The world turned upside down
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.” ~Herman Hesse
There have been certain days during the course of the pandemic when it all starts to feel like a little bit too much --- like we’re being asked to hold too many paradoxical things at the same time. There’s only so much tension a system can tolerate before it starts collapsing, and sometimes it feels like that’s what happens inside my head when the thoughts get too big and too confusing.
I should be ecstatic today – and part of me is. My family is the bewildered and grateful beneficiary of extra vaccine doses from the Stillaguamish Tribe in western Washington. After they vaccinated everyone who works for them, including my sister, they opened up all of their excess doses to the families of employees, whether they belonged to the tribe or not. Laura found out about this last week and my parents got their first doses of the Moderna vaccine today.
The magnitude of that generosity is astounding and honestly a little bewildering to me. I’ve read so many stories recently about the horrific toll that covid has taken on indigenous communities in the states. American Indians and Alaska Natives have died from covid at nearly twice the rate of white people. Traditional medicine men and women were hit particularly hard as they tried to care for their communities. Rita Hunte, one of only 290 people who still spoke fluent Dakota, died at the end of November.
Last weekend, I was reading outside and this guy looked at the cover of my book and asked what my book was about. I told him it was generally about the slave trade in Ghana and that it traced the families of two sisters – one who remained in Ghana, and one who was kidnapped and tortured and sent to America as a slave (Homegoing: highly recommend). He introduced himself and said he was part of the Tulalip Tribes – one of the groups in referenced in the New York Times article, which the Stillaguamish are a part of. He said that he understood the idea that trauma gets passed through generations and that even if it seems like rape and kidnapping are in our distant past, it’s not that far back. He also told me three of his uncles died from covid.
And my parents got vaccinated today because of the openhandedness of the Tulalip Tribes.
Where do you put that?
I reveled in Joe’s inauguration and Trump’s departure. I said I wasn’t sure what I was going to feel, but I felt great. I inhaled tweets and memes and Bernie jokes. I ate donuts and sang Amazing Grace on my couch. I danced and jumped naked in the lake and shook bottles of champagne. I obsessively googled Amanda Gorman like the rest of America. I woke up the next day and felt a physical shift that I quickly recognized as reassurance. I genuinely felt safer in my body knowing Donald Trump wasn’t president anymore. Not just because he couldn’t access the nuclear codes anymore, but also because we no longer had a man in the Oval Office who openly admitted to sexually assaulting women and who gave cover to other men who did the same thing.
People suffered so many different ways under his administration of cruelty and indignity – I don’t know if men could ever understand what it felt like to be a woman in America the last four years in the same way I can’t imagine what it feels like to be an American Indian watching your culture and your people get demolished – again, still - by the greed and disregard of the US Government. And then still share whatever medicine you had with your neighbors, no questions asked.
I feel like a pinball – bouncing between relief that we survived the last four years, recognition that hundreds of thousands of us in fact didn’t survive the last four years, relief that Joe is in charge, outrage at the country and pandemic he’s inheriting, disorientation at going from all bad news all the time to a lot of good news in less than a week – there’s almost a gluttony and dizziness to it that can make you sick if you’re not careful.
So this is my reminder to myself, and to you too in case you need it, that when it all gets to be too much or too big or too contradictory, you’re allowed to just put it down. Go to sleep and try again tomorrow. It’s pretty easy to see that none of us are showing up as our best selves right now. We look and sound tired. I see it in our eyes. But grace shows up when we let people – including and especially ourselves – off the hook for the things we usually get irritated and upset about. When we allow ourselves to believe – not because it’s even necessarily true but maybe just because it allows us to feel better – that we’re all doing the best we can.
This is hard, and you’re doing a good job. Keep going.
"Rest and laughter are the most spiritual and subversive acts of all. Laugh, rest, slow down." ~ Anne Lamott
(Orcas Island this weekend — can’t recommend open spaces and old trees enough; the best medicine second only to the covid vaccine)
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.