It is a bleak day, to be sure. The day that came at the end of a week where the Supreme Court of the United States, led by conservative justices, showed the citizens of this country how little they care for our health and safety and well-being. A week that saw dialysis patients being given over to the capitalist machinations of private insurers, states being told they cannot prevent citizens from carrying weapons basically wherever they want to, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade in a way that virtually confirms that our rights to privacy around contraception and sexuality will tumble to dust sooner rather than later.

It’s a bleak day. And I admit to laying on my couch staring at the ceiling for a full 40 minutes after posting posting posting to social media about the fuckery and nonsense that this is. My mind was numb because even though we all saw this coming, even though we wrote about it and marched and screamed and VOTED for folks like we were told to, it came anyway, and we were powerless to stop it. The Democrats have had multiple opportunities to make laws that would keep abortion safe and legal in this country and they’ve chosen not to prioritize it. They have had ample opportunity to enact gun laws that would actually protect the citizens of this country and they haven’t done it. It is enraging.

And, at some point, I was reminded that most of the crises I’ve found myself in throughout my life weren’t solved by coloring inside the lines. Laws are made up. Borders, too. You can try to legislate nature, but nature doesn’t really play that way. And, like it or not, human beings are part of nature. Abortion has been around as a practice since women needed it to be, which is basically forever. People have been having sex with each other forever, whether it resulted in babies or not. We might think we humans have cornered the market on imposing our will on things, but the fact is, we’ve been fooling ourselves.

I’m a little embarrassed that I fell into the trap of thinking that a group of people appointed by old, white men – many of whom are old white men themselves, and two of whom have been credibly accused of sexual assault against women – could actually make a decision that would prevent me from making some of the most important, fundamental decisions of my own. I do NOT have to live by these laws, and I’m not even talking about breaking them. I’m talking about a failure of imagination. If we accept the binary (as is our wont) that abortion is either legal or it isn’t in this country and that’s it (cue the brushing of the hands), we have failed to understand that the binary is artificial and was created by us. And if we created it, we can destroy it. Indeed, it is already crumbling.

These institutions we see falling apart day after day right in front of our eyes are the key to reminding us that we are trying to find solutions inside a box that we placed ourselves in and it is entirely possible to climb outside of that box and seek other ideas. Herbalists, healers, medicine women, curanderias – they have been the source of wisdom for generations and existed long before men like Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas showed up in their robes. Yes, there are ways to fight within the system, but there are also ways to take care of each other and ourselves that exist entirely outside of the systems we know are broken. Long before these laws were written, women took care of each other. We can imagine a new way that doesn’t put us at the mercy of these institutions that were never designed to benefit us. We need not always be on the defensive, begging for crumbs from the likes of Joe Manchin. We can craft new ways of being that prioritize our well being.

I am not saying that I know what those things are. I wish I did, but I do know that it is possible to imagine a world outside of the constraints we have placed on ourselves, and I also know that it is impossible to impose the laws of humans on nature. Lord knows, we’ve tried over and over again, but it will always be surface and unsustainable. What is sustainable is the human will to thrive and to be in loving community. Starting from there is where we’ll find our solutions.

All of that said, if you want something to do that feels tangible right now, go to www.abortionfunds.org and donate, support Planned Parenthood, visit nnaf.org/InvestInAbortionFunds, and call your local, state, and federal representatives to let them know you want abortion to stay safe and legal. But know that we cannot be forced to love certain people, ignore our bodies’ needs, and put ourselves in harm’s way by any man’s law. We will find ways to thrive. 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?

 

magenta background with one round white tablet and four hexagonal white tablets beneath

I woke up this morning feeling weighed down by all of the recent news. I told a friend that, while I continue to take steps to support things I believe in every day, it is increasingly feeling like I’ve used all of my fingers to plug holes in the dike and tomorrow when I wake up there will be a new leak that I don’t have capacity for. I know from experience that I feel this way from time to time and eventually I find my footing and get grounded in the knowledge that there are lots of others with their fingers holding the deluge back too and that the little things I am doing are important. And yet, here I am, today, feeling overwhelmed.

