Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This one is for all the rage-cryers out there. You know who you are. I’m one, too. I cry when I am furious, and it used to really piss me off. In class, in heated discussions in a college setting, at work. Someone would say something that enraged me (remember – rage is about powerlessness, so whenever there was a particular injustice or something that was misconstrued in an altogether unfair way, when I was belittled or mocked or dismissed …) and I would feel it start to well up and it was awful because I am a woman. It’s embarrassing. And more than that, it is one of those things that, as soon as the tears begin to flow, you know people will stop paying attention to what you’re saying and start reacting to the fact that you are “being emotional.”

If you identify with this, you are aware that there is literally nothing you can do to stop it once it starts. Even if you do your level best to continue to speak logically, you know there are people who are rolling their eyes at you and dismissing you simply because  you are crying.

But here’s the thing: focus on the “nothing you can do” part and know this (and share it widely because the more people know, the more we can destigmatize rage tears): Rage crying is a normal, physiological human response to increased levels of cortisol in our bodies. 

The main goal of our bodies is to maintain and/or restore homeostasis – that is, a middle ground, equilibrium. That is why, when we get too hot, our bodies trigger the mechanism that makes us sweat, so we cool off. When we are too cold, we shiver and get goosebumps so that we are prompted to raise our body temperature. When we have too much gas in our systems, our bodies have adapted to pass that gas – by burping or farting. Etc. Etc. Cortisol is a hormone that is produced by our adrenal glands in response to stress, and when we have too much of it, our bodies know that it needs to be offloaded somehow. Excess cortisol affects our immune response, increases levels of inflammation and can cause all sorts of physical ailments – so when there is too much, we have to get rid of it.

Wanna know one of the most efficient ways to offload cortisol?

Crying.

I shit you not.

Researchers have measured the amount of cortisol in tears when people are crying in different situations, and have shown that there are elevated levels of stress hormone in the tears of people who rage cry.

So basically, when you are frustrated with someone and feeling powerless and you start to sob, that is just your body’s way of achieving homeostasis – it’s like burping when you have too much gas in your belly or sweating when you’re too hot.

Sadly, we have been taught that crying in public is unacceptable, so many of us have learned to stifle this urge. Patriarchy has us teaching boys that it’s not really ok to cry at all, and prompts us to tell young women that in order to be ‘professional’ they need to compose themselves at work or they won’t be taken seriously. But this does nothing to relieve our bodies of the extra stress hormone it carries, and so when we force ourselves to stop crying, our bodies often turn to other means. So what else do humans do to relieve stress during these times? Men and boys have been socialized to externalize their stress – how many stories have you heard of a teenage boy punching a hole in a wall when he was upset? Turns out punching and kicking things also offloads cortisol (although not as efficiently as crying). Young women and girls internalize their stress for social and cultural reasons and one of the scariest things we know about how they try to achieve homeostasis is by self-harming – namely burning or cutting themselves. Cortisol levels drop measurably in people who engage in cutting behavior (and, yes, young men engage in self-harm as well, although not as often as young women do).

So the question we need to ask ourselves is whether we’d rather normalize angry tears from our fellow human beings as a normal, physiological response to stress or not. Can we recognize that this is a normal, adaptive thing that our bodies do and not force an alternative response that will ultimately end up being more harmful? Yes, it’s uncomfortable for us to witness another person crying, but the more we understand that it is literally something our bodies need to do in order to function better, the more we can accept it and move forward.

Tell your families, tell your co-workers, tell your kids. And the next time you feel that familiar lump in your throat and your hands clench into fists, let ‘er rip.

Like so many white folks, I first began hearing about this thing called “mutual aid” during the pandemic lockdown of 2020, when those of us who are lucky enough to be in positions of power and privilege became more and more aware of the fact that the systems and structures around us were failing folks at a rapid rate. Anyway, that might be a whole different post for another day. In the years since, I have witnessed the power of mutual aid to help people and bring communities together and I am, again, astonished at how it’s working today.

If you’re new to the concept, I highly recommend picking up the book Mutual Aid by Dean Spade. It’s a quick read and super powerful. Basically, Dean describes it this way,

Mutual aid is collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them. These systems, in fact, have often created the crisis, or are making things worse.

