The morning after the election The Los Angeles Times ran a banner headline: Democrats Take Back the House. I grinned reading it, standing in the gateway of my courtyard. Something flickered in me, seeing the words spread across the page, a taste of older headlines, bigger news, maybe, not always good (Milk and Moscone?). Whatever it was, the headline caught me in the chest. I never got a chance to read the front page story, but it sat on the floor of my living room for days, proclaiming our good news each time I walked by. I listened to KPFA the morning after the election and learned in the act of taking back the house our country elected a twenty-nine-year-old woman, two Native American women and two Muslim women. It was just before the new moon, and I remember standing in my living room during the Cazimi window talking to the universe about how I want to be more in touch with magic in my life. And the news about these five women we elected to the house made me cry big happy grateful tears. It reached deep in me, this reassurance from the world that we are going to move in the right direction, despite all evidence to the contrary. And it felt like we were sending a message, too. We don’t want to do things your way. Yesterday there seems to have been a surprising level of civility between Governor Brown and Governor-Elect Newsom and President Trump on his visit to California in the wake of the fires. President Trump didn’t threaten again to deny us federal funds but instead promised 100% support. Reading that, I softened toward him for a moment. But I still get all shiny inside when I think of those five women we elected to the house and the message it sends. I still dream of the day when I’ll get a glimpse of the house or the senate on TV, and there will be all these young people in the mix, and black and brown faces everywhere, graceful hijabs, women of all colors, white men scattered about among the rest.
[The Cazimi window, as I understand it, is 30 minutes before and after the exact moment of the new moon when we can take action both practically and symbolically for things we want to manifest in this lunar cycle. I’ve come across it here.]
I feel my faith in humankind wobble for the first time in my sixty years. It’s a smaller thought that sparks it. Not the massacre of eleven Jewish people in their temple. Not the white supremacist in Kentucky who’s unable to force open the doors of a largely black church so he goes to Kroger and shoots two black people there. Not the caravan of mostly Hondurans heading to our border, fleeing violence and poverty the U.S. has a hand in making, our president bringing in the military, treating the Hondurans like terrorists instead of finding a way to simply process their requests for asylum. Not the 15 pipe bombs mailed to people who visibly oppose him. I know these things and more—the 189 who died in the plane near Jakarta—have layered themselves inside me, have brought me to this moment, this possible tipping point, sitting in my courtyard in the morning warmth. But it’s two disparate things I hear on NPR that come together in my head. Some crazy high number of children in Europe with respiratory ailments linked to air pollution, and our president’s intention to drill for oil in Alaska (and everywhere he can). Compared to the endless string of recent horrors, these two seem almost mild. But what if we get past the fear and hate, and it’s too late to save our planet? I sip my tea, fenugreek with coconut milk and honey, third day without caffeine. I’ve always believed we can turn this around. I hold the warm cup in the bowl of my hands, savor the bitter and the sweet on my tongue. And I feel my belief in us wobble for the first time in my life. I don’t land there, don’t let doubt all the way in. But the wobbling alone scares me, and I cry. I make anxious circles with my fingers, purse my lips, swallow the last of my tea. I take a breath, grateful I didn’t topple. I refuse to believe it’s too late for us to restore our planet, too late to turn this around. Not just global warming, not only the condors and the wolves, but finding our way all the way clear, to a world where everyone can thrive, be safe, have dignity, know peace. Que nunca tengas hambre. Que nunca tengas sed. May you never hunger. May you never thirst.
