Please read my latest piece in the Washington Post:
The basic goodness of humanity is at the heart of Buddhism. The idea that all people are basically good, regardless of their behavior is important to developing compassion. When people do terrible things they do them out of confusion and ignorance. Ignorance is not defined as stupidity but as ignoring, or not seeing. In the week since the election I have thought a lot about basic goodness. It sounds like a simple concept but when you really start to apply it to people with whom you disagree on what is practically a cellular level it can be challenging.
When I ask myself if I think Donald Trump or Mike Pence is basically good, a riot breaks out in my brain. I find them and virtually everything on which they built their campaign completely repellant. It is a scary thing to doubt the basic goodness of your president; it is a feeling of vulnerability and fragility that I have never experienced before. The sadness is most similar to a broken heart in its betrayal and shock. There has also been a sense that something was taken from me. I wasn’t an overly enthusiastic Clinton supporter but I did think that she would keep our country moving in the general direction of decency that would allow people of all colors, creeds and abilities access to a basic level of education and healthcare befitting a democratic superpower. Now, I am not sure if those things are true anymore.
When my daughter woke up on Wednesday morning I was awfully grateful that she has non-verbal Autism. She came skipping into the kitchen grinning and clapping, totally unconcerned about our now very uncertain future. It was not so easy when her brothers came down, after months of telling them that Trump was unfit to lead, and that he had no idea what he was doing. I found myself singing how a bill becomes a law from Schoolhouse Rock and explaining the checks and balances of government. When the kids left for school I cleaned my house, listened to jazz and classical music, and wept. I thought of how certain everything had seemed just a few days before and even though nothing was different everything was different.
In reality this is always true, in the blink of an eye your life can shift completely. Usually when it happens it is specific to your family or your work. A death, a new job, falling in love or out of love, built in to our lives is a baseline level of uncertainty. This election however, was a shared experience. It was a shared sense of disbelief and sadness, of disconnection from your neighbors, and disbelief that they don’t see or want what I see and want. It was an awakening. Any time we get too comfortable, any time we start to take things for granted, it is inevitable that we will get shaken out of it. We can respond with anger and disbelief that our dream has been interrupted or we can respond with action.
I have decided to respond by appreciating the things I took for granted. I will give to NPR and Planned Parenthood. I will renew my subscriptions to the newspapers and magazines that will provide us with real information about our new leadership. I will educate myself on things like the Voting Rights Act and support places like the Southern Poverty Law Center. If Hillary had won I would have felt validated and safe, not activated and alert. I would keep on tending my own garden, raising my kids, volunteering in my community, being polite, and that would have felt like enough.
But that isn’t what happened, and I don’t feel safe. I feel exposed and uncertain but I also feel energized. I know lots of women in my mother’s generation and older who spent their lives fighting for equality, for basic human rights for all people. I never felt the need to pick up their fight until now. I am hoping to get to a place where I trust the basic goodness of our leadership, but if I don’t, I have been reminded of an important lesson. Nothing is certain. The only thing I can control is my response, which in this case is to fight for the things and people I believe in and to teach my children to do the same.
It seems that I learn more from the truly mundane, vaguely boring but necessary parts of my life than I do from the big marquee moments. The big marquee moments, weddings, births, even deaths, certainly teach us enormous amounts. I have never appreciated life more than when I watched my grandmother take her last breath. However, I learn more about marriage on a sleepy, itchy, Monday morning than I would in a month of weddings and celebrations.
We have high expectations for the marquee moments. We have planned them. We have thought about what it will feel like when we are actually in them. Most of these milestone moments for me have been like out of body experiences. I have been so busy having them and wanting not to miss a moment of them that the experience becomes one that is a memory as it unfolds.
Moving is a marquee moment, you remember the dates of various decisions, the day you left one place and arrived in another. I have always loved saying my new address over and over in my head. Eventually the new address isn’t new anymore and the habit of repeating it falls away. The day we drive away from our current house is one I will remember, I will be cataloging what it feels like to drive away from our sweet house filled with so many memories. I can picture this experience, it’s a marquee moment.
What I didn’t picture or understand would be how much I am learning as I pack us up. The literal packing unearths all sorts of treasures. Those kitchen scissors that disappeared years ago had apparently staked out new real estate at the back of the tool closet. Then there is the figurative packing up, the winding down of my job and volunteer commitments, returning the various rented instruments and sports equipment. I am saying lots of good-byes in my head to people who I see fairly often but don’t really know. The nice girl at the UPS store, the people that work at the grocery store. Every time I see them, I wonder if this will be the last time. The result is that I smile at them more and make better eye contact.
I am having this sensation at the yoga studio as well. Each class I teach brings me closer to the very last one. I am finding myself more awake to the details of the room and the experience, knowing that it is finite; my sense that it is something to cherish has increased. I am finding myself less likely to see the flaws in things and more likely to accept them as they are. Knowing that some of these relationships and experiences are ending seems to allow me to just accept them.
I like how it feels to take a little more time to appreciate the details of my life. I like how it feels to not get super wound up about the outcome of various relationships and projects. I like how it feels to be aware that I should pay attention and notice because none of this is going to last forever.
The truth is, that even if we never move again, none of this would last forever. I am hoping that when we arrive in our new house and new life that I am able to maintain this greater appreciation for the smaller moments where life actually lives. I am hoping that when my new address stops being thrilling that I can maintain wonder and appreciation for the ordinary moments.