I don’t write about reproductive rights much anymore which is a huge departure for me. For years, mostly when my kids were young, I wrote about it on my blog, for online outlets like The Feminist Wire, and even for an anthology called Get Out of My Crotch! I spent years interviewing people who had struggled with the decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy and crafted a manuscript out of those stories, determined to humanize the “Pro-Choice/Pro-Life” debate once and for all.

Naïve. Yes.

Despite years of shopping the manuscript to agents and publishers, nobody wanted it. It was either “not controversial enough” (because I told stories of abortion, adoption, and even those people who chose to raise a child) or “not interesting” (because one – male – publisher told me it wouldn’t be interesting to men and therefore, it wouldn’t sell enough copies). Every year or so I pulled it out, dusted it off, updated it (because there were always new laws and new fights to talk about) and tried again. Until finally, I decided to put it out into the world anyway, because I felt bad that these people had trusted me with their stories and they weren’t being shared. I asked a friend to help me make it into a website, hired a graphic designer and a web designer, took pains to make sure that it was entirely anonymous (which is bullshit in and of itself because I wanted to make sure that my children wouldn’t be targets for some anti-choice militant who was angry about my views on abortion), and launched it. But it didn’t gain traction, mostly because I am crap at marketing and social media buzz and also because it’s hard to do that when you’re trying to protect your identity.

In the years since, I have wrestled with the idea of whether or not to keep resurrecting the book or the website for a variety of reasons. I got busy with other things and frankly, the older I get, the more I think that this is a Sisyphean feat – the topic of reproductive rights in the United States. But also, because, in a very idealistic way, I don’t think that women should have to bare their souls and rip open their wounds in order to be seen as human and deserving of the right to make their own healthcare decisions. In many cases, the people who are making the draconian laws such as the one that just took effect in Texas don’t deserve to hear my story and Bianca’s story and Ayesha’s story. I am past believing that it will make a difference. Despair. That’s why I stopped writing about reproductive rights. And it makes me sick to say that, to admit it. I had such hope that the Plan B pills and the abortion pills would end the conversation for the most part. But I’m certain that when Roe v. Wade was enacted, some folks hoped that it would be the end of it, too.

That same friend I was talking to this morning reflected on the last year and noted that he had harbored such hope that things would look different now in terms of Covid. He admitted that six months ago, he believed that the rollout of vaccines would have an enormous impact and we would not be where we are now with new outbreaks and variants and many places still locked down.

It occurred to me that part of the problem is that we come up with these ideas, these solutions, perched atop the old systems, and we try to implement them that way. We are mapping our solutions on the old, broken systems that were designed for rich white men in Western countries. Of course they won’t work for societies made up of people who aren’t mostly rich white men. The vaccine rollout didn’t fundamentally change anything because it was largely rolled out in Western countries that are mostly ruled by white men. Variants are coming from parts of the world that don’t have the same access to vaccines and other public health measures. These restrictive abortion laws are being mapped on to a system that was created by and for white men – with principles of punishment and control – and because the majority of the populace of this country is not white men, there is a great deal of suffering that will come with them. The upheaval we are experiencing right now, over and over again, is thanks to things being determined and run by people who don’t represent the actual people who live within the systems. The majority of Americans support abortion rights, so why is it that these laws keep getting prioritized? Because the lawmakers are white men, by and large. The majority of Americans didn’t support the war in Afghanistan, so why did it keep getting funded to the detriment of other social programs for people in America? Because the lawmakers are white men, by and large. Or they are well-served by the systems that white men created, and they have an interest in upholding them.

I have no answers today, I’m afraid, only the message that if you are feeling despair and frustration and overwhelm, you are not alone. If you are feeling hopeful that we are beginning to dismantle these old systems, please let me know and send me a light in the darkness today. In the meantime, I will support the outside-the-system things that are happening to give women who are pregnant options and amplify the voices of the folks who are calling for a new way of being.

