“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” -Dalai Lama
I find it difficult to digest the news since my husband Kenneth died. While many people were upset when #45 was elected, I was busy being in the throes of grief, thinking to myself two big thoughts: 1) I’m glad Kenneth isn’t here to see this, and 2) I’m already hurting so badly, nothing else can compare. I guess it was easier when Kenneth was here, because he freaked out over everything. Like…maniacally researched issues. Talked about depressing political news ad nauseam. He was all-consumed with politics. He was also enthusiastic about getting into the fight and trying to make change. As his wife, I could let him do the bulk of the worrying and just be his wingwoman as needed. I could let him carry the greater burden.
I think that’s what a lot of us want to do. Let other people worry about it. Not think about it. Be the ostrich that buries its head into the sand. It’s less painful that way. What we don’t know won’t kill us. Or maybe we just don’t want confrontation. That’s painful too. We don’t want to offend people.
It’s a fine-line between standing up for your convictions and alienating people who are probably decent individuals at their core. I believe most of us want the same basic things at the end of the day, but we get so caught up in dehumanizing each other.
There has been so much depressing news lately. I’ve been waking up to NY Times news alerts on a regular basis. I swipe those things off at lightning speed, and then feel guilty and have to go find them, and then wonder how I’m going to survive all of the depressing news for the rest of my life without a Kenneth to take charge with a protest sign.
It’s painful hearing about all the shitty things going on in the world. In the U.S. Everywhere. It can really lead a person to lose faith in humanity.
Here’s the thing: I can respect different opinions. I don’t expect all of us to agree on everything. That would be boring. That would be impossible.
But I can’t stomach opinions born out of racism. I can’t tolerate misogyny. I can’t respect an opinion if it was formed based off of viewing one news station. I’m not going to give an opinion as much credit when it comes from somebody who doesn’t bother to read and educate themselves.
I respect your right to not read. To not educate yourself. To not research. To not care, I guess. It’s your right. But you can’t expect me to take your opinions seriously.
I wouldn’t let a doctor do surgery on me if they didn’t have any background in medicine. There are ways that we build our credibility. Credibility isn’t automatic.
I also have more respect for compromise, decorum, and empathy. I respect growth mindsets. In my world, this impacts your credibility.
Recently I was at a baseball game. We were still in line when the national anthem began. People around us swiftly took off their hats and placed them over their hearts. People mouthed the words and eyes got misty. Ethan asked what was going on.
“Oh, you know. A little American tradition of acting patriotic at sporting events when most people in this stadium didn’t even bother to vote in the last election.”
He scrunched his nose. “That’s stupid.”
Yeah, basically. And I’m fed up. I can’t hide my contempt anymore.
I sat in the stadium, and people around me seemed to know all the rules of the game. They were attentive and wearing their favorite team’s colors and jerseys. They were shoveling junk food galore into their mouths and I would venture to say most of them were clearly unfit. I mention this because I often hear people bad-mouthing others with addictions and those who are stuck in hard times, and yet many of these same people can’t even kick their own food addictions. I don’t want to sugarcoat it. These are just my observations.
I’ve had conversations with my dad, where he proceeds to talk about certain groups of people who basically don’t try hard enough to get themselves out of poverty, and I point out most people can’t even lose weight. It’s not a criticism of people. It’s just a reality. I struggle with the same issues. It’s hard. Life is hard. Brains are fragile. Addictions are real–small ones, big ones. It’s not easy to break bad habits, which is why we shouldn’t throw stones.
But it wasn’t just the gross consumption of junk food that ruffled my feathers. It was the attentiveness and enthusiasm for the game that really got to me. And that damn national anthem.
Let me just say that I like baseball and I also like baseball helmets full of nachos. This isn’t a hate-on-baseball post. I also like the national anthem. It’s a pretty little song. I’m patriotic, but not in a blind consent kind of way. I’m patriotic in the never-have-missed-an-election-in-18-years kind of way. I’m patriotic in the donating to causes kind of way. In the precinct walking kind of way. In the volunteering kind of way. In the research, reading, educating kind of way. I love my home and my community. I appreciate my privilege. I love the Constitution. I also love equality. Liberty and justice for all. I’m a big fan. I get pissed off when people from other countries bad-mouth us. You know, I can talk crap about my family, but you can’t. That kind of thing.
