What is next?
The world is fucking hard right now. For most of us the world has been effing hard for a long time. For eons, life itself has struggled to eke out an existence against starvation, suffocation, predation, or a broken heart.
Eking out an existence, perhaps seems harsh. In recent millennia, and perhaps somewhat longer, we have had a word for what makes the struggle worthwhile. Of course the word is Love.
My ability to pay the mortgage (what privilege to hold property!), my ability to purchase food (what grace to be well-nourished!), the electricity and the gas and the water for which I have the good fortune to receive, in the world as it is, all of these depend on money. First of course, in this quadriplegic condition of paralysis, there is the matter of someone to carry me to the house, to bring the food, to raise me up and lay me down, to carry away the waste. Again, in the world as it is, more money.
In the end of the day, at the accounting of it all, do I bring the world that $20,000 per month in value? Indeed if I justly honored those people who come to my aid, would it not be closer to $30,000 per month? I do not think we value a person just in terms of money, I certainly do not value myself, nor do I value you, or any life for that matter in such clinical terms.
It’s hard this morning, nevermind the overwhelming anger and heartbreak, the injustice and the countless tragedies gone unmarked in the world at large. In this body, broken and strained as it has been, there is weakness and paradox. Staying healthy enough to do the work is work itself. I must have faith that the work I do, and the not working as well, satisfies some debt of my existence. Things died to feed me, others labor to make this life of privilege possible.
Sometimes the weight of these facts is enormous. When I can see so much to be done and yet not seem to find a way to do what I think I see, I begin to doubt my own vision, I begin to doubt in that hubris, must I put my own struggle before the world? Surely if I was nutrient, would I not feel gathered, or at the very least filled with that grace of sunlight and warmth?
And yet I do, those feelings are never far, I only just have to look, and there is the grace, there is the beauty, there is the fullness, there is the wonder and goodness and love! There is you, and you, and you, and all of the countless broken hearts struggling to find the way. Even in those engaged in most despicable evil and wretched confusion, even there, is there not occasionally some spark of light?
It’s hard to be a quadriplegic. It’s hard to be black in America. It’s hard to be poor in the modern world which everyday creeps deeper into the forests and jungles and oceans. It’s hard to feel the pain and struggle of life and not grow cold and turn away, it’s hard not to feel crushed by all that is not well both within and around us.
It’s hard not to know how this well-being I find this morning, in a warm home, with fresh air flowing through, loving smiles to greet me to the day, kind hands to help me along the way, it’s hard to know if and how I will be able to create this again tomorrow, it’s hard to know even if I have created any part of this, or if I have just been graced with privilege and good fortune.
People are marching in the streets and crying out in pain, calling for justice, and the basic goodness we know is deserved when we can stop for a moment in our panic, take a deep breath, and look into the eyes of a child. Where am I in this? What do I deserve? When should I cry out, and what should I say, and to whom? What is my right action? Certainly not lay down and die! Certainly to resist injustice when it steps before me! When is it right to surrender, and to what? When is it right to stop struggling, stop with the busyness, and just turn to that undying, always present truth of the graceful timeless eternity, the fullness of that mysterious vast awareness, the blissful endless love, and the compassion that wells up within it for the struggle and the pain?
Perhaps it is like breath. Breathing is another thing I find hard in this quadriplegic body, but that is it right for another day, or perhaps not. Perhaps, as I was saying, it’s like breath, that we stop and still and listen and care feel and then we move into action with clarity and precision and then we stop, the cycle of life ebbing and flowing through our bones, through plants and microbes and soil and rocks and space, that cycle throbbing through eternity as becoming and passing away.
But that is not my point. Caroline came in this morning and shared with me the graffiti she saw along the freeway on her way in. “I can’t breathe” it said in large letters. I could feel that! Who among us can truly breathe when we really feel the weight of so much suffering and injustice as has been wrought through us on the living systems of this rock in space?
“ACAB” she said. I looked quizzically, “all cops are bad.” She replied. I felt triggered, tight, and reacted. I didn’t notice of course until later, in the moment, I just lashed out. I cussed an epithet, it’s like saying “they” are all bad! Caroline’s heart broke, and anger flashed across her eyes. “If you ever say anything like that again, I’m leaving and never coming back.”