For the last six months or so, I’ve watched with increasing discomfort as social media posts telling people to get vaccinated against Covid and vilifying people who are choosing not to vaccinate fill my feed. Some of them are brief and to the point “Wear your damn mask and get your shot!” and others are full-on rants about ignorant people or angry missives that are full of sarcasm and othering language. There are folks who post polls asking their followers and contacts whether or not they’ve been vaccinated and links to videos mocking the people who choose not to, and so far, I’ve mostly resisted commenting on any of them or posting anything I think might come off as me joining the fray. Frankly, it has meant that my social media use is vastly curtailed (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just sayin’…)

I have remained curious about my level of discomfort, trying to tease out where it hits me and why. While it’s easy for me to agree with the observations that part of our downfall is our lack of collective consciousness, it has still been difficult to reconcile the nastiness and othering that comes with “yelling” at people to get vaccinated for “the greater good.”

This morning as I walked on the beach, part of the puzzle seemed to come together in my head, thanks to a text exchange I had with a dear friend about the horrific scenes unfolding in Afghanistan.

She texted that she feels overwhelmed with all of the crises in the world and yet she also believes that it isn’t ok to “look away.” It is so hard to know what we can do to help the people who are suffering right now in ways we can’t even imagine. I talked to her about a group I’m involved with who has spent the last seven days lighting candles, raising money, and holding vigil for an Afghani couple who is trying to flee the country. Within that group, as things got worse and worse, we had the conversation about whether what we were doing was enough. Helping one family versus an entire nation. Given that, last night, that one couple managed to get on a plane to safety, it seems that we are helping, even in some small way. But, it turns out, that isn’t even really the point, and this is where the puzzle pieces began to fall into place.

What we have done in the last seven days is build community. We have forged relationships – not only among ourselves (a group of people that are scattered across the Western world), but with this Afghani couple and their family members. We have created a space where we come together in solidarity to try and alleviate some suffering. We have helped each other when it became hard to hold that space because it triggered our own trauma and fear and, it turns out, we gave this couple hope as they sat in a hot, jam-packed airport with gunfire and violence playing out outside, not knowing whether they would manage to get on a plane or be sent back to their homes.

It is a very Western, white-people thing to want to find The Solution. To invoke power structures to identify The Problem, create Rules and Mandates, and use power to impose them to Fix It. And while this is somewhat effective, what it doesn’t do is create community. There will never be a set of mandates that will convince us that we belong to each other.

It is a very Western, white-people thing to want to find The Solution. To invoke power structures to identify The Problem, create Rules and Mandates, and use power to impose them to Fix It. And while this is somewhat effective, what it doesn’t do is create community. There will never be a set of mandates that will convince us that we belong to each other. There will never be laws or rules that teach us that we are safe with each other and that we matter to someone else. Those things don’t build relationship and they don’t cultivate safety in the way that human beings need to feel safe. We white folks like rules and power because it makes us feel safe, but that is an illusion. When we think we are in control of a situation, we tend to relax a bit, but only a bit, because there is always the chance that someone with more power will come along and knock us off kilter and take control.

When we build relationship, by truly creating spaces where we feel safe with one another, we create community and a sense of shared well-being. That is why the physicians who take the time to listen to each individual concern about vaccine risks and acknowledge the fears of their patients can often have an impact on their choices. Playing on someone’s fears can be an effective way to change their behavior short-term, but you risk another, bigger fear coming along to usurp that one you cultivated. And even if you can change someone’s behavior, you can’t change their values by scaring them or forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

We all want to belong, to feel safe with others, and to be part of something bigger than ourselves, but you can’t mandate that. Focusing on enforcement rather than relationship is where we white Westerners have gone wrong for hundreds of years. The social media posts that mock or shame other people destroy the potential for connection, even as they rack up ‘likes’ from people who agree with them. Those likes can make you feel righteous, but they aren’t going to convince anyone to care about the collective. Caring about the collective comes from feeling as though you are an integral part of it, and that comes through kindness and curiosity and trust-building.