to just start singing. So today I sing all the way home from the grocery store. It’s a warm evening. People look at me through the open windows of their cars. No one waves or gives me any indication of being with me, but it is my hope a happy sense of that comes to them moments later, after I pass by. When I walk through the trailer park, I imagine my song touching people through the open sliding glass doors. I know some people might think I’m crazy or even wrong. But I don’t stop. In between, I laugh. I am all welled up with the love of it. The waxing moon is rising in the east. It will be full here on Friday afternoon. I sing to the moon as I walk. And I get good chills along my arms, my legs. I am embarrassed and joyful, both. I wonder what my neighbors think as I get close to home. I hope some of the people who hear me, whether they know me or not, are touched by my heartfelt song. “All we are saying,” I sing, “is give peace a chance.”
Tuesday dread settles over me like a heavy coat, lead in the pockets. I fall asleep with a candle burning and a ceaseless prayer. Please don’t let him win. Wednesday I wake up and cry. I am surprised it hits me so hard. After, I do my sitting meditation. I practice metta. I don’t try to love Trump. I don’t try to love the people who voted for him. But I can hold them anonymously when I say metta for all beings everywhere. I can be inclusive of them in my practice because I believe we all deserve to be safe and free from harm. I believe we all deserve to live with ease and well being. We all deserve to know both deep joy and deep peace. But I don’t try to single them out for this, as you would in a traditional metta practice. I don’t want to try. Not yet, at least. Not now. Right now I am still too raw. Right now it is all I can do to keep my fear from grabbing me and sprinting off. Will he begin deporting people, pulling apart families? Will he try to take away our right to choose, strip away gay rights? I hear he doesn’t believe in global warming. Will he undo everything good people have fought so hard for for so long? I tell myself people who voted for him wanted to overthrow the government. It’s an understandable desire. But how could it not matter that he hates people of color? Women? Foreigners? How the hell could it not matter that he bragged about grabbing pussy, claimed Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists? How can there be no lines drawn for the kind of person we even allow to run for president, much less elect? I cringe to think of all the white women who voted for him because their husbands told them to, women who have internalized the misogyny Trump embraces. (And there, perhaps, is my truer entry into compassion.) I know racism and misogyny and xenophobia never went away. But I never expected almost half the voters in this country to exalt them. I’d hoped just the fact that Trump was in the running was enough of a backlash. That it meant we were making progress in this world of ours. Now it looks like it will have to get worse before it gets better. So I’ll pray it doesn’t get too bad. I’ll pray it doesn’t last too long. I’ll pray this is how we expose and exorcise this kind of hate. And I’ll cling to being grateful and proud to be a Californian. On Wednesday morning when I look at the nice little west coast block of us, of Clinton states—California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington—I can’t help but wonder. Could we just secede? But maybe that’s the coward in me talking.
I was thinking yesterday about Cinco de Mayo and how our country managed to use this relatively unimportant date in Mexican history to celebrate Mexican culture instead of choosing to honor a date that holds deeper meaning in Mexico, like el 16 de septiembre. It makes me sad, and it makes me embarrassed to be an estadounidense (someone from the United States). I have long been embarrassed by our reputation traveling abroad, for being demanding, arrogant, condescending, for expecting all our whims to be met and met instantly, for believing people in other countries should put aside their local traditions and customs in order to cater to and accommodate us. I was mortified when we elected Bush—twice!—and appalled when he refused to even pause when millions of people all over the world took to the streets to protest attacking Iraq. There may not be an adjective for what I feel now knowing Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate for president. When this started we were all so sure he’d be disregarded, dismissed. How could anyone take him seriously?
Now I am baffled and angry to see so many people voting for him. How can people ignore the malice and racism he’s so steeped in? I’m hideously ashamed of our country in the eyes the world, our dark, decaying underbelly exposed, maggots everywhere. I cling to one comfort that has come to me in recent times. I may be ashamed to be an estadounidense, but I am glad to be a Californian. I’m proud of the way our state has separated itself from the anti-immigrant stance. I’m not saying we don’t have more work to do, but at least we’re moving in the right direction, granting driver’s licenses, minimizing police cooperation with federal deportation officials, changing Medi-Cal laws to provide healthcare for the children of undocumented immigrants, raising the minimum wage. So, today I reach for solace in this gift, that I belong to a state who is trying to change things for the better. And I pray Trump will be defeated by an overwhelming and embarrassing margin. I pray come election day we’ll see evidence the true majority of people in this country understand what he espouses is wrong-hearted and vindictive, that at the end of this messy, ugly, humiliating spectacle the people of this country will do the right thing.
[Editor’s note: I don’t mean to imply here the United States doesn’t have much more egregious sins than these when it comes to our participation in the world or at home. This known catalog is endless and disturbing to say the least.]