And if you can’t quite believe that the systems are making things worse, I’d encourage you to read this post I wrote in 2021, detailing the clusterfuck that was our small, local food bank or engage with the conversation around school loan forgiveness right now that details how some folks have already paid back the amount they owed PLUS more, and because of interest and the way the system is structured, they owe at least double that amount and will likely never be able to pay it off. The systems we created in the name of capitalism have made some folks (and our government) rich rich rich and have firmly placed others in poverty from which they will not be able to emerge in this lifetime. And mutual aid is, in many cases what is keeping those folks alive. That is not hyperbole. 

During the pandemic lockdown, if it weren’t for mutual aid, so many of the folks I knew would not have had food.

Read that again. And consider Dean Spade’s three key elements of mutual aid:

  1. Mutual aid projects must work to meet survival needs and build shared understanding about why people do not have what they need.
  2. Mutual aid projects mobilize people, expand solidarity, and build movements.
  3. Mutual aid projects are participatory, solving problems through collective action rather than waiting for saviors.

In my experience, mutual aid is about everyone doing something to contribute. It requires that we believe the folks who tell us what they need without asking for proof, without making them jump through hoops, without pointing them to “funding opportunities” or bureaucracies, since those are the places that have let them fall through the cracks (and, in some cases, literally pushed them through the cracks). It asks us to center the well-being of the community and to know that, in doing so, we are considering the health and well-being of each and every person in that community. It means that we acknowledge that we all have needs and gifts and we can live within a paradigm of ebb and flow, sharing those things with each other without a strict accounting or hierarchy.

I am friends with a young Black single mom who is in a tight spot right now, thanks to the systems and structures around her. The eviction moratorium kept her and her two young children housed during the pandemic lockdown and they have been doing well, until the moratorium ended and her landlord demanded nearly $9,000 in back rent. I don’t know about you, but not many people I know (especially single mothers who live in urban centers) have a spare $9K sitting around. She asked me for my help and, within hours of researching, I discovered that the rental assistance programs in her county and state are all closed to applications because they are so inundated with requests for help.

It could just be me, but it seems that a government who is experiencing a massive influx of requests for assistance should EXPAND their programs to help citizens rather than shutting down and telling folks they’re done helping because there are too many of them. I mean, if government was CREATED for the benefit of the people, then why are they denying those same people the assistance they require in order to LIVE?

But I digress. (Also, I’ll digress again and say that I discovered that applications for LANDLORD assistance are still open, which feels a little – fucked up). 

Anyway, it was clear to me that the “normal” avenues weren’t going to work in this case, so I decided to ask my networks for help.

So far, I have managed to raise about a third of what we need to keep this young family housed and it feels pretty damn good. There are a million reasons not to pitch in – you feel like your $25 won’t help “enough,” you wonder where the baby daddy is, you think there *must* be some other way that doesn’t require you to get involved, you don’t know her, you don’t live in Seattle, you haven’t ever been in this situation and you can’t imagine it, you think she should have expected this and saved money, etc. etc.

But there is one compelling reason for you to consider helping if you can.

We belong to each other.

Whether you like it or not. We all belong to each other. And when one of us is safe, we are all a little bit more safe. When one of us feels loved, there is more love for all of us.

I have been so excited and grateful for the folks who have pitched in to help my friend – people who don’t know her, who believe that she needs help and are willing to provide it. As the small donations pile up in my Venmo account, I smile and feel a warm glow in my heart. The more we take care of each other, the better off we all are.

If any of this resonates with you and you can help, please do, and know that this is how we begin to shift things for all of us. The more we act as if we believe we are interconnected, the more we will be. It’s a pretty sweet way to live.

(my Venmo is @Kari-ODriscoll – you’ll know it’s right by the photo of my tattoo that reads “Power Tools” with an image of a heart and a pen)

I am slowly evolving the work I’m doing with folks around metabolizing our grief and rage in community, and adding two cohorts (two 90-minute sessions each) for August. Just in case you’re like most people and you have no idea what I even mean by most of the things I wrote in that first sentence, here’s a little primer on what these workshops entail:

Grief and Rage are intertwined. Many of us start to feel grief and immediately bypass into rage because that’s a more comfortable place to be. But what if you could feel both, honor both, move through grief and acknowledge sadness and loss and get to a place where your rage fuels you to heal and move forward with intention? And what if you could do it in community?

