Esteemed Reader | Esteemed Reader | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

You took the best
So why not take the rest
Baby, take all of me
—Billie Holiday

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

It was the day after the 2016 presidential election and people in the streets had a vacant gaze, like they had just witnessed something terrible. I ran into a friend and stopped to chat.

"How are you?" I asked, in that significant way one asks after a death in the family, getting laid off, or a similar tragic event.

My friend, who's smart and spiritual, an active member of her community, a psychotherapist and mom of young children, looked at me and began to weep. We hugged and neither of us said anything as we made our way to a nearby cafe. Finding a table, we started to talk.

"What are we going to do?" she asked. "This is unimaginable. He's an ignorant bigot, a unrepentant rapist, a pig. I'm very afraid the country is about to become radically more fascist than it already is."

My disposition that morning was philosophical. I thought that, in a deeper way, the placement of the one-who-must-not-be-named in the presidency was an embodiment of a societal id; that his prominence made visible the part of us that simply wants what it wants and has no compunction about exploiting any situation for maximum personal gain; it exposed that part of us that takes simply because it can take and takes without any inconvenient pangs of conscience. In other words, at some level, we are repulsed by the-one-who-must-not-be-named because we see his mode of grabbing the world by the crotch in ourselves.

As I looked at my friend, I knew that expressing my musings would not help her in the least, so I just listened. "So what are you going to do?" I asked, after the frustration was mostly exhausted. She paused and thought.

"I'm going to use this grief and frustration to fuel my focus on the things that I know matter, the places I can make a difference. I'm going to be there for my children, my clients, my friends, and community. I'm going to give my best," she said.

I was left inspired, with a sense of the value of the collective shock as a source of energy to focus on what I see matters most. It became clear that I can transform myself and the world in the ways and places that I can actually influence and use the disturbing presence of a dissolute political system to fuel my efforts.

I saw that I can be free to nominate and elect myself to do meaningful work in the ways I can be effective. This is a view that sees the general and particular circumstances of my life as the field of transformation. Each interaction and exchange becomes a chance to struggle with my greedy and grabbing impulses, to make contact between the inner and the outer, to engage with my particular life as an arena of activism.

This being-as-I-am is not a resigned navel-gazing that neglects responsibilities. It is not separate from the world. Rather it is a striving that balances inner and outer effort—a striving to bring my multifaceted inner self into the same focus as my outer life, like two images that overlay and complete one another.

When I am able to struggle with my weaknesses, and strive for something more true in the presence of others, others are effected. It is not "me who knows" fixing something that's wrong "out there." Rather, this unabridged effort brings my whole, imperfect self onto the ground of transformation. The result is that I not only work to address a problem, but I also demonstrate and share the effect of a means of reconciliation.

Can I strive to be kind and at the same time recognize resistance or anger, and rather than expressing or repressing the anger, bear witness to it in the context of being together with others?

Can I strive to be attentive to the person in front of me, and at the same time be attentive in myself, acknowledging that my attention is imperfect and distracted?

Can I strive to have integrity—to be where I say I'll be and do what I promise—and at the same time honestly include the myriad pulls to break my promises?

As a culture, we are conditioned to prefer positive, pleasant, and affirming experiences, but this prejudice ignores the reality that every positive is accompanied by a negative. More important, the approach ignores the fertility of bringing opposites and contradictions into contact. This marriage of yes and no, of "I must" and "I will not," gives birth to a third and reconciling possibility—"I can."

Comments (0)
Add a Comment
  • or

Support Chronogram