The Year in Tears, Fears and Cheers

I’ve done a lot of the right kind of crying this week – big, fat tears of hope, awe and relief. More fantastic than the cathartic sobs themselves, however, is the direct connection between them and national politics. For most of the year, emotional inspiration from the country’s elected leaders has been in short supply.

The lion’s share of 2017 blubbering has been of the traditional disappointment/rage strain. It’s been a tough year with many challenges to moral authority, character and justice. It may seem incongruous to sexist hate mongers like defeated Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore, but a liberal, atheist, feminist can also believe that standard codes of conduct should straddle all walks of human life. Righteousness is not the spiritual property of Bible-banging, racist, homophobic straight white men who condemn everyone outside their circle of privileged ignorance.

Regardless of gender, faith, geography or race, there should be a few universal agreements. We should reject white supremacy, violence, sexual assault, pedophilia, corrupt looting of the public treasury, heartlessness toward the poor and the war-torn.  When an American territory is ravaged by natural disaster, we should offer all forms of recovery assistance and skip the Ayn Randian self-reliance lectures. We should support science and research and take care of the only Earth we have. When hundreds are publicly gunned down at a concert and children are not safe in school, its way past time to ask ourselves if the Second Amendment should supersede all other rights.

Moderates, cynics and self-styled realists will be quick to say that we must make our way through the world as it is. Indulging idealistic daydreams is a waste of time. To which I reply in the words of my favorite former Vice President, Joseph R. Biden III: “That’s a bunch of malarkey.” Despite the unaccountable example elevated by President Trump, we can admit when we’re wrong. We don’t have to live with the choices we’ve made when empirical and experiential data illuminate error. If we’re not here to try our best to build a greater and more just world for ourselves and our children, what’s the point? If all we’re meant to do is take what we can and run, what sets humans apart from scavenger species like rats and vultures?

2017 has made it painfully clear that at the highest levels of American government and industry, a shared vision of social justice and opportunity has fallen out of favor. The Trump administration has appointed numerous leaders to public agencies with the express purpose of making it harder for us to breathe, receive a quality education or equitable treatment within the justice system, among other taxpayer scams. See, as just one absurd example, the decision to install Scott Pruitt, tool of the fossil fuel industry, as leader of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Never in modern history has it been so obvious that the public trust and tax dollar are being misused. The heavy-handedness of it all has elicited buckets of my impotent, despairing tears throughout the year. It’s been overwhelmingly tempting at times (Charlottesville, Republican tax “reform,” a sexual assaulter as POTUS) to view the country’s oligarchic, cynical tailspin without hope.

I recently took a personality test shared via link by a Facebook friend. I scored high on the quiz’s concept of reverence. Although the word has taken on a religious connotation, as applied in the personality assessment, it denotes a humbling of the self in respectful recognition of something perceived to be greater. I recognize this existential need. I’m a devoted planner and tactician, but always in service of a motivating larger concept. Shake my faith in the efficacy of action and I’ll quickly devolve. More Law & Order marathons, less self-confidence and movement. Reverence and I have been estranged for months at a time this year, replaced by tears of bitter shame as 45 debases this great nation with Twitter feuds, misogyny, bigotry, feckless and dangerous domestic and foreign policies.

But as we approach the end of the calendar year and the conclusion of the first twelve months of the Trump presidency, I’m starting to get my reverent groove back. On Monday night, Bob and I went to the Chicago Theatre to see the aforementioned Joe Biden on the Windy City leg of his book tour. Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, according to The New York Times Book Review, “splices a heartbreaking story with an election story and a foreign affairs story. And in so doing, he offers something for everyone, no matter which strand draws you in.”

Reading the words of Joe Biden is a privilege. Hearing his earnest, human good sense and compassion live is better still. The 75 year-old public servant is an American hero. A man who has weathered enormous personal tragedy with grace, intelligence and a steadfast commitment to bending the arc of humanity towards justice. I was, am and will always be inspired by Papa Joe. The choked sobs I released on Monday were full of gratitude – for Americans like the longtime Delaware senator, and for a husband who knew that walking down Obama/Biden memory lane would sooth my battered soul.