In these two 90-minute sessions, you’ll learn about the nuances of grief and rage, begin to understand where they live in your body and how you, personally, respond to both of these powerful emotions with specific thought patterns and reactions.

You will learn ways to identify when you’re overwhelmed by either grief or rage, find practices that soothe your nervous system and allow you to process the emotions, and be with others who are doing this work and simultaneously holding space for everyone. Accompanying this information with body practices and specific steps and inquiries means that you have a framework for progressing through the emotions and stories instead of staying stuck in them and stuffing them down.

In September, I’ll be opening bi-weekly practice sessions for folks who have attended the workshops to come together and make their way through the steps, expand their idea of what it means to witness others and be witnessed in this work, and support each other to build a solid foundation.

I charge on a sliding scale, so please pay what you can between $50-$150. If you can’t pay, let me know and we’ll work something out.

If you’re interested, please email me at kari@kariodriscollwriter.com and let me know what day/time combos work best for you in August and get on the mailing list so I can get you signed up.

One of the memes I stole from Rosie’s IG Story

I used to be of the opinion that we should all do at least one fun thing every single day. I’ve updated that thought. I now believe that it’s better to do one fun thing at least every two hours (while you’re awake — I count sleeping as something fun, personally).

I am an early riser. Illogically early. As someone who works for myself and gets to set my own schedule every single day, the fact that my eyes pop open at 5:32am every single morning feels absurd to me, but it doesn’t seem to be something over which I have any control. I am also not a person who can linger in bed once I’m awake. I take a minute to check in with myself, hand on heart, and figure out what I need to do or have in order to feel completely resourced for the day ahead, and then I’m up, feet swinging over the side of the bed, dogs leaping after me, and we’re off. All of this is to say that I’ve done so many fun things already today, and it’s not even noon.

I realize that this might sound a bit Pollyanna, at the least, and privileged as HELL at the worst. And I’m here to say, I think it’s really not either of those things. I think it’s more about equanimity.

My life isn’t all kittens and roses over here. Some of my beloveds are really struggling with some big things. My mom’s husband died a month ago and, like my mom, it had been a really long time since I saw him in person, so it is as if the second person I really love just vanished off the face of the planet without me getting to say good-bye. The world is on fire, our systems are crumbling, yada yada yada. You know all that. And, if I don’t hold the good and the bad simultaneously, I’m never going to feel what it feels to be fully human. If I only choose the good and work to ignore the pain and the struggle and the rage, I’m not whole. If I only sink into the crap and wallow, I’m not whole. Enter: equanimity. I can hold both. I am whole.

Many of us have been trained to do this thing where we compartmentalize our lives – work first and then play, grieve a bit and then “get on with it.” We have let ourselves believe that there is a time and a place for fun, and it comes later. Or when we’re on vacation (and then, by God, you’d better cram all the fun things into that one small set of days so that you can feel like you’ve thoroughly enjoyed yourself before you get back to “real life”). I call bullshit. We do not exist on this planet to toil endlessly, or even for 68% of our lives and then we’ve ‘earned’ the right to play. I honestly think that practicing finding joy and fun in every single day is the thing that will keep us fresh for the fight – you know, the one that has been pressing down on us for decades behind the scenes of our everyday work lives. We don’t need to ask permission to have fun, and fun doesn’t have to be something planned or elaborate (although if you want to grab a bunch of your friends and head to the karaoke bar or bowling alley this weekend, I wholeheartedly support you).

Like I said, it’s not even noon here, and I’ve already laughed out loud several times. I started my day on the beach with my dogs at low tide and I found the perfect stick (not for the dogs – for me) and used it to draw weird shapes and smiley faces in the sand. Call me simple, but it was fun. I gathered a pocket full of green and blue sea glass and when I got home, I dumped them all into a jar I have that sits in the windowsill and it made me smile. I got some work done, and then a little while later, I took five minutes to find my friend Rosie’s Instagram story because she always has the best memes and they make me laugh out loud. And a couple hours after that, while I was prepping food to throw into the crock pot, I turned on some music and danced while I chopped. (If you need a suggestion, I highly recommend Remi Wolf’s song Monte Carlo because it’s irreverent and bouncy and makes me happy every damn time I hear it).

