Suffering Fools and Finding Grace

I’ve been burning with a bottomless rage for weeks now, the flames of which only intensify every time I read another news story or see another image of people without a moral core demanding their “freedom” to infect themselves and the rest of us with the virus that causes COVID-19. I’ve finally been able to put a name to what I’m witnessing, which is dehumanization. We’re being told that, if we are “true” Americans, we should be willing to die for $10/hour to prove our “patriotism.” We are disposable and our physical vulnerability is an inconvenience to the machine of capitalism.

Wrapped into this package of dehumanization is a concept of fairness that sickens me. People would rather a good portion of their fellow citizens die than risk anyone sitting “idle,” taking from others out of laziness. Undeserved generosity and kindness are viewed with more contempt than preventable suffering, disability and death. On these fools’ lips, “I helped someone who wasn’t as grateful or as invested as I believe they should have been” is a worse outcome than “I spread a deadly illness to others through my selfish desire for, let’s say, a haircut.” No, it isn’t “fair” when people take more than they need, but it sure as f*ck isn’t fair, right or moral when one’s actions kill others because of their own unquenchable want of “freedom.”

I feel no empathy for people whose craven stupidity endangers us all and I want karma to find them. I lack grace; I find myself in my mind’s eye at a moment of decision–would I swing fate their way if given the choice–and all I want is vengeance. They force me to confront my inner demons of hate and my inability to turn away from wanting payment for injustice. They are still human, they are still made of the same stuff of which I’m made and yet I cannot bear the thought of them existing anywhere in my daily life.

I believe that my lack of care is part of the legacy of unresolved trauma that I bear. Having been violated and having no justice served me for my childhood, my rage looks for new villains and finds them in every direction. I know grief is the answer; as I sit with this notion, what comes to my mind immediately are the innocent that are suffering and that will suffer because of the horrible choices people are making. The restaurant worker forced back because they will otherwise lose their unemployment, only to be exposed by a customer who just had to meet up with friends. The healthcare worker who may make it through the first wave only to bring the virus home to a loved one after exposure to a person who decided a vacation was in order. I feel so powerless because COVidiots do not listen to reason, but I can focus my energy on the people who are doing their best to protect and support others during this crisis and on those who are most vulnerable to its effects.

I ventured to a nature area today and witnessed dozens of people on my journey who were violating the mask-wearing and social distancing mandates in my state. My anger grew exponentially and I flipped off a sh*thead who drove his bike around my car despite a fire engine coming from the other direction with lights flashing. I’d about lost hope when, with a block from my house, I passed a young person wearing a flowing purple and blue bandanna around their face. The elegance of the mask-wear’s choice of garment brought to mind my bedrock belief: in the midst of our present suffering and our subjugation, there is more beauty than pain in the world.

The Point of Inflection (Today’s Daily Remembrance)

For today’s card, I focused on what occurs at the intersection of inhalation and exhalation of a breath. It seems to me there is a world of possibility between the moment we soak in our surroundings through our senses, and the moment we create and express the perceptions those senses have left on us. A holy pause, filled with both eagerness and sorrow, is ours.

I’ve had moments in my life where I wanted to pause time, where the laughter, music and camaraderie was so pleasant I wanted to cling to it forever. Many more breathes have been halting and shallow, wishing I could speed things up so that I would never have to experience the darkness, the pain and the disconnection I felt then and there. Every breath moves on, though, to the next, until there is no next. We only have the rhythm of our lungs and our heart to sustain us.

As I’ve learned to slow and more fully appreciate the sensory experiences the world has to offer, it has opened new spaces inside me for imagination, creativity and deeper observation. I tended to get lost in my ruminations–the same three rumbles of thunder clashing again and again, perceiving every sensation as a threat–or to rush so quickly from one breath to another that I scarce know how my lungs filled. It is only through deliberate practice that I come into the fullness of my capacity to breath; it’s not my nature but it might be our collective nature into which I’ve tapped. I’ve found in this inner universe much more grace and compassion than I anticipated, as well as a sense that time isn’t the essence of our lives but merely a companion to our journey. What is your relationship with the in-breath and the out-breath? What meets you in the inflection point in between each?

Fashioning a Prayer to Inner Divinity (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

The sacred and holy is both within and all around me in my view of spirituality. I celebrate the Divine in self, humanity and nature–concentric, looping rings of connectedness that foster a sense of awe, gratitude and expansion. My sense of inner sanctity, is, then, both singular as well as representational of the greater Spirit that imbues all we do with meaning and purpose.

My prayer today to and for my Inner Divinity is that I will grow in my trust of my Sacred Self as steadfast and limitless in his/her/their capacity to encapsulate all of my inherent contradictions, flaws and mistakes. Much of the time, I find “I’m so much harder on myself than I am on others” to be a vacuous and dubious statement, but I do know that I struggle to extend grace to anyone, including myself. I’ve come into greater awareness recently of the intensity of my obsession with morality and the judgment that flows so easily from it. My ability to call up righteous indignation at the failures of justice and the oppression in the world while remaining cognizant of my own part in it is core to who I am and there has to be a place for levity, carefree open-heartedness and play.

I do not want to become more forgiving as forgiveness is nearly always tied to an inability to hold space for both pain and for the demand of the hard work of accountability. But, I do want to trust that the heavy eye of scrutiny that I cast on all I am and all I encounter can sometimes becoming light-lidded with approval of growth and transformation in the presence of evidence of learning from one’s mistakes. I despise “I’m/they’re doing our best” as much as I do “not good enough,” which is a severe approach to life. I think the only way to extend grace to myself and others is to find hope in gradual change and small victories and to take time to celebrate life without fear of “doing it wrong.” My Sacred Self is compassionate and capable of nuanced praise; I need to open my ears to hear his/her/their voice.

