There was a captain of a ship who was fired from his job and told to—as his contract states—finish his voyage and then leave. Rather than accepting this and behaving professionally, he claims that he was not fired and tells all the passengers that he is being attacked. He threatens to just keep the ship out at sea. The company tells him they can prove that all protocols were followed in his firing, but he dismisses them and continues to tell the passengers he is being attacked. Many of the passengers believe him. Many more don’t. They just want to get back to land safely and return to their lives. Arguments ensue. There are a handful of elite passengers who have enjoyed all the special perks the captain has given them on their voyage, so they go along with his cries of being attacked as they continue to enjoy their VIP privileges.
While all of this is going on, the captain is ransacking the ship and taking whatever he can. He tells the passengers who believe him to fight for him. He tells them that the passengers who don’t agree with them are losers and part of the conspiracy against him. The captain-followers are enraged by this and ask the captain what they should do. He tells them to keep fighting for him and to give him money.
In the meantime, when he starts to realize that he can’t keep his job unless he stays out at sea…but that he can’t stay out at sea or they will die, he comes up with a plan. Since he will never admit failure, he will instead bring down one of the most glorious ships ever made as a way to show his strength. He reaches out to the elites to coordinate the destruction of the ship. These special few will escape on lifeboats while the masses go down with the ship. Since the captain is letting them take whatever they want with them, they go along with the plan.
So…while the captain-following passengers are busy attacking and fighting the other passengers, the captain goes around starting little fires that he fans into bigger ones. The elites are busy blocking exits and locking doors. The fires catch hold and start to cripple the ship. Some of the captain-following passengers see the fire but the captain just tells them that it will keep them warm and to go on fighting.
When the other passengers smell smoke, find the fires, and try to put them out, they realize it is too late. They try to run to the lifeboats, but thanks to the elites, they are trapped.
As this horror takes place below deck, the captain and the elites are filling all the extra lifeboats with their stolen goods and launching themselves away from the sinking ship. They watch the ship now fully engulfed in flames. They don’t seem to see it as a tragedy. After all, they made some serious money because of it. How can that be a tragedy? If anything, it is an “unfortunate byproduct” of their newfound additional wealth.
The captain watches the flames in amazement. “Look at that,” he tells the elites. “Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you have ever seen? No one has ever sunk a ship that big before. No one. I’m the only one.” One of the elites piped up, “Yes, Captain…this has to be the biggest sabotage the world has ever seen.”
“Damn right,” the captain spat. “This will be my legacy.”
Congratulations—you won! You have clinched the victory!…over trust. Yes, trust had already received some stern punches to the gut, but you have crushed it altogether. You must be so proud.
I’m not talking about allowing outside forces to meddle in our election or using taxpayer money to fund your campaign or having your staff consistently violate the Hatch Act or using the White House for campaigning or refusing to release your taxes or threatening to contest the election or any of a number of other trust-breaking behaviors. Not even going there. No…I’m talking about trying to undermine the foundation of a democracy: the right to vote…and know it will be counted.
Months ago, I requested a mail-in ballot because of the pandemic. It’s what any American should be able to do, right? But by the time I received it, you had personally knee-capped the USPS and planted doubt about whether mailing my ballot would be guaranteed to be counted. What?
Then I thought I should probably just go vote early. That should be safe. But then what would become of my mail-in ballot? A little research told me I should bring it and relinquish it to the election judges—but if anything happened to my mail-in ballot, it would throw out my early vote. Handing it off to someone else made me nervous enough to decide against early voting. Whaat?
Well…I guess I would forgo the mail and put it directly into a ballot drop box. Then the placing of unofficial drop boxes in some states made the news. Whaaat?
I decided I would drive my ballot to my county’s official drop box. It was the best answer I could come up with.
But I found another thing to worry about. I learned that mail-in ballots can and already are being rejected because the signature on the ballot envelope doesn’t match the one on file. My personal signature has morphed over the years, and I have no idea what the one on file looks like. It made me so worried, I literally practiced signing my name. Whaaaat?
Well…today I voted.