I have no idea what other fun things I’ll find today, but I do know that when I stop every once in a while and look around for something fun to do for a minute or two or twelve, by the time I get to the end of the day, I feel a whole hell of a lot better. I haven’t solved any of the huge problems of the world, but I feel more balanced and whole, and like I’ve chosen myself in some small way that feels big. It can be hard to think of things in the beginning, but I swear, once you start, it gets easier. Find yourself a friend like Rosie who curates the funniest shit. Get a book of Dad jokes that crack you up. Make a playlist of music that gets you dancing. Text a friend with a “random question of the day” (I do that a lot and I’m sure people think I’m weird, but … well, they’re right). Go for a walk with a piece of chalk and write goofy things on the sidewalk when nobody’s looking. Get your favorite candy and sit in a recliner for five minutes, tossing pieces in the air to see if you can catch them in your mouth (not with the dogs around, if you have dogs, though – that’s a recipe for disaster). Get some Play-Doh and squish your hands through it and make little critters. Whatever sounds fun to you. Find it. Do it. Every two hours at least. I’m not a doctor, but I think it’s a good prescription for health.

The older I get, the more anti-capitalist I get. Maybe this is what Gloria Steinem meant when she said women get more liberal as they age, or maybe it’s just a consequence of living in this time when all of the systems I was brought up to believe in as bedrock are crumbling beneath our feet. As I watch more people tumble into the cracks and see how institutions and governments just leave them lying there, it’s hard not to question everything.

When you can wake up to news of horrible acts that people in power perpetrate on other people – police officers and elected officials and entire countries – and still be expected to answer emails and create marketing materials and shop for new shoes as if none of it is shocking, it’s a little hard to swallow all of the things we were told would ensure us a good life, a solid life, a safe life.

Two days ago, I saw a meme that encouraged parents to “normalize asking high school kids what they want to do after school instead of asking them which college they want to go to.” I get it. Not all kids are college-bound, and pretending that they are can add a lot of pressure. But what if we stopped asking kids about their future plans at all? What if, instead, we asked them what they’re enjoying about their lives right nowWhat if we stopped pretending that there is some predictable set of systems out there for us to plan within and just encouraged kids (and frankly, everyone,) to look around and assess what is good in their lives in this minute that they can do more of?

I suppose it was this sentiment that was sitting in the back of my brain yesterday when I was on a weekly call with the Charter for Compassion and Citizen Discourse and the facilitator asked us to connect with our inner younger self and have a conversation with them about what they wanted us to be right now, or what they wanted to be when they hit the age we’re at currently. Most of the participants on the call went to that age-old question we all ask little kids, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and my mind did, too, for a split second. But then, the anti-capitalist in me rebelled and my inner child spoke loudly:

Play. Make people food. Make them laugh.
Give lots of hugs. Help clean up when there’s a mess. 
Snuggle with animals. Grow plants and flowers. Sing.
Climb trees every once in a while just to see what things look like from up there.
Talk to people. Listen to kids. Try new things. Rest.
Lay in a hammock. Watch and see how things work when they’re left alone. 
Maybe it’s because I know myself well enough now to know that I would never have been the kind of person to have one career that spanned most of my adult life. Or maybe it’s because I realize that, at least in our culture, so much of our identity is built around the kind of paid work we do and that rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s because for most of my adult life, the vast amount of labor I did was unpaid (mothering, caregiving, running a household) and it somehow meant I was less important, less valued by society. Or maybe it is because my aspirations for myself now revolve around the kind of person I want to be, the way I want to show up in the world, how I want other people to feel when they are with me. Whatever the reason, that list above feels like a pretty damn good way to focus my efforts.
I don’t honestly believe that any of us showed up on this planet to work, to have a career, to get paid to do labor. Somewhere along the way, we got lost in all of the rhetoric and expectations, the idea of money as a thing that was important enough to lose relationships over, lose time to, lose ourselves for. We began to believe that our purpose and our passion align with producing tangible things for other people to purchase instead of learning how to be in relationship with ourselves and others and the natural world. My reason for being has nothing to do with making money and everything to do with using my gifts to enrich and enhance the lives of myself and every living thing around me. My value does not lie in the amount of classes I can teach, the income I can generate, the number of books I sell. My value lies in my generosity of spirit, my willingness to keep learning, my curiosity, and my love for other human beings.
These systems we were taught to spend our lives toiling to uphold will not hold us up when we fall. They have shown that over and over again in the past two years. Unhooking from them and creating new ways of being can only free us to do the things we are truly meant to do together.

