May 4th was mom’s 96th birthday. She hasn’t tired in the least of loving this life. She’s curious and engaged, and willing and ready to love all kinds of people, giving each day her best shot. I’m similar to her though intermittently I get taken down by doubt and self-doubt. I have to re-group (not always easily), then I come back.
The morning of May 4th started jarringly with my cell phone alarm waking me with its fierce noise. Being retired, I rarely use an alarm, but I had an early flight to catch home to Phoenix.
As always (and, no, I’m not proud of this, just being honest) before I even got out of bed I grabbed my laptop to see what was happening. There was bad news on Facebook — some Trump supporters had assaulted an artist who had created a widely viewed picture of the naked Donald Trump featuring his much disputed “hand” size. After her drawing went viral, she received death threats (similar to threats made by some fundamentalist Muslims in reaction to artists’ renderings of their Prophet). For her safety, she had left the country for awhile, hidden out. When it seemed the situation had cooled off she returned to her home in LA. and was assaulted while walking down a street.
I felt sick reading this. I wondered how I/we could show support for her. This whole ugly Trump thing. People feeling free to, even encouraged to commit violence against those they disagree with. The Other.
I decided it was too early in the day to “share” the bad news. I like that my friend Robert David Cohen always shares a beautiful photo or video “to start the day” and “to end the day”. Here’s an example:
It lifts my spirits, not only that this beauty exists, but that Robert senses the community’s need for it — for beauty and kindness — and steps up to the plate as a daily practice. That is an act of beauty in itself.
I also didn’t want to turn away. The news story was deeply disturbing. It fits a pattern of Trump supporters’ aggressive actions, not only tolerated, but encouraged by Trump. It is reminiscent of Nazi sympathizers in pre-war Germany, how Isis approaches every Other, how the Taliban regards women.
At SFO I was standing in the long line for security and looking around at my fellow line-standers. I was marveling at the diversity when I decided to shift my shoulder bag, turned around in line and, forgetting I was holding on to my driver’s license, let it drop to the floor without noticing. A second later I felt something brush my arm. I looked up. Looking back at me were two people, a 60-something African-American man, and a 50-something Russian-speaking woman. They looked at me with concern and both pointed to the floor. Ahhh. I bent over and picked up the license, smiled and thanked them. They looked surprised at being thanked but then smiled back.
All of the sudden I found myself noticing the earnest beauty of people and falling in love with everyone around me.
The older, well not that old, probably a few years younger than me, east Indian (or maybe Pakistani or Bangladeshi) man calling someone on his iPhone. He and his wife looked like their lives had not been that easy, worry lines worn in their faces; I guessed they were recent immigrants. I imagined them in some rural village or working class neighborhood in their country of origin. How far they’d come in their lives to be flying in America, and speaking on iPhones! I felt happy for them.
I saw two men walking along just next to the line who looked like they might be from the Middle East. I worried about their safety, about how some Americans react with fear-based unkindness or aggression to people they presume to be from the Middle East.
There was a young Asian family with two little pony-tailed girls dressed in polka dots and striped tights. SO cute.
I heard one middle-aged couple speaking Spanish, and an attractive young African-American couple arguing in semi-hushed tones about whether she had done something to dis-respect him. They seemed to be working it out. I hoped they would.
I was thinking how wonderful it is that America has become like this. But then, as my mind is wont to, I also started thinking about how difficult it is for a lot of us to accept the Other, how often we all other people and groups.
I was at a lecture the day before given by Jeff Hart, the husband of a friend who lives up in the Delta. He is a ethno-botanist, author, teacher and organic farmer near Walnut Grove. At the Osher Center in Lafayette, he spoke about how othering —also know as tribalism — made sense back in the day when the clan in the next valley was a threat to one’s own tribe’s survival. Apparently this human trait served well back then. We, humans today are the descendants of these hyper-vigilant, other-fearing, victorious aggressors.
Othering makes sense, in terms of our human history and evolution. But being too fear-based is not serving us now. We end up using our energies and resources fighting and harming people and the planet rather than problem-solving for the common good. A lot of us long for the problem-solving-for-the-common-good approach. Not everyone. The Trump-style wing of our species is also part of who “we” are. They need our compassion, but also our resolute rejection of their tactics and strategies. This kind of attunement , seeing clearly what is— noticing the beauty, holding the “full catastrophe” in compassionate awareness and clear-eyed citizen engagement — is needed to make progress in this interconnected and ever-dynamic life we love so much. No, it’s not easy. It’s just the work of our time.
Happy 96th Birthday Mom! I saw your granddaughter Anna’s Facebook birthday card to you the other day. I hope some day your grandchildren’s grandchildren will wish them a Happy 96th in a time and place where othering is a thing of the past and wisdom and kindness rule the day.