I dropped it in the county drop box—along with a stream of many others who must be having some of the same feelings I am. I have already checked several times today whether my ballot has been accepted via ballottrax. I won’t rest until I know my vote will count.
Never in my life have I had to worry about the sanctity and validity of my vote—but this election I have worried about it in multiple ways.
America is a democracy. I fear that with the dismantling this “leader” has done, we are at risk of this being true only in theory.
So…congratulations, dear Donald. Your lying, maneuvering, fearmongering, bullying, corruption, greed, narcissism, and inability to care for anyone but yourself have made hardworking, law-abiding, tax-paying* citizens worry that their vote may not count.
I don’t know if we will ever be “We the People” again.
You must be so proud.
*I know you are unfamiliar with this. It’s when people pay money to the government based on their earnings.
I’ve come to think of every day as Blursday, Marchtember Oneteenth during this pandemic. For most all of us, there is life BC (Before Covid) and then this haze of “the new normal.” It has most definitely been a struggle. So much loss, fear, pain, and uncertainty. Maybe all those things apply directly to you or maybe some only to those around you or beyond, but we are all going through a metamorphosis of sorts.
I thought a not-so-brief chronicle of some of the lessons I am learning (so far) through this time might resonate with you. I kind of got on a roll, so feel free to scroll to the ones that pique your interest. Of course, who am I kidding? You can stop reading altogether, too…I never assume I’ve won your time to read my words!
Lessons learned…in no particular order…
I knew marking lasts was important to me, but I never knew just how much. I missed the last couple days of work in March because I had a cold and feared that my symptoms would be off-putting to those I would come in contact with. Those two days were Thursday and Friday. By Monday, the doors were closed. No goodbye to coworkers or taking a moment to pause and consider. Of course, no one knew it would be this long, but I wish I would have had a chance to mark that moment—and others, too.
With word filtering out that schools would probably close soon, my son came home from school that Friday with hopes of being able to record a rehearsal of the play he was lead in that Monday after school to at least have a version of it. But there was no school that Monday, and there was no rehearsal to record. The seniors didn’t know that Friday that it would be the last time they walked those halls that signified so much during this chapter of their lives. It all happened so fast.
My heart aches for them and all that they missed.
I took to keeping a list of “Covid Castaways”—those things canceled and missed due to the pandemic. It’s a long—and growing—list. My son tells me, “Mom, you don’t get to be more upset than me. It’s fine. I’m fine.” I don’t believe that totally, but I do believe that these kids are going to come through this experience stronger and more resilient. But being able to note a last, to take it in before the tide turns, truly means something to me—and now I realize it so much more.
Time does not facilitate creativity in and of itself. When I learned that I was going to be paid for several weeks even though I could only do minimal work from home, I thought, Girl, you are going to kick some serious writing ass…I mean, come on—no excuses, right? My stalled book project would find new life with all the time I could dedicate to it, except…time does not equal creativity or the ability to focus. Discipline, might, but…yeah. Not my strong suit on most things. Especially when…
I recognize just how many layers of anxiety I have. I have dealt with anxiety all my life, but these last few years have piled additional layers almost like sedimentary rock. And just like rock, it is hard to climb out from under. The divisiveness of our country has weighed on my heart in direct correlation with its growth—or at least its “outing,” where things like social media gave hate and vitriol megaphones to use and abuse. But in 2016, that layer hardened into heavy stone. Another layer may be added in November of this year. I’m trying to fight against it but brace for it in hopes that it won’t crush me if it solidifies. Other layers include the pandemic, of course, as well as social injustice, job limbo, financial security, what the future will look like…
Realizing who is truly an “essential” worker has exemplified the reality and unfairness of income inequality. In many ways, this pandemic has highlighted how the disparity of income levels has a reverse correlation to the essential value of the work done. Want to be wealthy? Help the rich get richer. Want to worry about whether or not you can take a vacation, send your kid to college, qualify for a mortgage, or have health insurance? Serve others. That may be what some people call capitalism, but it’s what I call fucked up.