Vagdiam, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The world is burning. It seems like it has been for months now – years, even; one horrific, unimaginable thing piling on top of the next. I slide the rubber band off the morning paper and unfold it, cringing as I wonder if I am really ready to catch sight of the bold, black headlines that tell of all the ways human beings cause each other harm, destroy the land we live on, find ourselves caught between tragedies. It feels like it is my duty to read them, to notice the outrage and despair simmering just beneath the surface, begin to imagine ways I can help, soothe, stop the hemorrhaging.

Day after day, I discover the sadness inside me creeping outward like an ink stain on a paper towel. Where are the edges?

The edges, I remember, are the things that fill me with warmth and joy. The balm of being with my kids or getting a text message filled with excitement about a new apartment, a song about to be released, a special anniversary. The smell of the star jasmine hedge in my neighbor’s yard that perfumes the block, the morning fog that carries with it the scent of salt, the pod of dolphins playing in the water on my morning walk.

I have decided that it is not my duty to consume all of the terrible stories of hatred and fear and lack. I have devised another way.

I believe it is incumbent upon us to begin grand love affairs. All of us. What if we all went out and opened ourselves to the magic of each other and the world around us? What if we took walks in the forest or by the sea and fell in love with all of the sounds and smells and sights – the rustling of leaves or crashing of the waves, the crane tiptoeing through a tide pool or the ladybug slowly making its way up the stalk of a sunflower? What if we sat with the family dog and stroked its soft ears in the way we know it loves for as long as we wanted to? What if we greeted each other with hugs that last longer than usual and eyes that say how happy we really are to see one another? What if we all embarked on a campaign to fall in love with all of the things and people around us, showing up with curiosity and a sense of wonder and a readiness to be surprised by joy?

It’s hard for me to stop noticing all of the amazing things that surround me once I get started. The sound of my daughter’s laughter and the shape of her hands, the long blonde eyelashes of my rescue dog, the way the sunlight falls on the shiny leaves of the tree outside. The taste of a perfectly ripe avocado and the strawberries that are perfectly ripe make me fall in love. The radio DJ who plays my go-to karaoke song when I’m in the car and the fact that my 50-year old voice can still belt it out in tune.

This is not some Pollyanna remedy, this is a balm, a barrier to stop the ink stain from spreading. This is a both/and because I have spent far more time focused on the horrible headlines and the what-if-it-gets-worse thoughts than I have on the grand love affair I could be having each and every moment of the day. And I do mean “grand,” I mean sweeping gestures of love, long phone calls and sweet text messages and big sighs of satisfaction. Purposely indulging in things that make me feel fabulous – food, dancing, touch – without apology or explanation. A person in love isn’t rational. A person in love is contagious and indulgent. If I spent as much time and energy cultivating love, what would that look like? What if we all did?

 

Mother’s Day weekend will forever be complicated for me. Because none of us who are mothers are only just mothers – we are daughters, too, I have this strange caught-in-the-middle feeling of being pushed and pulled. But beyond that, it was Mother’s Day weekend when my father died in my arms 14 years ago, and as much as I’d like to think that those kind of anniversaries become less of a focus over time, I haven’t found that to be true.

Every year in the last days before the deathaversary, I start to get teary and emotional. I feel shaky in my body and achy and a little “off,” and it usually takes me a lot of introspection and “what the fuck is with me?” to figure it out. I don’t know how my body knows, but it does. To be honest, I don’t even really remember thinking that it was Mother’s Day weekend when I was holding Dad and rocking him and whispering to him that it was ok to leave if he needed to. But given that the last few hours I spent with him are among some of the most crystal clear memories I carry, it’s not surprising that I feel it so viscerally over and over again every year.

I moved to a new town a year ago, and Mother’s Day weekend was the first weekend I spent in my new home – the only  home I’ve ever lived in alone, without kids or a partner. Last year was also the first Mother’s Day weekend after my mom died. This morning, I leashed the dogs and put them in the car for the four mile drive to Bishop Diego Garcia High School – the Catholic high school my mom and her siblings attended. I’d never been there before, and while my mom and I didn’t ever talk about her time growing up here, I knew this was one place where she spent a great deal of time. I was amazed at how small the school is and really struck by how lovely the grounds are. It was almost exactly what I expected a Catholic high school to look like in this town, in some ways, and as soon as the dogs and I stepped on to the path that meanders through campus, I felt her. I hope she was happy here. I hope she had fond memories.