I guess I was just feeling like I couldn’t be the only one who is disturbed by how readily people accept sports as a distraction and diversion from real life–to the point of easily rejecting participation in democracy. Basically ignoring it.
I know criticizing sports is taboo in American society. I don’t necessarily think sports culture is worthless. If something is entertaining and fun, go for it. We all need pleasure in life. What I’m saying is that there is a problem when people manage to make time to show up to a sports game on time, know all the rules, keep track of how the team does and where they are playing–and yet can’t be bothered to vote. Doesn’t want to follow the trail of legislation and court decisions. Would rather be spoon fed tidbits of information.
What’s worse–treating politics like a sporting event.
Treating political parties like their favorite team. Acting like a couple of jerks fighting over the Dodgers and the Raiders. Talking crap about the other. Viewing people as The Other.
Unfortunately, democracy is a little more complicated than team rivalry. It also requires a little more education and more time than what most people are willing to invest.
I guess this post is for those of you who are feeling discouraged in life, whether it be because of political reasons, personal reasons, or maybe both.
I get it. I’ve been discouraged over and over and over again in the last two years. It’s been difficult to feel hopeful since Kenneth died, when I found myself a single mother of three little ones. Hope has been a difficult thing to scrounge up in my circumstances. But, I’m here to say that it is possible. It’s there. You do have to work to find it. Nobody delivers it on a silver platter to you. Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother won’t be knocking on your door.
Something I learned the hard way is that out of the pile of crap you find yourself under, you can find light between the cracks–hope–and use it to fight for the life you want. You don’t have to settle for a pile of shit. Out of the mud, the lotus flower grows. Its beauty emerges from something that is ugly–in fact that ugliness is the nourishment that helps it grow. When it rains, and it will rain over and over again, the lotus has petals from which the water easily slides off. That is our resilience.
We begin by looking at what we can control. It’s pointless to dwell on what we can’t control–that list is daunting. We need to focus on what we can do. What choices can we make today, right now?
Who are are allies? We need to build a tribe of people who inspire us.
How can we get better? How can we grow? What do we need to learn?
I quoted the Dalai Lama at the beginning of this essay. We have to use tragedy and disappointments and setbacks as our greatest teachers. Challenges–not death sentences. These are the moments when we tap into our resilience and we work for a better tomorrow. The alternative is to roll over and be miserable. That would be a disaster. Tragedy isn’t necessarily the last nail into our coffin. Tragedy can be the fire under our asses that get us out there fighting for a better tomorrow.
I’m not rolling over. I’m too damn stubborn for that. I want to live on my terms, and for that to happen I need to keep pushing forward. There are too many great things to experience in the world. I still have a lengthy bucket list that I am working on. For every bit of pain, there is double the amount of pleasure to be enjoyed. There is happiness, but happiness takes work. It involves experiencing pain. You get knocked down, you get back up. That’s how it works.
And guess what? Ostriches don’t really bury their heads in the sand. They actually make holes and stick their heads inside to turn their eggs. They are WORKING to preserve life. All great things require our work. Blood, sweat, and tears.
So no more hiding out. Splash around in the mud and figure out how to stretch yourself toward the sun. Beautiful things happen that way.
As for me, I’m going to make a list tonight of everything that concerns me. My fears. Worries. Anxiety. And then I’m going to make a list of what I can do to address these emotions RIGHT NOW. This week. Next week. In the immediate future.
And then I’m going to do those things.
Buckets are filled by drops of water. I need to figure out all of the tiny ways I can work toward moving forward.
That’s my plan. I want to model that for my children. I want to build their hope and resilience. They will need it.
(FYI: Ice cream is a good back-up plan too.)
Sounds like a good and well-thought-out plan.
Hi. First of all, I loved this post. I began to follow your blog when I realized that we have so much in common. I too lost my husband suddenly in April of 2016. I am also a teacher. I am older than you, my daughters are grown, but the topics you write about relate to all who are experiencing grief and attempting to move on and create a new/different life. I also am a writer and have a blog, though I haven’t been writing on it much lately. I’d be happy to become “penpals” so feel free to connect.
This is a very insightful and beautiful post, thank you.