You haven’t heard from me since October 3. I have been ill and am convinced stress about the divide in our country brought it on. The following is an essay I wrote for the Cincinnati Writer’s Group on the topic: “The Future.” They loved it. Hope you will, too.
Since the September 27 testimony of Christine Blasey Ford and the October 6 vote to confirm, my whole being has felt under assault. Actually, the assault began on September 26 when I viewed Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9. I left the theater heartbroken.
In Moore’s juxtaposing the plight of various communities of ordinary Americans against the increasingly unaccountable, uncaring elite, he showed clips of Obama’s visit to Flint, Michigan during their lead-in-the-water scandal. The mostly black citizens thought their hero was riding in on his big white presidential jet to save them. Instead, in two separate instances, he barely wet his lips as he took a glass of their water, mocking their concerns as though they were no big deal. Demoralized, the citizens of Flint decided voting was a useless activity. Who could blame them. And without their votes, the majority in Michigan went to you know who.
The next morning, September 27, I was glued to the television for Dr. Ford’s testimony. That evening I viewed Dark Money which examines the influence of untraceable corporate money on our elections and elected officials in the wake of the supreme court’s Citizens United decision. Highlighting Montana, it uncovers how American elections are bought and sold … and because the money can’t be traced, it is probable some of it comes from foreign sources. Nikita Khrushchev’s prophetic words heard over fifty years ago when I was young and impressionable, rang in my ears, “We do not have to invade the United States, we will destroy you from within.”
On Sunday afternoon, October 7 following the previous day’s supreme court confirmation, I joined a small group of protesters at Court House Square. It seemed important to register my dissent. My psyche continued to struggle, however, and I’m convinced it lead to the breakdown in my body (virulent UTI resulting in fevers as high as 102.6) that began on October 10 and for which I still feel the effects as I write on October 21.
Looking for reassurance, along the way I listened to interviews with political historians touting new books: Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: the Battle for our Better Angels; Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership In Turbulent Times; Michael Beschloss’s Presidents of War. Was there reason for optimism in the lessons learned from other moments of rampant turmoil, fear, and division our country has survived? All fell short in providing the encouragement I sought.
For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. ~Jesus words in Matthew 26:11
These unsettling words haunted me these past weeks of inner turmoil and came to me as I prepared to write about “The Future.” I turned to the Gospel of Matthew. After being tried and found guilty, people in high places make plans to arrest and murder Jesus. Mary of Bethany anoints him with expensive ointment. The righteously indignant disciples argue that the ointment should have been sold and the money used to feed the poor. They are unable to grasp the beauty in this woman’s gift.
I’m right there with the disciples. With righteous indignation, for the past two years I have tried to emulate the marchers, protesters, dissenters, and activists I admire as my hopes and dreams for our country have been steadily murdered by those in high places and world-wide suffering beyond imagination continues seemingly unabated. I scream at the television. I live with the sense of never doing enough. My sense of powerlessness grows as I come to terms with the fact that darkness has been with us since the beginning of time and is with us still.
We will always have poverty and income inequality; misogyny and all forms of prejudice, discrimination, and marginalization; abuse of power; stolen elections; bribery, dishonest and fraudulent misconduct in high places; injustice and murder and all forms of silencing critics and dissenters.
A dawning awareness. Jesus is not an idealist like me … he is a realist. He accepted the reality of darkness. And he did not allow it to define him nor corrode his appreciation of Mary’s gift. Once more I am called to accept my powerlessness over what I do not like. I am called to take off my rose-colored glasses and let go of my reactive anger at injustice. I need balm to anoint the dying idealist within and soothe her aching heart and weary body.
On Thursday evening, October 18, the sleep I need evades me. I reach for my iPad and tap the podcast icon. I tap Krista Tippett’s “On Being,” seeking soothing and wisdom. I tap on her conversation titled “The Deep Stories of Our Times.” Stories soothe my soul. Arlie Hochschild is a sociologist who focuses on the human emotions which underlie moral beliefs, practices, and social life. She understands emotions. Perhaps she possesses balm for my soul.
Hochschild, realizing in 2011 that she needed to get out of her bubble in Berkeley, immersed herself for five years doing research among Louisiana supporters of the Tea Party. She believes that meaningful encounters with difference enlarges her as a human being. I’m hooked.
If you want to make a social contribution and help build a public conversation about the big issues of the day, you have to really be good at emotion management. It’s a contribution to the larger whole, to be really good at that. ~Arlie Hochschild
Arlie relays an encounter with a gospel singer who loves Rush Limbaugh. Seizing an opportunity to enlarge herself, she invites the woman to join her for tea and a conversation about why. The woman agrees.
During tea the woman tells her she loves Limbaugh because he hates feminazis and wacko environmentalists. Then she wants to know if it’s hard for Arlie to listen to her. Determined to climb an “empathy wall” by approaching people very different than herself with a great deal of curiosity about their experiences and viewpoints, Arlie says, “Actually, it’s not hard at all. I have my alarm system off, and I’m learning about you, and you are doing me such a big favor to share your thoughts. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”
The gospel singer admits to having an “alarm system,” too, that she uses with her kids and parishioners. Arlie thinks, “OK, let’s start with that, a little common ground.” Later the gospel singer admits to having an “empathy wall,” as well.
Arlie points out that following these ground rules for social life does not mean that you are capitulating or being taken over, as many on the left believe. It just means you are being emotionally intelligent. My body relaxes. I return home to myself.
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us … ~Romans 12:6
Many gifts, one spirit. One love known in many ways. ~Hymn written by Al Carmines
This is the future I intend to live into … the only future over which I have any control. This is the contribution to the larger whole I am called to make. I prepare to enter the Living Room Conversation on Monday evening, October 22, hosted by my friend, Diana and her co-facilitator, Nancy. I don my “empathy wall” climbing boots, put my idealistic reactivity in check, and turn my alarm system off. With an intention to follow Hochschild’s example, I enter with huge curiosity about the “others” in the room.
And I succeed! I feel into the awkwardness of another participant when she describes being confronted with how to handle a situation related to political correctness without triggering offense in others. This is the activist that all of my relationship therapy training has prepared me to be. This is me at my best. I am enlarged.