I’ll spend my afternoon hiking in the hills above town, thinking about my parents and how much I miss them, feeling grateful that I am mother to my amazing kids, and honoring the work of mothering in all its forms. I am increasingly enamored of the idea that I can create nests for beloveds as part of the continued mothering I want to and will do. I love the notion that nests are created from whatever materials are available in the immediate area and are designed to be safe and comfortable, often in precarious places. They don’t have to be pretty. That’s not the point.

jumble of Meyer lemons on a cooktop surface

 

January has been a long month. Seriously. I know I’m not the only one saying that, and that the last two years have honestly been such a time warp in general, but it is only the 22nd day of the month and I honestly feel as though I’ve lived several lifetimes this year so far.

Last Monday I woke up with a nagging headache. Not debilitating, but pretty uncomfortable. I’m no stranger to headaches in general, since I have a very finicky neck that doesn’t allow me to sleep in certain positions or do particular tasks that most people wouldn’t think twice about. Probably once a month, I end up with a pretty gnarly headache that requires a trip to my phenomenal chiropractor to fix (she shakes her head and says, “what have you done?” in a very gentle, caring manner that reminds me I am in good good hands and puts everything back where it is supposed to be and sends me on my way). So, honestly, that’s what I figured this was. I made my way through the day with Advil and the hope that it would resolve on its own.

But around midnight on Monday/Tuesday, I started to notice that I was thrashing about in bed quite a bit and that is really unusual for me. It only took a minute before I realized I was spiking a fever – this was chills, and the headache had kicked up a notch. I knew pretty much right away that this was Covid. I stuck it out until dawn and then took my temperature to confirm, texted a friend who I knew had access to home tests, and waited.

It was a rough four days. That headache was brutal. Not the worst one I’ve ever had, but definitely second in line. I couldn’t watch tv or read or really look at much of anything. I just laid on the couch staring into space and hoping it would abate sooner rather than later. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that when I first moved here last May, this was the scenario I feared most – that I’d get sick while living on my own and not be able to really take care of myself or the dogs. I’m here to say that, like most fears I’ve ever had in my life, this one didn’t play out the way my amygdala warned me it would.

I had friends near and far texting me all day long, checking in, offering help of any kind. The friend with the home tests also brought soup, Gatorade, bottles of water, cold medicine from her own stash, and Meyer lemons from her tree. Other new local friends offered food delivery, dog walks, and just general moral support. One of my neighbors, having spotted a friend dropping off supplies at the front door, texted one night to say her husband had just made a beautiful homemade dinner – could they fix me a plate and leave it at the door for me?

I was brought to tears with each and every one of these offers, and I accepted it all (well, not the dog-walking – my dogs would no more leave me behind at the house and go walk with someone else than they would chew their own leg off). Blissfully, the headache subsided by Day 3 and I remember lying on the couch, imagining my poor, stressed brain inside my skull, sending it waves of soothing light to recover. Every little thing I did prompted a two-hour nap. The last time I was this exhausted was after giving birth to Erin and that was only because I caught the flu while I was in the hospital so I brought her home and spent the first week battling a fever and trying to recover from a 40-hour labor.

I’m still recovering, but finally not sleeping 16-18 hours a day. I am able to do a few things here and there and then lie down for a bit to rest. There is some acute sense that if I don’t go slowly, there is a real danger of setting myself back, and I can’t help but wonder how people with children at home or elders to care for or lots of work to do that needs to be done manage this. It honestly brings me to tears to think about having to make a meal for someone else or go to a job feeling such extreme fatigue. I wish we lived in a world where we believed each other when we say we need rest, where we made sure to provide space and the necessities for that to happen. I recognize my massive privilege in this – that I was able to be cared for from afar by friends and family, that I am able to put off my work obligations as long as I need to, that I have a roof over my head and a soft bed in which to recuperate. I wish that for everyone.

