Testing, testing

On September 6, I wrote about radical acceptance and the peace I think it’s giving me. Maybe the universe thought I needed to be tested on this, or simply brought down a peg or two.

I don’t really think that. I don’t believe things work that way. But if they did, I’d tell myself that maybe that’s the reason the blows started coming fast and furious in the days since.

The fires and the 10 or so days of unhealthy air quality, some so toxic they were literally off the chart. The pain and struggle of so many colleague friends as we attempt to provide quality distance learning while managing grief over all that we’ve lost in our work with children, as well as that of so many friends supporting their children’s engagement with distance learning. Signs of continued (likely increasing) instability in the district I work for. My daughter’s work visa from Sweden finally coming through, which means that in weeks she will be leaving to live half-way around the world, with the hope of permanently making her life there. A jump in Rocky’s decline that’s forcing me to think long and hard about what’s best for him now, what constitutes “quality of life.” The return of insomnia and migraine. The continuation of our bungled response to the pandemic (hey, remember the pandemic?) that puts so many people (more than 40% of school workers, for example) in significant danger.

And then Ruth Bader Ginsberg died.

I sat on my couch on Friday afternoon, minutes after learning about Ginsberg’s death and seeing that McConnell had already put out a statement about how her seat will be filled before the end of Trump’s term, holding Rocky who had required holding all day, my head dull and achey because I’d worked all day on computer screens while nursing a migraine hangover, looking out to still-hazy air, thinking of all the people I love (including myself) who could lose rights and protections so hard-won, and of the absence that will soon, again, fill my home, an absence that will be caused in part by my daughter’s not unreasonable assessment that she can make a better future for herself in a different country, and of how I really want Rocky to be able to hang on until after his girl leaves but I don’t know if he can or if I should let him, and I could do nothing but sit and cry.

Things are terrible.

I look back at early 2016 me, who could see the possibility of what was coming (but tempered her words because she hoped that she was over-reacting) and somehow, naively, thought that civil dialogue could save us. 2016 me was kinda sweet in her hope and good intentions, and I regard her with some tenderness, but she was foolish and in denial, which made her unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst.

We need to see clearly. We need to accept what is happening, what’s been happening–not just in the last two weeks or four years, but always.

When the rain came on Friday all I could see in my social media feeds were expressions of joy–which I get–but the air quality was still unhealthy. I was happy to see the rain, too, and grateful for the relief it was bringing, but the air quality was still unhealthy. We still could not safely go outside, and all I could see in all of us was how quickly and easily we’d become accustomed to a terrible new normal and how that made us nearly giddy for something that was still bad but not so terribly bad.

I want more than that for all of us.

We must see clearly, which means acknowledging contradictory truths: Yes, it was great that the air was better AND it was true that it was still not good. Since Friday morning, the rain has washed away the smoke and as I write these words, the air is now safe again. But we aren’t. The underlying causes of so many recent tragedies that seem beyond our control (fire, hurricane, derecho, pandemic deaths, continued injustices of all kinds that result in death) haven’t moved, and so we will return to them again and again and again until we address those causes.

This isn’t just about air quality. I suspect you know that, but I need to make sure that I am clear.

We need to grieve. We need to mourn. We need to cry because crying is part of accepting that things are terrible and we need to accept that things are terrible. Crying and feeling pain are not contradictory to radical acceptance. I think it’s essential to it, and our attempts to numb ourselves from pain is part of our undoing.

As news of Ginsberg’s death moved swiftly on Friday, I saw a slew of reactions along lines I’ve come to expect in the aftermath of any perceived political threat: “Of course they can’t fill her seat until we have a new President!” (Yes, they can, if enough Republican senators toe the party line, which they have done unfailingly for the past nearly four years.) “Now we really have to get out the vote!” (Sure, of course, but with respect to the question of the Supreme Court in general and Ginsberg’s seat in particular, that ship really left the dock in 2016.) Inspirational memes about coming back to fight another day. (Without any acknowledgement of how unfair the fight is, or how the unwritten but fundamental rules of engagement have changed, or how losing this fight might make future fights almost impossible to win.)

Initially these responses filled me with frustration because they remind me of 2016 me and because I cannot understand how anyone paying real attention now can think any of those responses are grounded in reality. Later, they filled me with sadness because that is just where a lot of people are, and it’s how they hang onto hope, and I have to accept that reality, too.

