One Day, One Thing More

Everyday observations

Category: spirituality

Weaponizing Love

Since the election, maintaining my commitment to power bottoming has gotten harder. I really believe Shannon Sullivan that our task as white people is to learn to love the abject parts of our own communities: the only way we can combat white supremacy is to stop trying to convince ourselves that we are fundamentally, irrevocably different from “those” people, the Bad White People. But when Nazis are marching in the street, it’s hard not to want to do everything I can do disassociate myself from them: make them Something Else. At the same time, I’m scared to death: afraid my kids will grow up in a nuclear winter, that my beloved neighbors will be rounded into an internment camp, that I’ll get raped and murdered by some emboldened alt-right troll. It’s this static at the back of my mind all the time, making it hard for me to think straight: whataboutwhataboutwhataboutwhatabout… I’ll never be fully prepared so I just want to shut down completely and stay home forever.

Fuck that, though. Shutting down is not an option, and there’s plenty of time for sheet cake after I’ve occupied the streets. But I don’t have the resources to face this on my own—in order to show up, I have to remember my own strength, both spiritual and physical. So I’m praying my face off, putting myself in the middle of the community at both my temple and AA, and taking boxing classes. Boxing has been great: it’s an outlet for my anger, I’m getting stronger and more confident, and—best of all—most times I go, it’s all immigrants and women. I feel like I’m part of a secret anti-fascist army, and it’s beautiful.

But last week there was a new guy there who seriously disrupted my feeling of safety and community. He was gigantic: about 6’5”, maybe 240 pounds, and sporting a white guy haircut that was too close for comfort to the Richard Spencer as well as a tank top with the terrifying slogan, “They don’t want me on Spring Break.” Who is “they”? The women you plan to fucking roofie? Yikes. So instead of my usual fantasies of punching Jeff Sessions, I could feel my heart rate rising as I tried to plot out my escape if he attacked me. Is he enraged by my Planned Parenthood T-shirt? We’re in a basement, so all he’d have to do is block the stairs… I knew my fear wasn’t grounded in reality (my classmates were there, the gym owner was right upstairs and would hear me scream), but reality doesn’t help much in these moments of lizard-brained terror.

Because as much as I’m in that class to learn to defend myself, there’s no way I’d win a fight with this guy if he decided to pick one. Seriously, all he’d have to do is sit on me and I’d probably die. So I need another way.

I have this meditation I’ve been doing when I put my daughter to bed: I always lie down with her for about 20 minutes after reading books and singing songs, and as she’s drifting off, I imagine that I create a sphere of blue-white light that encircles us both. And I think: I have this light inside me and I share it with you so you can carry it with you forever. I want to protect her from the horrors of the world, but I know I can’t protect her from everything. What’s more, being a woman in this world is going to get harder before it gets easier, I fear. But what I can give her is this light.

So I tried the same thing at boxing: I stopped looking for a way out and instead pictured a circle of light extended around the whole gym. This calmed me down enough that I could shift my attention to the other woman in the room, challenging her to join me for jump squats and throw downs. Nothing changed in the room, but I felt my fear recede, and that made it possible for me to focus on getting stronger.

So this is what nonviolent resistance means to me. By shifting my attention away from fear, I create space for strength. I notice more, I become available to help the people around me. It’s not that I’m backing away from a fight—I’m changing the terms of the game.

To be clear, shifting my attention to love doesn’t mean shifting my attention to the scary guy in the tank top and finding a way to love him despite myself, despite my needs, despite my safety. I’m still on guard against him, but the bulk of my attention is going somewhere it will do more good: I’ll focus on my compatriots, and on loving and protecting them.

This radical act of refocusing attention is the logic behind Black Lives Matter, and it was on full display this weekend at the anti-fascist counter protest in Boston. Unsurprisingly, most media attention has focused on the unexpected no-show of the hate speech rally itself (only 50 people showed up to defend “free speech,” and police estimate 40,000 counter protesters) and the skirmishes between police and counter protesters. But for me, the real brilliance of the event was the decision to meet up in Roxbury and march two miles through the projects and POC-majority neighborhoods just south of the city. As I waved to the abuelas and grandkids watching from their windows and returned a raised fist to folks on their doorsteps as we chanted “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” I felt like: “I have this light inside me and I share it with you so you can carry it with you always.” This is the antidote I want to be a part of: a group of people putting ourselves on the line for the disenfranchised because your life matters.

Ideally, I’d like to follow in the rabble-rousing, arty steps of ACT UP, maintaining a kind of performative joy as well, because I think that’s key to my own long-term survival. I’m not sure joy is possible when counter protesters are getting gassed by cops—but love and attention for people who are suffering still are. So if you’re looking for me, I’ll be as close to the action as I can be, the terrifying mother who loves this country too much to let it stay this way.

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Superpowers

I went to say goodnight to Izzy before I left for temple tonight–she was standing at the bathroom sink mixing water and toothpaste and lotion and soap and dental floss to make “soda.”