It is so interesting that one of the first things people ask is “where did you get it” and then “were you vaccinated?” I am reminded that we have done a really good job of framing this pandemic in the same way we frame nearly everything in this culture – in terms of personal responsibility. I know that those two questions are some attempt to insulate ourselves – if we think we can crack the code, we can avoid getting sick. But I also know there is some judgment there because that’s what we’ve been taught. If you just didn’t do X, you wouldn’t be struggling with Y. I am so much more taken by the folks who ask “how can I support you” and “what do you need?” There is a radical form of community that can be created just by asking these simple questions and I am here to tell you, it feels amazing to be the recipient of it. On Thursday night, when I was so astonished by how absolutely tired a person could feel after sleeping most of the day, my phone pinged with an incoming email. As I read something from a friend expressing her deep care for me and her fervent wish that I recover quickly and thoroughly, I spent a few minutes going back through my day and replaying all of the text messages I’d gotten from a dozen or more friends and family members, checking in, offering help, saying they were sending love, and I made the conscious decision to hold that in my head and heart as the last thoughts before sleep – the notion that I was held in deep care and love by so many people from literally all over the planet. It was magic.

I’m now a week in and my sense of taste and smell is coming and going unpredictably, I struggle to catch my breath when walking the dogs on our normal, flat, 20-minute route through the neighborhood, and I still occasionally sit down after doing something  mundane like folding a load of laundry and feel a powerful need for a nap. My sleep is the sleep of the dead – deep, strange dreams and waking up feels like swimming up from the depths of the ocean, but I am grateful for the freedom to sleep when I need to and for friends and family who text or call or email to check in and let me know they’re rooting for me. That is medicine for my soul.

 

 

empty hammock suspended between trees with a field in the distance

 Jorge Polo, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Do you believe you are held in community?

I don’t mean to ask “do you think you belong?” That is a slightly different question. Belonging is often predicated on what we do, how we appear, the way we act.

I mean, do you believe that you are held in love and care by the collective?

Do you believe it, and by that I mean do you feel it in your bones, as a solid feeling in your gut?

Do you believe you are held? That regardless of your attributes or accomplishments or identities, you are woven tightly into the fabric of community, the people who surround you, who you consider beloveds, you will not fall away?

I recently celebrated my 50th birthday and I anticipated doing so alone. Not by choice, but also not not by choice. We are, after all, in a pandemic that is still swirling around us (whether we have the bandwidth to acknowledge it as such or not). But I have also uprooted myself and moved to an entirely new town in an entirely new state, my kids all live in different cities, and I am not a fan of parties where I am the object of the celebration. Whether that is simply a facet of my personality or my parents sparked that feeling by taking me to Farrell’s at the wrong developmental stage of my childhood is up for debate, but it does persist. I am not the kind of person who appreciates public acknowledgment of my birthday by singing waiters or birthday parties with more than five people or so. But I digress…

I fully anticipated spending the day alone and I was frankly unsure how I would feel, but then a series of things happened to change that. My youngest and her boyfriend texted to say they were driving up to spend the day with me and my heart broke open a little bit. A new friend I recently met texted to ask (randomly, she swears) when my birthday is and when I told her “two days from now,” she offered to take me out to dinner to celebrate. That crack widened a bit more. Then my aunt and uncle messaged to ask if they could take me out to lunch for my birthday and I cracked wide open.

On the day of my birthday, when I was as wide open as I’ve ever been, a really magical thing happened that still makes me cry when I think about it. A group of humans – most of whom I’ve never met in person, but who have vowed to have each others’ backs and support each other no matter what – began messaging me in the larger group to wish me a happy birthday. It began with one or two and within ninety minutes, there were close to 50 notifications in the group chat. I was overwhelmed and shaky at this outpouring of sincere, loving messages. The first thought that went through my mind was “why do they care about my birthday?” The second was “they’re only doing it because one person started it and it would be weird not to add their wishes to the chat.” The third came in the form of a question, “what if they do mean it? What if they are really taking a moment out of their own busy lives to sincerely think of me, hand on heart, and wish me well?”

That was the one that brought me to my knees. What if?

I texted a friend who I knew would get it to say how scary it was to accept these birthday wishes. I told her that I imagined all of the love coming at me from these amazing, complex, brilliant human beings was weaving an enormous hammock and all I had to do was climb in and be held by it. And also, there is no graceful way to get into a hammock. None. There is always that one moment when you wonder if someone is going to laugh at the awkward way you shove your butt over first and try not to get your foot tangled in the web of it. Or that other moment when you’re not quite sure if it will stay upright or flip and knock you out onto the dirt on your ass. My friend got it. She understood, and in that moment, we agreed that we would be each other’s spotter – that when one of us wanted to climb into that scary love hammock, the other one would stand by and hold it steady until they were safely inside, resting in love and care.