Please don’t misunderstand. I know that hope is crucial and that we are truly doomed if we all lose it, but it needs to be a critical hope. Our hope needs to be grounded in what is actually true right now today, not in what used to be true or what we wish or believe to be true–which means facing and feeling our sorrow and fear rather than pushing them away with half-truths that make us feel better. We need to accept the contradictory truths that things are terrible and that hope is reasonable so that we will take actions that might actually make a damn difference in our fight to make a better world, one in which we can all live and work without threat of death and raise children who believe they can make good lives for themselves on the soil from which they sprang.

(If you read only one link in this post, please make it this one: Why Critical Hope May Be the Resource Kids Most Need from Their Teachers. Plenty of wisdom in it for all of us, not just teachers and kids.)

Working from home with my old friend on Friday afternoon.

9 thoughts on “Testing, testing

  1. Kate says:

    Yesterday I sorted books and knit. Today I cleared up two of the beds in the garden – leaving the fall crops in one. I spent Friday night watching The Social Dilemma only to find out in the last fifteen minutes that RGB had passed. I then spent the rest of the night texting seven different women in five different conversations about RGB, and 2020, and the rising corona cases in our community and crying.

    I am so sorry that you have the grief of your daughter moving away and the loss of Rocky in addition to the horrible air and the endless colossal shit that is 2020.

    • Rita says:

      Yesterday I spent most of the day binge-watching Gilmore Girls with my daughter. It hasn’t aged well, but it is our television comfort food. I’m glad you had a circle to text with. We all need to take whatever we can in this endless colossal shit.

  2. Marian says:

    I’m so sorry that all these things are hitting at once, Rita—everything you list is just way too much to be going through. I’ve always had a hard time saying (or receiving) the words of comfort and hope that so many people rely upon, and because you’ve now passed a line with this too, there isn’t anything for me to say except to tell you that you’re not alone in this—I also see everything clearly and I’m also frustrated and sad that others either can’t or won’t. For whatever it’s worth, please know I’m thinking of you.

    • Rita says:

      I’m finding that knowing others see what I see is comfort enough, so thank you. Because that’s what keeps us from being alone in whatever it is we’re struggling with, and as I think we’ve all learned in new ways since March, isolation is really really hard. Even for introverts. Your thoughts are gold to me.

  3. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I am sending you so much love because I know how hard this time is on top of everything going on.
    It is why I had to leave Facebook.
    I enter official Menopause on Wednesday and it has been the hardest time of my life, Rita. I have been so depressed as of late and it has been a mix of estrogen highs and lows and news and too much everything and worry about Anna and Ella and not seeing enough people and I just needed to take FB out of that mix.
    Watching GG is a good idea because even though it hasn’t aged well, it IS comfort food for our souls.
    I found PEN15 on Hulu and we love it. I think you might like it too. It is cringey but it is funny and we needed that laugh. We also watched RBG on Hulu because we had not seen in and it was as good as we thought it would be.
    Sending you so much love.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…September 23rdMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I’ll take all the love you’ve got. Because boy, do we all need that right now.

      Someday maybe I’ll write about Gilmore Girls and what it’s meant to us. Not today, because it would just make my cry and I have too much damn work to do today. But maybe someday.

      I have a love-hate with PEN15. It is so cringey and real that it is almost too much. I still haven’t gotten all the way through the first season. It’s a show I go to sporadically. That time in my own life was so painful. I don’t really like revisiting it, and that’s where that show takes me.

      I remember seeing RBG in the theater, and it was good but also made me profoundly sad because it made clear how much we’ve lost in the decades since she took her seat. She was a moderate then, and now she’s seen as a symbol of the left, of radical thinking. What we’ve lost and are surely going to lose in the coming years.

      Sending you love back.

  4. TD says:

    Hi Rita! I hope that today you might be feeling a bit better. I’m feeling low with the depression today. But I do have some hope left that some days will be better than others. Although at times, I do know that completely hopeless feeling.

    So much change for you! I would be crying every minute if I had a child moving so far away and into a completely different culture. There’s so much unknowns, that I would be deeply grieving. I think I understand some of your worries and hurts.

    I’m sorry these events are happening. One day at a time, or even 5 minutes at a time, if that is what it takes. Will be thinking of you this week and the only thing I have to offer is a virtual hug and for you to know that people do care, even some people who are not in your physical circle of love ones. Sometimes, I hurt with you from far away.

    • Rita says:

      Hi TD,
      I’m sorry to hear that you are hurting, too. I think many, many of us are. Probably all of us, if we’d all be honest. This is just a really hard time, and it’s likely to get harder. It’s good to have community, even if it’s just virtual. I think it’s the only thing that gets us through hard times. I hope you’re having a good day today.

      • TD says:

        Yes, Rita. I agree and think it’s very helpful (especially coping with isolation). Feeling better at the moment, than over the previous weekend and the week that was. Thanks for writing!

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