I woke up early Sunday morning soul deep sad. It’s been a stressful winter and spring: impeachment with no conviction (remember back then?), pandemic, civil uprising, economic crisis. And that’s just the public part. Lost income from my Airbnb. Worry about my sister, concern for my children, sad for my grandchildren. My son is a police officer. I’m conflicted about the vitriol toward law enforcement as a whole; toward him.
It’s been raining, which doesn’t help. Mostly I’m okay with rain, but in June it begins to wear thin—especially with a camping trip coming up. The trails are muddy and I haven’t been getting to the woods to breathe in the healing from the trees. I haven’t been able to hike. Something is eating my garden. I’m lonely, which is rare. Also I was out of avocados and I didn’t want to go to the store because it’s scary and unmasked people bubble up my inner anger.
I walked up the driveway Sunday morning to feed the neighbor’s cats while they are away. In the curve where vine maple and salal line one side of the drive and rhododendrons, sword fern, and tall firs line the other, I caught the scent of damp earth and vegetation. Childhood rushed into my body, as it often does in that spot where the petrichor is strongest, and my chest loosened. The tears fell.
There was a milestone marker in my life last week: 50 years ago I graduated from high school. Maybe the crush of passing time contributed to my sadness. I watched some of this year’s local graduation on YouTube. The class speakers delivered their inspirational words to a microphone, classmates watching from home. The next day, students lined up in the parking lot appropriately distanced. In caps and gowns, ordered in excitement long before any of this happened, they walked one-by-one into the gym—their family walking parallel behind the video camera—picked up their diploma folder, paused in front of the ancient stuffed tiger in the case to turn to their family for a photo op, and walked off as the recorded Pomp and Circumstance played. No procession with their classmates, no band or choir, no handshake from the principal, no cheering friends.
This past couple of weeks I’ve been watching a really eye-rollingly sappy series on Netflix. “Sweet Magnolias.” Kind of embarrassing to admit that. Three strong women, yes, but of course they are all lookin’ for a man to complete them. It’s set in South Carolina in a tiny mixed race town called—of course it is—Serenity. There is no racial barrier (nor any sheriff or favorite police officer character, now that I think about it). So ridiculously unlikely, I thought, as I continued to watch it right up to the last cliffhanger episode. Everyone’s best friend is of another skin color. Everyone goes to the same church, pastored by a Black woman. But then I got to thinking: Is it really so bad to portray life the way we wish it were? Maybe we need models, even fictional ones. (I know, also the POC are White on the inside. Really, it is a stupid series. Forget I brought it up. But don’t forget the re-imagining part.)
Sunday night I watched a Netflix movie, eating my garden spinach and goat cheese pizza: “Freedom Writers.” I highly recommend it. Unlike the ridiculous series, it is based on a true story. A mixed race classroom of students who have been given up on by the once affluent high school is assigned to a new teacher who has no idea what she has gotten into. But for one scared White boy, the students are Asian, Latino, and Black, and they hate each other; their lives are eye-openingly accurate I suppose; and they act like no one expects anything of them because no one does—including themselves. But one teacher bucked the system and challenged them to be best.
It’s still grey this morning. My chest is still tight. It’s still going to rain on my camping trip. The country is still a hot mess. There is still a pandemic. I’m still worried and sad for my family. And I discovered I bought the wrong vehicle to pull a tiny trailer and that is crushing me.
But maybe I’m back on track. I did get avocados yesterday. This is life now and we’ll work through it, and hopefully be a better nation—collectively and individually—for the struggle. Struggles have always made us better.
Don’t get me wrong, I am angry at the systemic racism in this country that has prevailed for too long. I am terrified by the fascism the current administration promotes and by those who blindly follow. (Here’s an article about America’s Fascist Collapse, by Umair Haque in Medium; I encourage you to read it.) People are dying from the pandemic, and from hatred. The country is officially in a recession. So many people are in a crisis that I am not in, it feels wrong to kvetch about myself. But it’s okay, I think, to feel it all, for others and for our individual sorrows. Only when we have compassion for ourselves, can we extend it to others.
“Through the process of sitting still and following your breath, you are connecting with your heart.” —Chögyam Trungpa
Do whatever you can to cope. Sit and watch the birds; close your eyes and breathe; connect with your heart. It’s okay, even critical, to find relief where you can. Next week I will feel it all in the deep silent rainforest, tears falling on my tent roof. After the rain, comes the light. And then more rain. And then the light. It’s the way of things.