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.

Failures in Empathy

I am feeling angry today and I don’t know what to do with my anger. First, I’ve struggled for years to empathize and relate to people in the Boomer generation. Both of my parents fit into this generation so it was always destined to be the one I would have the hardest time with, but seeing multiple neighbors and community members playing games with social distancing by forming what look like extended tailgates is setting me over the edge. We shut down our entire society in large part to protect this generation, and the “thanks” I am witnessing in return is an adolescent belief of invincibility. I cannot muster a lot of grace for someone who purposefully puts themselves in danger when they would seem to be at a place where they should have had enough life experience to know better.

To top it off, I took my dog to the park and finally found a large open space where we could walk without any chance (or so I thought) of running into another person. Right as we were making our way between reservoir areas, this absolute f*ckhead got out of his car and starting hitting golf balls in our direction of travel, effectively blocking off a vast area of land from us. The park was most definitely not a golf course. I had a lot of nasty thoughts go through my head because it seemed intentionally sadistic–“hey, here’s this person trying to enjoy a walk, let me ruin it!” He got in his car and drove away after I’d walked quite a distance across the parking lot in the other direction.

I am someone who wishes bad things on those who are intentionally cruel. I want them to suffer. On an intellectual level, I know that this is where grace is supposed to enter the picture, I’m supposed to think of the times I’ve been mean on purpose and therefore empathize with that sentiment. I can think of a few, but I generally try to lighten other people’s load in life, not to add to it. I make many mistakes and react with impatience, but I do not go out of my way to mess with someone trying to, for example, enjoy their day. I want justice for those who are victimized by the sadism of the powerful; I would go further and say I lust for it.

But, stepping back, I know my desires are too concrete and too rigid. They lack the nuance of awareness of the interwoven systems within our society. For example, idiotic leaders who tell their acolytes that social distancing is impinging on their “freedom” to get sick and die in service to America’s “economy” (aka the rich and powerful) are in part to blame for the poor decisions of some Boomers to treat the shelter-in-place as a joke. The idea that the thinly-veiled threat of violence cis white men can hold towards people like me who are queer (as well as those who are PoC, poor and so forth) is not limited to one human specimen who decided his “recreation” included obstructing my freedom of movement, but is embedded in the patriarchal, heterosexist white supremacy inherent in American society. I can acknowledge those truths intellectually, but I still wanted respond aggressively to the flaunting of privilege and ignorance I witnessed. Once I calm myself after episodes like this, it usually leads me to redouble my efforts at constructive change, but, if I’m being totally honest, I do truly savor the schadenfreude that results when the powerful get what’s coming to them.

Every Connection Counts (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

In a recent post, I shared about a really negative interaction I had a few days ago. Since then, I’ve been able to talk in person (at a safe social distance) as well as virtually with a few friends and acquaintances. I’m feeling a lot of gratitude for the social support I’ve received.

I’ve also given in to peer pressure and ordered a gaming device so that I will be able to play video games with my friends. I feel like even something as silly and lighthearted as inviting a friend to see my decorations in Animal Crossing might be what I need to make it through all of this. Is there someone in your life with whom you’d like to check in? How are you finding ways to connect despite the need for distance?

Finding Calm in the Whirlwind (Today’s Moment of Gratitude)

Well, my life turned upside down in the last 24 hours. My job is moving online for two months, a situation which requires a tremendous amount of planning and action all at once. I have over a hundred students depending on me to get it right, so no pressure!

I feel empowered rather than defeated, as I can finally channel my excessive energy into something productive. At the same time, the human element is what scares me in terms of having to navigate competing interests and balance my time. The potential implications for a total lockdown of my area is creeping into my consciousness as well.

As I was thinking of all of this, I ran into a neighbor (from a safe distance!) that I haven’t seen in a while. She offered to help me if I get sick. Having someone who lives so close offer this meant the world to me; I really needed to know that I’m not alone. Again and again, I keep coming to the truth that, as long as I feel connected to a community, my personality and inner world is created for a time like this. I feel galvanized to a degree I thought I’d lost. What’s been your moment of peace today?

Tips for Coping with Social Distancing Measures

There is evidence of community spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 near where I live, and daily life is rapidly changing. Events have been cancelled, my job may be moving to e-learning and social distancing is the buzzword on everyone’s lips. I wanted to share a few ideas I have about how to cope.

Action and acceptance

I wrote about this topic yesterday. In terms of steps to take, what I want to share is to encourage you to take steps to deal with the situation at hand that are measured, within your means and accessible to you. I’ve been stocking up on basics since January, so I’m now in the stage where my anxiety is fueling me to want to purchase, for example, a 3K generator. It can be really difficult to discern between what is rational and what is panic-based; if at all possible, for larger purchases, I try to wait 24 hours before making a final decision.

In terms of acceptance, there may come a point for each of us where we reach the end of our capacity to prepare or to respond to the crisis. I won’t provoke your anxiety by laying out examples as, if you are as skilled at freaking out as I am, your mind has no trouble delivering these to you. This is the place where I think practices of spirituality and faith in humanity have to come to bear. My hope is that something greater than myself will guide me and someone kind will meet me if I arrive at the end of my means. The groundwork for this response, for me, has been years of inner work and (much less successfully) attempts to build a social support network. Each of us might have more at our disposal than our scared inner children let on.

Self-Compassion

Give yourself permission to be only as active as you need to be to maintain your health and responsibilities. I’m seeing a lot of posts about learning a new hobby, finishing the book you were writing or completing a home repair project if you are asked to stay home. Although these suggestions are well-meaning and perfect for people who need to stay busy, they can be overwhelming to those of us with workaholic tendencies who may feel that we are not being as productive as we should be.

I do encourage you to develop a daily schedule with as much time as you are able to devote to self-care and reflection. It is healthy, in my opinion, to pause from time to time to check in with yourself and your loved ones and to see how you are coping. Mindfulness and other practices can help get us out of the past or the future into the present moment.

To the extent that you are able to do so, be present with your emotions. It is okay to feel angry, scared or sadness. I’m struggling with an angry “I told you so” after my concerns as to what was coming were dismissed and mocked by several people IRL. Rather than stuff down what feels like smugness, I’m sitting with it and asking myself how I might respond differently in the future when someone ignores my advice. Our feelings are excellent, in most situations, at helping us identify our underlying needs.

Community Connections

As I shared above, social support is key to making it to the other side of the pandemic in a way that tends to our mental health needs. This is the time to get creative and to find ways to connect with loved ones, even if it has to be through virtual settings. A monthly meeting I enjoy attending has been cancelled, so we are considering hosting it virtually if the quarantine continues next month.

Take a mental headcount of the people in your neighborhood or local community with whom you might partner to meet basic needs. I’m learning about so many agencies that exist on a city and county level that I did not know were there to support the community. If it suits you, determine whether there are ways to support healthcare workers who might be highly affected by this crisis.

What are you doing to cope with social distancing if it has been implemented in your area? If it hasn’t been yet, what can you do to prepare?