A dear woman friend of mine many years ago was sharing her feelings with me about something that had upset her. Each time she would pause, I would offer some perspective or reframe, some possible solution to the “problem.” Lovingly she smiled and replied to me, “when a woman is expressing her feelings, she doesn’t need a solution, she just needs to flow. Don’t try to solve or correct her view, just let her flow, and if she seems to come to rest, you can ask tenderly and with love, is there more?”
In a similar way another friend of mine, a man, near the same time, put it thusly:
“I’m in ‘basic-man-training’ and our weekly lesson this week is that we should practice giving unsolicted advice whenever it is, ya know, unsolicited!
Next week we will be moving on to “treating women’s emotions as problems to be solved””
As a child, I underwent my parents suffering through a painful dissolution of their relationship and subsequent divorce. They would yell and scream at one another, and as I recall, I would yell at them to stop yelling and screaming at each other.
I realized this morning that I carried that behavior with me long into my life. When I witnessed something in my opinion unjust or somehow wrong, I would raise my voice, yelling to correct it. Needless to say this was not a particularly effective approach, certainly not in interpersonal spaces were mostly I explored the construct, I also did a lot of yelling on the courthouse lawn which helped me feel justified, but in the end didn’t accomplish much (perhaps in aggregate some minds were shifted, but not much improved.)
In those relationships where I yelled interpersonally, things grew worse and eventually bonds were worn and held less closely. In our world, where we yell at one another, things in those areas seem to continue to grow worse; oceans are more polluted, economic disparity grows wider, forests and indigenous populations continue to be assaulted, black men and boys continue to be murdered in the streets.
I didn’t yell at Caroline this morning, instead I used hyperbole and an ugly word. Her response shook me awake. I rarely, if ever, yell anymore. I do occasionally use jarring words (see the opening of this post for example.) More often lately, I use hyperbole, stretching some description into absurdity “to make a point.”
This morning I realized I don’t use hyperbole to make a point, I use it to yell. I use it to beat back the anger and ignorance with anger and ignorance of my own.
“All cops are bad!” Someone exclaimed yesterday or last night in writing. Surely they are not alone, this exclamation has been made many times. How many times IN THE NEWS have cops in America recently killed some black man or boy, and no cops make their voices heard in protest? (Or is it the system that silences them as well?)
“I can’t breathe” is a statement of the symptom to which we all must attend. “All cops are bad” is an expression of a deeply justified and terrible emotion. On hearing that emotion this morning, I reacted – that’s not helpful – I thought. “Rioting isn’t helpful,” so many have said. “Looting isn’t helpful” so many have said. But maybe that’s not a problem, not in the way we think of it as a problem anyway.
Maybe collectively we are not expressing, or allowing ourselves to express, the feelings of emotion built up over centuries and millennia of the fear of death which we can see coming. Not allowing ourselves to express the feelings of the terror of violence from those lashing out in their sense of powerlessness in the face of death and longing. Not allowing ourselves to express emotions felt from the persecution of whole peoples in slavery, the destruction of the trees and rivers and forests and mountains and lakes and oceans that we call home. Not expressing the feelings of emotion arising when our whole lives, our precious moments, and care for the world are reduced to dollars and our attentions commodified as a product for industry.
The other day, Jill wrote on Twitter:
“No post-apolocalyptic science fiction ever prepared me for the incredible stock market rally that would accompany the end times.”
Our friend Otto points out, collectively we are creating outcomes that none of us want.
How do we change our course? Many of us wonder.
Maybe we need to stop correcting one another for our descriptions of the problem, maybe just for a moment. Maybe we need to start listening more to the feelings that are coming through the words, feelings that are coming through the actions, the feelings that are coming through the expressions of violence, disconnection, and poverty of spirit.
Maybe we need to listen, not just to sweet George as he lies dying on the ground, speaking for us all, “I can’t breathe,” but also to the policeman saying as clear as day by his actions, “I can’t feel my soul, I can’t feel justice, I can’t feel love!”
Certainly, we need to stop and listen to the millions marching in the streets chanting “All of this IS BAD!” Because while we may be able to find good in the world, and while we be be able to critique various descriptions of what needs to change, we’ll never be able to act effectively at this scale until we can get it in our bones, really hear at the depths of our being, all of this that is wrong has to stop now.
No solution, no prospect, no plan, is more important than our oceans, our forests, our air, our very lives, or perhaps more distinctly, the peace that we all know is possible, on a warm sunny day, when things are going well, we are healthy and our bellies filled, and we look into the eyes of that child smiling back at us, waiting patiently for what is next.
God gets to know things, we just get to ask questions…