If you can’t answer the question, “Do you believe you are held in community?” you are not alone. I am 50 years old and just beginning to have the barest sensation of trusting it. I mourn for the last 49 years when I didn’t know that that was what I needed more than anything else, and also, I am determined to not let any more time pass by before I start asking other people whether they feel held.

We are killing ourselves and each other because we don’t feel held. We are addicted to drugs and food, buying weapons and physically and verbally attacking each other in public because we don’t feel held. We hide behind laws and cultural standards because we don’t know what it is to hold each other – in our hardest moments and our ugliest moments and our most triumphant moments. We haven’t learned what it feels like to believe we are held even when we aren’t producing, contributing, acting or looking a certain way. And the only way we will learn is to do it for each other, to take that leap of faith and hold each other in deep respect and care. When we feel like our well-being is something the collective cares about and for, we can rest in that space and come out ready to weave our strand of the hammock. It is terrifying, I know. And it is also the only thing that is left to do if we are going to make each other’s lives better.

So tell me, do you believe you are held in community?

speech bubble with a jumble of numbers inside

How do you measure the health of a community? I’ve said this before (actually over and over again for years now), and I’ll say it again: the fact that the media and the government insist on measuring the health of our country by the economic standards they arbitrarily set is ridiculous. Absurd. Irrelevant.

The daily or monthly reports on the stock market numbers, the numbers of jobs created, unemployment figures – all of these things are designed to create a picture of a country as a set of mathematical problems and people are not math problems. People are not even story problems. Communities are made of people who have needs that have nothing to do with the stock market and the number of hours of paid work they engage in. But for the folks who need data, who say that numbers are the way we understand what’s happening, let’s go on a little journey …

Imagine for a moment if the media started reporting the number of households who struggled with food insecurity in the last month and comparing it to the month before that and the month before that.

What if, instead of “jobs created,” they told us the number of folks who lost their housing in the last quarter? Or the number of persons who remain unhoused and for how long they’ve struggled with that?

Somewhere, there have to be figures that enumerate the scores of families and individuals who have unpaid medical debt and charts that show how much that debt has grown over the years and how it has impacted the other two measures of food insecurity and houselessness.

What if the media routinely talked about those numbers, over and over again, throughout the evening newscast, at the top of the hour on NPR, and in print for folks to see? Would it move politicians to address those issues more quickly and with more urgency? Because what politicians talk about now are jobs and the stock market, and these are things that don’t translate into healthy communities. We have seen for years that a rising stock market does not mean that everyone in this country is doing okay. There are scores of people in this country who do not have money invested in the stock market, who don’t have any disposable income to invest. We know that unemployment figures don’t show the kind of information we pretend they do. People are “underemployed” for a variety of reasons, and some folks don’t even show on unemployment figures because they’ve given up looking for work – either because they can’t afford to work (yes, it’s absurd that that is a reality, but it is), they don’t have the skills employers are seeking, they’re discriminated against, or they are not able to work for a variety of reasons.

Instead of talking about “the economy,” what if we talked about people and how their basic needs are increasingly not being met? Instead of doing a “homeless count” once a year in major cities, what if we looked at the reasons people lose housing and report on those numbers every single week?

Our priorities are reflected in the kind of information we choose to seek and compile and report. And the vicious cycle that is created here is that we continue to believe that these *should* be our priorities, so we focus on them to the exclusion of the things that might actually tell us about the health of our country. It’s not a panacea, but shifting the way we talk about and measure the health of our communities might give us more of a reason to start working on ensuring that more of us are supported and stable.

I’d like to think that maybe if the media were constantly reporting on the number of people in this country who have declared bankruptcy or lost their housing or carried crippling debt from medical bills, we might find enough politicians who were willing to overhaul the system in the face of insurance company lobbyists.

Perhaps if there were an accurate picture of the number of households with members who are consistently underfed, there would be political will to change the way we support folks with SNAP benefits.

What we focus on grows. We need to start focusing on people and their struggles to survive and the things we can do to help them, help humans, not “the economy.” There is no such thing as trickle-down, except in the realm of fairy tales and rain water.