It doesn’t take long for our polarized society to even see something like a pandemic as a divisive issue. One word: masks. Seriously? As I shared on Facebook, here’s the deal with the whole “you can’t legislate my face” mask issue that I just don’t freaking understand…I have claustrophobia and would really love not to wear a mask when I go out in public. But if I did that, it’s not myself I put at risk but YOU. And that makes me slam dunk choose to make myself uncomfortable because it’s worth it. But unless and until that choice is a collective American choice, we are simply prolonging the agony and suffering for everyone. The message that non-mask wearers make is very clear: I care about me more than you…or your elderly mom…or your diabetic kid…or the economy that will continue to suffer as places deal with ongoing sickness and death…or this country I allegedly love so much. And that really pisses me off.
The importance of face-to-face visits, even for this introvert. When I was a kid, Zoom was a TV show. Now it’s how I interact with almost everyone who is not in my house. Optometrists must be making a good buck through all of this. But screens—while better than nothing—do not come close to truly being with others. I pray for a vaccine for many reasons—and one of them is because I’ve got some serious hugging to do when it is safe to do so again.
In the absence of structure, routine is all the more critical. Oh, routine, where art thou? Apparently, one of the best routines I keep is the search for the perfect routine. Seriously—I have scads of notes on attempted routines that will allow me to be at my best…and then never followed. And now? When many life anchors have been lifted? Yeesh. It is so needed. And so glaringly missing. I think I’ll hammer out a new and improved routine tomorrow. That should do the trick.
The mundane matters. BC, I appreciated that my commute was short. If we ever get to AC (After Covid, not air conditioning), I will appreciate that I have a commute. I appreciate running errands now…because I can. Those everyday mundane things matter, and I hope to remember that in the future when I am stuck in traffic on my commute. But Covid has also reminded me of the value of the sun (holy crimony was it a gray Spring!), long walks, quiet time, and just being with one another.
Covid-19 isn’t our country’s only pandemic. The murder of George Floyd has incited not only protests but conversations…and helped bring to the forefront an ongoing fight—a long, arduous battle—for justice and equality. There is much work to be done. No one is “immune” from racism. There is no vaccine. And the more we can have the necessary, tough “come to Jesus” (literally…in terms of how he treated all people) conversations, the closer we’ll come to curing this cancer that is crippling our country.
Saturation and emotional exhaustion are the enemy of empathy. We can only take so much, right? But what if it just keeps coming? There is so much to worry about and be angry about… and to feel. It’s overwhelming. And sometimes that can result in shutting down for a bit. Sometimes we need to step away for our own mental health and catch our breath. The danger comes when we shut out. Empathy is one of our greatest tools in bridging divides, and if we lose that…well, let’s just not find out, okay? Let’s recharge and not retreat.
We are in this together…but very differently. My family has been blessed with the ability to stay home and work. But I know people who have continued to go to work every day because of what they do. And then there are the multitudes of people who lost their jobs. All such different experiences.
My family has been blessed with health. I know others who have had Covid, though I know no one personally who has died or lost a loved one from it. But as of today, over 143,000 American families unfortunately know exactly what that is like.
Yes, this is a collective experience, and some of the stories we will tell one day will share those common threads. So many more, though, will be stories that only we can share. What will the moral of those stories be? Only time will tell…but I pray that they show what we have learned from this…and from one another.
In these days after the killing of George Floyd, our country is at a critical crossroads. As a white woman, I have chosen to share resources on social media from those who know better…much, much, much better.* I’ve been doing a lot of listening and trying to keep my big yap shut when it comes to “knowing” and avoid “whitesplaining” because as an ally, I know that’s the right thing to do. Instead I’ve been reading people like Rachel Cargle, Layla Saad, and others to listen and learn.
But since the individual who is inhabiting the highest office in our country recently used tear gas to clear out peaceful protesters so that he could hold up a Bible in front of a church for a photo op…
And since I just came back from a walk where I overheard a group of white women who were lounging in their private pool denigrating the protesters…
I need to say something before my heart and carotid artery burst.
Morality is infinitely easier to uphold in a privileged world. (Though absolutely not a given…all we need to do is open our eyes on that front…)
For instance, it is easier to take a tough stance on immigration when one is born into a zip code of opportunity through no doing of one’s own. “Those kids wouldn’t be separated from their parents if they hadn’t been trying to break into our country illegally! They get what they deserve!”
