One morning, I struck up a conversation with a woman walking her little dog, a dog with a diminishing interest in smelling the grass and pavement. He’d take one sniff, then stare ahead with an unfocused glare. She said her pooch was 16-years-old, and every day she wondered if it would be his last.
I don’t know this woman, but her energy was soft and quiet. Instead of walking off and wishing them both a blessed day, I stayed. “Love your shoes,” deflecting from the frail critter. “Thank you,” she said with a smile. “I’m all about comfort these days, in addition to taking anti-depressants.” Don’t know why she opened up to me, but sometimes I meet women who have the strength to reveal their vulnerability, letting me see their authentic self.
Over the last four years, women worldwide have felt like the rug was pulled from underneath them. Understanding what’s happening to us, why we feel tired and disoriented requires stepping back. The malaise we’re experiencing doesn’t have just one cause. If only it were that simple. In America, we’ve experienced two pandemics, the cruelty unleashed by Trump and Covid-19. Attending a Women’s Perspective Zoom session, “The Pandemic Pause: A Gift of Liminal Space,” with author Jean Bolen, I engaged with sixty-plus women about our experiences. Breaking away from deception and seeing the world from others’ perspectives is hard. It hurts to know you were a part of what made the world corrupt by your insistence that you had rights to much, even if it meant little for others. This group of women had crossed the point of no return, ready and wounded, determined to keep moving towards the light.
We reflected on what we’d learned, what’s happening in the outside world. Our minds are like rooms full of stories and beliefs. The doors are slightly ajar for new information to nudge their way inside but narrow enough to deny crazy people’s ploys and plots. But humanity’s darkness and ignorance kept coming, feeding lies into the mainstream of ordinary life, and our rooms flooded. Keeping uninvited guests at bay became impossible. Cleaning up the mess was exhausting. Extraverts had to settle for an audience of one, but dreams brought repressed memories to the surface. When we can no longer numb ourselves, we come up against ourselves.
Trying to relax into the uncertainty of not knowing who we were becoming made it hard to breathe and easy to relate to George Floyd. We recognized this precipitous moment as crossroads of monumental importance for the kind of people we’d evolve into. Just as a midwife knows, the fetus’s vulnerable time is when it goes under the mother’s pelvic bone before emerging into the world and taking its first breath.
The Zoom seminar women spoke of witnessing the fracturing of our major institutional and political systems, that in January almost broke down completely. We’d witnessed how patriarchy used its power to exploit the Earth’s resources to gain power for too long. The virus had forced us to become more introspective, to lean into the sharp edges. The wounds of the powerless became a part of us. We learned that Lady Justice is not blind; she sees class and color. We’d been deaf to Gaia’s calling and our elders’ messages, the trees, the whales, elephants, and indigenous relatives. The ugliness of self-centeredness came out of hiding. An attitude of righteousness with no regard for people and nature. Family members taking their last breath alone while Trump believers refused to wear masks, a poignant reminder of evil. Our differences were never about holding anyone back but ensuring the track and field were open to all without uncalled rules to suffocate.
The shoving rule goes back to the Roman Empire. As we do today, the Romans saw competing as a good thing as long as we remembered we’re on the same team and participated without trickery, tripping, or pushing opponents. Winning by cheating is failing. Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome: “I am a citizen of the world made from the same material as everyone else.” We all have an important role to play. To survive in the world’s pot of stew, arguing how much salt or how much pepper won’t cut it. Blaming and complaining cannot serve as a foundation for a just future.
“I’ve been sensing into all these themes and feeling the grief of the crumbling of systems,” one of the participants from the Women’s Perspective Zoom seminar said, “the fear of uncertainty, learning to sit with the discomfort, the humbling that flows through. It was all overwhelming doing it all alone.”
We are waking up to what is. The depth of our racism blew me away, especially the part that was in me. My kids point it out when I used words with coded meaning. “Mom, saying it was a black man was not necessary for the story.” But saying no malice intended is no longer good enough. Most older people in this country are unaware racists, and denying it only confirms it. Acceptance that we are begins our healing.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2014, Paul Ryan talked about “real culture problems” in “our inner cities in particular.” (Ryan later said he regretted saying this.) Trump warned suburban housewives about low-income housing, bringing down their property values. Coded speech and dog-whistle politics trigger racial anxiety and come from the playbooks of plantation owners pitting poor whites against blacks three hundred years ago.
Alone in subliminal time, we pause to reflect. Instead of busyness, we become observers. We don’t pretend we are in charge (a humbling experience). In extraordinary times, we focus on the magic in the world: inspirations, transformation, synchronicity, and beauty. Bringing attention to the good in the world gives it oxygen. Insecurity acceptance cultivates wisdom. Our species is called upon to look at ourselves, reinvent ourselves, and be better in the light of what is. There is much self-work to be done. With perseverance, trust, and gratitude, each sunrise becomes more remarkable.