“Where are you going?” she asked. To temple, I told her.

“To talk to God?” she asked, looking at me through the mirror.

“I guess so, yeah.”

“You should ask for superpowers,” she directed me.

***

I don’t know if “talking to God” is why I have started going to temple, although it’s part of it, I suppose. I pray a lot during the day, which has been a constant for me since getting sober. Even at times when I haven’t believed in God, I’ve still issued these flyers into the ether: usually something along the lines of “Please, help me out here.” And there are some set prayers from AA that I say when I find myself derailed by self-loathing–the rhythm of them carries me up and out of the specific fixation, if only for a moment.

But temple is funny–the text is entirely in Hebrew, which I can’t read, and pretty much all we do is sing. A lifelong WASP, I don’t know any of the songs, but I sing along anyway, trying to find the tune with the community, knowing that my stumbling and searching through the first verses and my butchering of the pronunciation will get lost in the throng. I sing these prayers, but since I don’t know the language, I can’t get hung up on the specific vagaries of meaning–the point is to find my place among this community of voices, to let myself be imperfect there, knowing I’ll be welcomed anyway.

I’ve been going off and on since the election. Up until recently, AA had always been the place I found some semblance of a spiritual community, if not an organized religion, but that’s gone a bit off the rails of late. The day after the election, I went to a meeting–I didn’t know what else to do, and it was the place I’d always returned to when the world felt out of control. But when I walked into my home group that Wednesday morning, I didn’t feel safe anymore, not like I had. One of the central rules of AA is that you leave your politics at the door, so I had no idea where people were coming from on the political spectrum.

But more than that was the sense I had of my own potential endangerment in the space. For all I knew, every guy there could be a perpetrator. And who was I kidding? It was an AA meeting–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to say that one in three of the men in that room had committed some form of assault against a woman. And I could feel it, in a new way–this place, which had previously been sacrosanct to me, was infected by sexual violence, just like every other fucking place is these days.

When Ariel and I went to temple the following Friday, the feeling was really different–here was a group of people united by their understanding of the world as a place that was fundamentally pretty hostile. Our job in the world (at least the way that our temple seems to frame it) is to stand with those people against whom the world keeps committing this violence. To protect the powerless.

So the point of going to temple has been the experience of community more than the act of prayer itself. I let myself be embraced by this group and I do my best to embrace them back in my heart, in all their earnest, nerdy glory.

But there is a moment of silent prayer, and when I am “talking to God,” I find myself asking the same things I do throughout the day: help me be present, help me feel safe, help me to find the resources to be of service in the world, thanks for my life just as it is.

***

But maybe asking to be simultaneously present and grateful is asking for superpowers? Today was really hard–I adopted Teddy this morning, and unlike when we adopted Izzy, there was no pomp or ceremony from the judge. We were in the trial courthouse, which is a bleak administrative building filled with people who looked like they wished they were anywhere else. Everyone who we talked to about the adoption seemed almost embarrassed by the fact that we had to do this–which I should appreciate, I suppose. Maybe a more emotionally generous person would have appreciated it.  To me, today, it just felt like they were trying to prove how “woke” they were. Which–sure, thanks, whatever. On top of that, my family of origin is waiting for test results for my dad which could be really scary. Between these two things, I spent the day longing to be pretty much anywhere than my own head, my own skin. Bad ideas kept coming up like crocuses in spring: I should send this ill-advised text. I should smoke. Why bother with my bike helmet? Tell this inappropriate joke to a student. I should definitely smoke. And so on.

It felt good to be at the service, but not quite magical, the way I’d hoped it would. During the silent prayer, I felt my mind wander. The people seemed great, but I felt certain, looking at them, that they didn’t harbor the same self-destructive, depraved impulses that plague me. They all just seemed so good–what was I even doing here?

But during the Oneg, the cantor buttonholed me. She  was so glad that I was there–just seeing my pink hair lifted her spirits, she told me. And then this transwoman came over with her family–I’d noticed her during the service, and seeing her had been a brief balm to my alienation. After a brief pause to check in, the cantor told me that this woman had just told her parents, just that day, that she was trans, that she wanted them to call her by a female name. So we chatted–I told her my coming out story, she told me hers. Her parents had been great, she assured me, but the tremor in her hand as she poured the Keshet grape juice suggested that even though they were great, this didn’t mean her life was easy.

We didn’t talk long, but it felt real–I told her that I’d adopted my son that morning, we bonded about the time it can take for loved ones to come around to queerness. “They’re still figuring it out,” she told me. “Aren’t we all?” I responded.

And maybe this is the superpower–to let myself really be part of this community, to give whatever I have, even when I’m feeling like garbage. It’s so hard to have faith these days–and I’m still trying to figure out a vision of faith that doesn’t depend on the world getting better. But in this conversation, it was just about being present–being another queer person in that space, welcoming someone in even when I didn’t really believe I was welcome. Just showing up can be a superpower, and being present is my petition to be something more than the meager limits of my imagination.