Where are we? This can’t be our country. This can’t be home.
The United States is freedom of the press, freedom of religion, a nation of immigrants.
Thich Nhat Hanh says we are home. Everywhere we are is home.
Sometimes this works for me immediately, like water down a dry throat, and sometimes it chokes me.
I went in to Manhattan and stood with people who wanted to protect and defend immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants. To see New Yorkers doing this, when right behind them the new World Trade Center stands, it’s almost unbelievable.
People can be so brave.
When I got there, a guy who was wheeling a cart of signs offered me one. I figured I could get hooked up. At the last protest, I brought two signs, so I could share one. When I had to leave, to go to my writing group, I handed the sign off to another woman.
I went to my writing group and, with my sock feet on the red rug, goofed around with letters and words, and my friends all did the same, in a soft silence.
I wrote dumb poems about cats and dogs I had known.
I stood behind a group of school kids at the American Indian Museum, while a docent explained to them that animal spirit guides were like super heroes.
I ducked in to see a video on Central American archeologists, a few kids followed me. One ran straight up to the screen and touched it, and another kid said, “Don’t do that! We can’t see!” The kid kept throwing his arms around just below the screen, I chuckled, because they weren’t my problem, and I didn’t care about seeing the video, and then another kid said, “She’s laughing at you!” Which was even funnier.
Another friend said she wasn’t sure if her parents were right to come to this country. Maybe this wasn’t a safe place anymore, maybe it won’t be. People came here to live with a free press, and legitimate elections, and reasonable, centrist leadership.
All my life, I thought the United States was too solid, too prosperous, to elect a president who would discredit the press. In the United States, the press is a recognized part of our political system, the way we hold our leaders accountable.
I crave news, itch for a hit, and struggle to pry myself away.
One thing that helps is ballet, there are ballet routines online that I can do, since I’ve taken real classes years ago. The go-ahead-we-know-it-hurts is just right for me. The control you are directed to take of your gut, which is where I feel most attacked, the stern preparation of the belly, feels almost good.
I see a new headline, and feel adrenaline flow up my throat, the most potent sign I’m going to fear a panic attack, or have one, which amount to the same thing. Sometimes I can take three deep breaths and recalibrate myself.
I change trains at an elevated station, now, and while riding these extra-long escalators, there are squares of yellow and blue and green stained glass. They are beautiful. Between the stained glass sections, there are clear glass ones, through which you can see the Manhattan skyline. The only thing I like about Queens is its views of the Manhattan skyline.
It’s a particularly religious subway stop. Jehovah’s Witnesses show up every week day to offer pamphlets. Frequently, an additional preacher or two will be there preaching. Today there was a guy with a lantern held up, and a shirt that said, “The Light of God.” He had pamphlets, too. I didn’t take one.
Sometimes the preacher talks about how God loves people. I like that. I am waiting for the day the preacher stops there. No, alas, preacher always continues that God will send you to hell if you don’t do the right stuff. Which just sounds to me like God is an abusive boyfriend. I love you so much, baby. But you gotta do this one thing.
If I ever meet a preacher who just goes on about God loving people, just that, until he is blue in the face, while people insist that God must want to fuck them up on some level…maybe I will take that pamphlet.
Because my work this year is so mellow, I have the opportunity to make phone calls, buy and stamp and write postcards. Read all the news. Sign petitions. Write way too many Facebook posts. Discuss them.
If I were teaching, man, there would be no way. I think I would have had that nervous breakdown.
This year was supposed to be my sabbatical from teaching, and a wee break from such intense social justice work. I flinch at questions in a funny way, I am paranoid about being attacked at work. I need the sabbatical. Certainly a whole year.
It seems this is the wrong time to step out of social justice work, though, what with the president being an unstable monster.
I have also felt great peace this week, the greatest I’ve ever felt, knowing I am really doing all I can, and that no matter what happens in our government, the deep peace is there. That I can, regularly, find it.
I got Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Keeping the Peace: Mindfulness and Public Service, from the library. I read about two pages and immediately felt calmer. Enjoy walking, he wrote. Enjoy urinating. You know when you have an infection, and it hurts to urinate? So enjoy that it doesn’t hurt. Enjoy the thirty seconds or a minute that you urinate. I love the Buddhists. Man, if you could enjoy peeing, then I guess you could enjoy sitting on the subway, or climbing the stairs to your apartment when you are tired and want so much to not be climbing those stairs, but to be home.
This book was inspired by work with police officers, who have to hold and carry so much of our anger and hate and sadness. I imagine, even more than teachers, if they don’t take care of themselves, they just won’t make it. That you will quit or be fired or have a nervous breakdown. It happens.
Thich Nhat Hanh was away from home, working for his home, when he was barred from returning. It was thirty years before he could return.
Even the walk that is the last half block, when your whole head is basically at home, in a time that will never be, because it’s always now.
It is in noticing what is around me, brick red book spines, the tiny purple gray sprouts of the city skyline, miles off, out the window. The security guard on his way to work in pants with a pale blue stripe up each leg, the awkward old woman with the slack mouth wearing a sweatshirt that says, “LOVE.”
Image: “Subway Portrait,” Walker Evans, Metropolitan Museum of Art.