I keep thinking I need to go to a big demonstration—for immigrants, for human rights—but when I hear recordings on NPR a part of me recoils. The chants feel too intense, too assaultive, beating against “them.” It isn’t what I want to be. It doesn’t feel nonviolent. People say Mother Teresa refused to go to anti-war demonstrations, but if we ever held a rally for peace, she said, she’d be there. I want that, a sea of humankind, all swaying and singing “Give Peace a Chance” (hippie osmosis from my childhood). What happened to Gandhi, to King? What happened to peaceful resistance? Can’t we make up songs to sing instead of screaming angry chants? Songs that connect us, singing together in the streets, on freeways or tarmacs, our voices carrying across cities, drifting across the sea. I read that in the wake of the havoc and vitriol President Trump scattered across Europe earlier this month there was a music festival in London. Paul Simon and James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt were all there. Each one of them spoke up. None of them named the president, but every one of them voiced messages of encouragement, messages of love. I’m comforted to know these musicians who I’ve loved all my life were over there, counterpoint to our president’s chaos and hatred, letting people know there are other voices in the United States. Voices that want the world to know we aren’t all ugly and mean. We aren’t all afraid of women, of Muslims, of all the dark-skinned peoples of the world, or foreign tongues, or English spoken with a Mexican accent. We aren’t all afraid of gay marriage or body ink or people in wheelchairs. We aren’t afraid of learning to include all genders, all sexual preferences, to stand up for the rights of children and for a woman’s right to choose. What we are afraid of is losing our humanity inch by inch, of letting what binds us all together be whittled away little by little until it’s too late. What we are afraid of is allowing another holocaust. I wish I’d been in those quiet crowds at that music festival, singing along, soothed. I wonder if James Taylor sang “Shed a Little Light“?
[Editor’s note: Looking at my title now in the light of day—”We Aren’t All Afraid”—I think I might need to change it. Because maybe we ARE all afraid. We’re just afraid of very different things. And some of the same ordinary things, too.]
Hank shook his head and muttered under his breath. Then he shook his head again. He wished Sally was here. She’d know what to do, what to say to his leftie child, this daughter of theirs. Her daughter maybe more than his, but he loved her like there was no tomorrow. He just couldn’t stand to be in the same room with her sometimes. This living with them again wasn’t something he saw coming, but here she was, rearranging the kitchen cupboards, hiding his ashtray. Hell, yesterday he even found a full box of his Frosted Flakes in the outside garbage can. What was she thinking? And now she was on to his politics, chastising him for not trying harder, for not being willing to camp out with her in protest at the community center. He was too damn old to sleep on pavement in the middle of December. And she was too damn old to be living with her parents. When was Sally going to get back, anyway? How long could it take to get her toenails done, for Christ’s sake? Since when did she even have her toenails done? He muttered again, opening the can of dolphin-safe tuna Alexa had bought for the cat. It was probably her idea, the toe painting deal. His wife had been perfectly content with doing her own toenails all these decades, and now when she should have been here helping him deal with her damn daughter, she was off getting her toenails doo-dawed instead.
He couldn’t believe the school was making him have a different kind of class card than everyone else just because he was a foreign student. Foreigner, they should have said. Dark-skinned Middle Easterner. Alien. Maybe he should just wear a sign around his neck: fucking scary. His grandfather would just shrug it off with that peculiar arrogance. But he didn’t feel like that. He wanted to be liked, to feel welcomed in this high school. In his biology class, they each had to take a blood sample from themselves, quick pinprick, smear across the slide. His lab partner Callie gaped when she looked through the microscope at his blood. He swore her jaw dropped. She looked up at him then, confused. He saw it on her face. She’d expected his blood to look different under the glass.
I dream of wearing a sign. Something like, “I’m so sorry. We want you here.” Sueno de tener un letrero que dice, “Lo siento mucho. Les queremos Uds. aquí.” Quiero decir, “No se vayan.” I want to say don’t go. Quiero decir que millónes mas gente no le votó como ellos que votaron para él, nuestro “residente.” I want to say three million more people voted against him than voted for him, our “resident” en la casa blanca. Quiero decir esto es su país, también. This is your country, too. Please don’t go. I speak to my favorite flower vendor, watch him take it all on his broad shoulders, this weighted world. I see him shrug, something I’ve admired for years, the way so often someone who grows up in Mexico can make so much room inside themselves for acceptance. “Vivimos la vida que viene,” he says. We live the life that comes.
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.