I went to the computer at dawn, heart still pounding with anxiety. I saw an email from my son Theo. The email said "Call Me". It had arrived late last night. Another panic. There must be trouble. But if I call, it will be four in the morning where he lives.
Then I noticed that there was an odd looking shape on the email. I clicked: perhaps Theo was telling me what was wrong. A PDF attachment. An essay called "Call Me By My True Names" by Thich Nhat Hanh.
So much panic this morning. I read the essay, felt my heart quiet, and as I read I realized the root of the morning's panic.
Yesterday evening I hosted a gathering for a friend of mine, Maggie Hassan, who is running for governor of New Hampshire. She is raising funds for her race.
If Maggie wins this race, she will become the only female Democratic governor in the United States. That is its own sorry state of affairs, something to ponder--but not the root of my panic.
I have known Maggie since our babies were bumps in our bellies. We met at the beach in Rhode Island. Her son, Ben, a bright, sweet person with an enormous smile, was born with a severe physical disability. Maggie, who is a lawyer, and her husband, an educator, got to work rallying the services that would make it possible for them to raise Ben with them, at home.
The day Ben went off to his first morning of nursery school, strapped into his wheelchair, was a day she will never forget. The bus arrived to take him; he would make friends, and be in a classroom with other children--rather than in an institution, away from his family. As she said last night, her neighbors, her town, and her state, made it possible for Ben to stay home, be in school--and be a teacher of compassion to others.
Ben is why Maggie became involved in politics. Not only because of having to fight for her child's rights as a full citizen, every step of the way. But out of love and gratitude for everything her community was able to do to help her and her family. That, she said, is what it means to live in a community. She speaks of her work as "giving service," "giving back".
Maggie talked about how New Hampshire has been changing. How the level of political vitriol has risen. How the ways in which people helped those less fortunate were being abolished. And not because of the economy, but because of ideology.
There was a hearing last week, after the trial of a rape victim, a woman who was disabled. Throughout the trial, the woman was referred to as "defective" and "retarded". A bill was introduced to update New Hampshire rape statutes to remove the term "mentally defective." In discussing it, Representative Ken Kreis said of the rape victim, "She had her whole life to get used to being call defective." Another representative, Jason Antosz, supported keeping the phrase, saying "defective" and "retarded" are just words.
Cruel, hateful words. Words that contain no kindness, no sensitivity, no warmth of spirit or compassion for people who are different. No sense of welcome into the human community; welcome, how can we all be gracious hosts to one another? This is not healthy political discourse.
Why such meanness?
Maggie described the current GOP agenda in the New Hampshire House. In the past three months, the House has passed seven gun bills, eight bills curbing women's access to health care; eight bills cutting the rights and safety of workers; five bills attacking public education; one bill planning a state takeover of Medicare for seniors. This isn't a Republican agenda. This is an Extreme Right agenda. We need to pay attention to those tea leaves. The Republicans I know and love are as appalled as the Democrats by much of what is going on these days.
This, I think, is why I woke in a panic this morning. Those words braided their way through my dreams last night. Their like is being spoken every day, all over the country.
Odd that Theo would have sent me something that at least gave me a toehold in my thinking, from Thich Nhat Hanh. We have brought this on ourselves. "In Buddhism, we speak of interdependent origination. 'This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not.' Do our daily lives have nothing to do with our government?"
Hanh goes on to talk about the ways in which we have lost our sense of mindfulness, self-awareness. "There are means for us to nourish awareness, to enjoy silence, to enjoy the world," he writes. "Our daily life has very much to do with the situation of the world."
Many teachers, leaders, thinkers have offered the same message. It underlies so much of the Bible, the Koran, other books. Not all. So much. We can't just blame "the bad guys." We created the conditions. We all have to own the condition that makes people feel justified to unleash "just words".
Sometimes I feel our planet has taken an orbital tilt to a darker side. You see darkness all over the Internet. The furies and harpies screaming anonymously, crudely, hatefully; you hear blight all over talk radio and television--not anonymous, but proudly pushing darkness, hate, and anger. Do we cheer it on? Or do we say, Enough. Let's get to a better place. Together.