Adventures in Perspective-Taking

If there is one skill set my system has perfected, it is to eviscerate the incompetent. Any delay, any error of a practical nature, any inconsistency, and my eye is hawk to mouse. It took a very weird trip on some strong drugs (oral surgery) to flush out the true rustle of grass from wind-shift meanderings. My conclusion is that I need to make a crucial adjustment to my perspective-taking.

The Starting Point

I am not kind to strangers. My patience is razor-thin and I show no mercy to those who do not apologize immediately for their oversights or mistakes. “Do better and do it now” is the north star of guidance for my inner compass. I’m the person for which dating sites offer warnings—the rude one who exhibits distain for those who are merely trying to provide a warm meal or bag some groceries. I justify my behavior through my own diligence and sense of duty: If I can show up and give my full effort and/or acknowledge my flaws directly, why can’t others? Does character count for nothing?

It feels like war, to go out in public and rely on other humans to get my needs met. I’m a general more concerned with arriving home, spoils intact, than anyone or anything else. I dehumanize instantly and profoundly whenever someone cannot or will not march at my break-neck pace. I’m not sure when and where others were conscripted into my army of efficiency, duty and thoroughness, nor do I think most would stay enlisted were they given the chance to leave. I have insta-rage always at the ready as my chosen weapon should anyone disappoint me.

Climbing

On my recent very long and strange trip, after getting IV sedation for oral surgery along with narcotic pain medication, I discovered a sliver of tooth in my mouth. Not from the extraction site, but from another nearby tooth. I contacted the oral surgeon, who tried to tell me my tooth sliver wasn’t a tooth sliver. Fury erupted and I vowed to never go back to him again. I ranted to my friends about his obvious incompetence. Something less than perfection and/or immediate prostrate confession of inadequacies had occurred. Unacceptable.

My mind, however, saw an opportunity in my drug-induced haziness to challenge me to examine the landscape I’ve simply scampered by every other time I’ve climbed to the pinnacle of “once again, humans suck and I’m mad” mountain. What if not everyone saw him (the oral surgeon) in the same light as I did? What if he was good at some tasks or roles, just not in relation to me? What if my experience with him, flawed through it was, was an outlier? All my life I’ve searched for the three stones I deem necessary to prove someone is an idiot (once is an accident, twice is pushing it, three times and it’s on). What if I was missing the many-hued scrub and sunset of beautiful humanness in my quest to be right and smart and less shitty than others?

A Panoramic Vantage Point

The lightbulb moment for me on my journey of perspective-taking is the realization that I have spent much of my life overgeneralizing my personal interactions with an individual into a representation of their entire being. I feel shame at the arrogance and haughtiness behind my assumptions, but I also glimpse self-protection under the crevasse. If someone treats me in a way that evokes my contempt, what is it easier to do? Respond with derision and decide that’s simply who they are as a person, or wonder about the individual and societal forces leading to the person’s actions? If someone makes repeated mistakes (like ringing up an item incorrectly), what role does my insta-rage have in leading them to additional fumbles? What if I’m missing joy and authenticity in my desire to punish others for the “unfairness” of having to wait or explain or contend with flippancy?

Descending into Complexity

Something in me recoils at the idea of tossing the small stones of poor performance to the side. They threaten to find entrance to my shoes and, though tiny, blister and boil their way back into my experience. I simply cannot consistently overlook someone failing to do the basic requirements of their job in a professional manner. I get to say “that wasn’t what I deserved.” I do much more than this, though. I throw stones. I demean and demand my path be cleared of all debris, lest I stub my precious toes.

I aim to choose now to weigh the pebbles, note their characteristics and place them down, rather than to continue to turn them into weapons. It is okay to name an encounter as disappointing or sub-par. I have to remember, though, at every turn, that what I hold in my hand only one grain of sand among millions. That I believe that my dust particle—the proof of how much someone sucks at something based on one encounter I had with them—stands a true testament to the collective amalgamation of water and blood and stone they are as an entire person behooves me. The literal grit in my teeth after my surgery represents to me the cost of chewing on and absorbing other’s failures. Why not dig out each bit, label it and then return it to the earth? Why not free up my breath and my hands and my toes and all of me to encounter beauty and connection, rather than dwell on the insignificant proofs of concept to which I am steadfast?

There are, of course, more than pebbles and grit. There are boulders of abuse and neglect that have sought to crush out my soul. Some people have done me great harm in my life and my being struggles to weigh the offense accurately, finding all injustice equally threatening. Even so, choosing to carry other’s shame and failure as my own is self-made torture. They’ve callused and wounded me, but they do not decide my path nor do I owe them gratitude for the jagged ridges they’ve carved. Those stones are relics to what was in my life, not shrines before which I must prostrate myself. The liquid of my tears erodes their surface. I am not crushed and I am not fully encumbered by what has been.

Having scoped out new land, I can walk steadily towards it without each new obstacle categorized instantly on the side of threat. I can choose, wide-open scene in mind, to counter each shard of incompetence with a reminder that the people I encounter who fail to perform to my standards are in fact dazzling kaleidoscopes, shimmering, gleaming and transforming far beyond what my minute sampling can ever afford. Where I see flaw, others see crack in stone revealing gem. I can hold my sand and proclaim their inadequacy, but I must also acknowledge the sparkle of the divine we each contain.

How do you respond to people who seem to not put in effort at what they are “supposed” to be doing? How do you balance your desire for order and performance with grace for the mistakes we all make? How do you process disappointment and failure while remaining connected to a shared sense of humanity?