But what if “empathy powers” were engaged, and those who hold that belief would think about the choices they might make if they were born into the world of those families? If they were told that their children had two choices: join the drug gangs that rule the town and beyond…or get killed. I’m thinking that they would be better able to understand why those families see leaving their homes and all that they know as their best shot at a better life…because they connected on the commonality of loving one’s family and trying to provide the best, safest life for them.
When you think of an issue as though it affects you…it’s not so uncomplicated anymore.
Empathy helps us understand one another even if we don’t necessarily agree with everything…or maybe even anything.
And empathy is a critical part to fixing this system that is built on injustice.
So…if I am deep, deep, deep down angry that this injustice is our truth when I am one of those who benefit from white privilege…what must the anger be like for the people of color who it directly affects? After decades of trying to seek justice and trying to budge the needle?
It must be exponentially deeper…and complicated.
And the opportunists who are using this time to benefit themselves—and they reach beyond the looters in the streets up into the highest office—are shifting the focus away from the murder of George Floyd…
…and giving a bunch of women in a pool a “reason” to ignore what needs to truly change and instead condemn the fringe as the whole.
What are we going to do, America? Are we going to let the violence justify allowing the continued suppression of change and the denial of inequality, or are we going to try to understand the difference between anger and opportunity and not let it deter us from making right what has for so long been wrong?
I do not have the right to pretend that I “know,” but I do believe this:
The answer is on us. All of us.
And it is long overdue.
But our country is stricken with the debilitating cancer of division and derision.
And if there are those who don’t agree that blasting tear gas at peaceful protesters to clear the way for a Bible holding photo op is wrong…
And if there are those who don’t agree that there is racial injustice, inequality, and inequity in this country that needs facing and fixing…
This pandemic is an evolution in many things—plans, treatments, predictions, messaging—but I see one consistent byproduct: the conflicted feelings of comparative suffering. All of us have lost something, but there are those who have lost everything…and that can make us feel guilty about mourning our own losses.*
My dad died shortly after I turned 21, and within a year or so, one of my mom’s friends lost her husband, too. My mom invited the friend over to offer some support and their conversation left a lasting mark on me. It was where I learned how “at least” is rarely the start of a helpful comment when it comes to support or empathy.
My mom was attempting to connect with the woman by telling her that she knew some of what she was going through because of her own loss. “But at least you had a chance to say goodbye…” was the friend’s response. You see, my dad had died after a struggle with cancer. The friend’s husband had died in a tragic crash. My mom was taken aback by the comment and tried to “defend” her own loss, “Yes, but I also got to see him suffer for months…”
It was the strangest damn thing. An effort to comfort and support became a grief ranking. Frustrating…but very human. Turns out we humans are a very frustrating bunch.
But being aware of this tendency helps us to tame the comparative suffering beast a bit. Recognizing it and then reminding ourselves that both “sides” are true allows us to both feel for ourselves and others. Everyone’s pain is their own.
When the reality of school closings and events canceled started to take shape, as a parent, my heart immediately started breaking. The death toll from the coronavirus felt very distant at that point, but my son’s losses were right in front of me. He is an involved school kid, and he lost a lot: concerts, competitions, a play that he was the lead in, and a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Iceland with his buddies. In fact, I started a list of “Covid castaways” to chronicle all the “misses.” The list grows every week.
When I first talked to him about these things, I started to choke up. “Aw, Mom—you don’t get to be more upset than I am…don’t worry, I’m all right,” he comforted. But I think his seeing my acknowledgment of the pain helped him. It is a sad thing, and he (and we) are not being selfish to feel badly about it.
It is our immediate instinct to downplay the loss because we know others have it so much worse. Death. Illness. Job loss. A missed school play seems so trivial in the light of these losses…but it still hurts, and the hurt is valid.
Everyone’s experience is differently the same… we are home and isolated doing what is helpful but doesn’t feel helpful at all. Not when there are others who are doing so much more and suffering so much more. Whether we are worried about our financial futures or are mourning the loss of a loved one, the spectrum of anxiety, loss, and hurt is vast. Yet we are indeed all in this together.