Then last night, voters in the deep red state of Alabama rejected a twice-sacked, child molesting, bigoted judge in favor of a pro-choice Democrat with a demonstrated commitment to civil rights. Much has been made in the media about urban and suburban white distaste for Moore. But the real story is the 93 percent of black men and 98 percent of African-American women who overcame all disenfranchisement odds and pundit expectations to put their state on the right side of history. As Esquire columnist Charles Pierce noted:

“Voter suppression is a scandal and a crime and an offense against the Constitution. John Roberts’s declaration of the Day of Jubilee in Shelby County v. Holder was an act of historical butchery. The laws enacted since that day should be torn out, root and branch, and burned to cinders. However, what the results from Alabama demonstrated is that, with good candidates and a solid message and tireless work, you can swamp the bastards and all their works just by showing up.”

2016 went out for me with a disillusioned, distressed whimper. Hillary Clinton’s loss was my despair for the country, for womanhood, for immigrants and any chance of addressing the nation’s increasingly stratified economic and social opportunities.

At the end of 2017, I’m rediscovering reverence for the American proletariat. The wise and compassionate words of a retired public servant and the empowered, forward-looking agency of Alabama voters make great holiday gifts.


Saying Yes to Less (January 3, 2014)

So it’s a New Year and I’ve been nursing a broken heart for a month. It’s getting a little easier everyday to wake up alone and accept the fact that my ex-partner was, in many ways, not who I thought he was. I knew enough to be wary of the drinking when we first got together (though ultimately, that spared me nothing) but he caught me by surprise in other areas where I expected more maturity and personal responsibility, perhaps wrongly. The losses I’ve been mourning are related to those disillusionments as much as his actual flight.

I am also coming to terms with the idea that when a relationship fails, there is always shared blame. I wanted to control and fix where letting go and letting be would have been healthier and saner. Furthermore, the Al-Anon meetings I am now attending do not solely revolve around my experiences with my ex – not by a long shot. Co-dependent relationships with addicts began in childhood but somehow, long after I had other choices and the cognitive ability to recognize the patterns of attraction, followed by self-esteem crushing rejection of me and my “help,” I stayed the course. Al-Anon is helping me figure out why, and since I’ve decided I no longer care to define insanity (performing the same action over and over, yet anticipating different outcomes), how to fortify myself against the natural draw to “projects.”

It is owing to this drop of self-awareness and insight that my loyal and faithful therapist suggested that it was time I start casually dating. I know. I was as surprised by the recommendation as you are. But her thinking went like this: I’ve only been on dry dock for a month, but there’s a fine line between reflection and taking time for yourself, and becoming a hermit who stays in bed watching marathons of Law & Order (original recipe and SVU). She also theorized that I haven’t really ever done casual dating, at least not very well. Usually some form of pressure (self-inflicted or external) has led to quick decisions about whether or not to hitch myself to another’s wagon. I remain an undetermined length of time away from relationship-ready, but Dr. T challenged me to really make a go of disinterested acquaintance. See a bunch of new people. Enjoy fresh neighborhoods, places and activities. Maybe there is a second date, maybe not. Be ok with that and keep the mind focused on an individual’s potential compatibility with me, rather than fixating on intractable personal flaws that could lead to repudiation of my company. Historically, I have been famous for Sally Albright logic: “I knew [so and so] was all wrong, but why didn’t he want ME?!” That, as the great Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley might have said, is stinkin’, pointless thinkin’.

Well ok then. I am ready to cause a fulsome breach with the old habits of my past and to that end, what feels foreign and uncomfortable might be completely necessary. Challenge accepted Dr. T. So when I haven’t been working, at the gym or spending time with the fabulous circle of friends and family I’ve no desire to short change, I have gone on two very brief first “dates” with men I might have rejected in the past for various, self-defeating reasons. A couple of cocktails with a former U.S. Senatorial press secretary here, a cup of coffee (tea for me) with an environmental project consultant there. No immediate sparks flew and the best part was, I didn’t feel compelled to create them or cross the guys off the list for eternity. 2014 is all about the slow build.

I am being treated like a lady, enjoying diverse and enlightening conversation with…get this people: no internal or external pressure to turn the experience into more than a satisfying moment. Who knew? It still feels weird but a girl could definitely get used to this.