It is only when those of us on the “loss spectrum” don’t honor or acknowledge those further down the spectrum that the embracing of our own feelings can really turn into a negative. Our pain may be all that we feel firsthand, but it doesn’t mean that it is the only pain that exists or matters.
It really boils down to two things:
No matter what degree of pain you are going through, it matters, and you should acknowledge it and feel it while at the same time validating those who are dealing with what we understand as more pain and honoring that but also understanding that that doesn’t mean your own pain isn’t painful nor is anyone else’s because all pain is painful.
#1 applies to everyone.
This pandemic has been a huge exercise in learning that feeling for the losses of others does not mean we have to deny our own losses. Nor does feeling our own pain take away from our capacity to be empathetic and supportive. The more we strive to understand it all, the better we will come through it.
And wouldn’t it be great to come through it having learned to be kinder and more caring to one another?
A girl can dream.
*Please know that the above rambling does not constitute my thinking I am an authority on any matter. If you are interested in reading more on this subject from actual experts, Brené Brown and David Kessler are great resources.
I must admit that, though my mom died well over a year ago, I haven’t fully dealt with all of her belongings yet. I mean…my sister and I have gone through all that we are aware of, but there were times where certain things got the “to be dealt with more fully later” stamp. One group that got that stamp was all of her art supplies.
Many years ago, my mom shared how she wanted to paint…she felt that she might be decent at it. Given that one of my roles with her was lifelong cheerleader, I took that confession as an opportunity to facilitate that desire. Paints…brushes…an apropos French easel…she had her own personal kickstarter campaign.
Relatively early on in the whole process, she painted a lovely winter scene…and got a lot of positive reinforcement for her work. Everyone who saw it was impressed and complimented her. It should have been a great catalyst to continue exploring her creativity.
But while she did paint some…it was more accurate to describe her as someone who wanted to paint rather than a painter. “Are oils too much work? How about acrylics? Watercolor? Maybe pastels or charcoal?” I would bring home all different mediums for her to try, but many remained untouched. I tried hard to understand what was standing in her way.
Excuse after excuse would always pop up. “If I had that wall shelf installed, then I would be able to set things up like I want…” Shelf installed…no painting. “I just need better lighting…” Special easel light bought…no painting. Even an art class didn’t do more than help her complete the class project. No matter what obstacle was overcome, for the most part, the canvases remained blank.
“Mom…why aren’t you painting?” She never really answered the question. One day I asked her if the blank canvas made it too hard for her to begin? Was it too intimidating and asking for more than she thought she could do? Did she feel like each attempt had to be something “good”? Yes, she admitted. She was putting pressure on herself to do something good…and that pressure was resulting in doing nothing rather than just doing something.
I encouraged her to just…paint. Just put something on the canvas as practice with no pressure to have the outcome be anything at all. Just…paint.
I could empathize with her because I know the blank page of a writer can feel just as daunting. Just…write.
Ultimately and sadly, she let the blank canvases win. There was no amount of cheerleading or facilitating that could make her face whatever it was that kept her from moving from wanting to doing.
Later in her life I brought her coloring books so that she wouldn’t even have to think of the blank page and only choose the colors, but by that time she could no longer concentrate or keep her hand steady enough to stick with it for more than a few minutes. Her window of creativity was closed.
My mom’s choices in her efforts at painting are a metaphor for too many of her life choices, as well. She often chose the road of inertia rather than risk…and that meant she left a whole lot of life unlived that could have been so much more. Empty, missed opportunities instead of beautiful experiences of color and texture and joy. You may think I’m being hard in my assessment here, but trust me…I knew the woman. The metaphor fits.
This past weekend, I went through her art stuff. There were a small number of pieces that she had worked on over the years, but they were far outnumbered by blank canvases.
Stories that were never told.
And so I decided I’m not going to leave them blank.
Though writing is where I feel most at home, I am going to fill those damn canvases.
I don’t know with what or how, and I guarantee the results won’t be pretty…but at least they will indeed be.
The above photo includes all of my mom’s paintings—except for the winter scene that I mention as her initial try.