Category Archives: Darkness

The Absolute Worst Time To Make A Big Life Decision…Or Not?

“Losing your head in a crisis is a good way to become the crisis.” –C.J. Redwine, Defiance

“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.” –Erol Ozan

Hello friend,

I was talking with a friend last week—she’s about my age–and out of nowhere, she dropped this bomb on me: “I’ve come into a little bit of money, and I am thinking I might retire.”  She said she would like to relax, travel, volunteer–all of that stuff that we all say we are going to do when we retire.  You know: unstructured and unobligated living.  The dream.  Well, my dream anyway.  To me, it sounds like everything I have always wanted: casual, fluid, free.  The only problem: none of that sounds like her!

In other conversations, she has shared with me how difficult the first months of the pandemic were on her, as that was the time when she was not able to go into her work and have that structure, schedule, and task list that her tightly-wound personality requires.  It was a mental health struggle to be without her job (not the income part).  After reiterating that fundamental aspect of her personality to me numerous times in recent months, you can imagine my surprise the other day she when totally flipped the script with the announcement of a possible retirement.  WHAT?!?!?  I was flabbergasted.   A reasonable guess would have been that she was clinging for dear life to the normalcy and regularity of her career in these wildly uncertain times.  Nope!  Just the opposite.  After explaining herself, she at least showed her self-awareness by asserting that with all of the stressors that our whole society has been flooded with this year—coronavirus, George Floyd, Donald Trump, etc.—she probably has no business making any major Life decisions at this point.

That counterpoint flashed me back to last Autumn, a conversation I had with my niece.  She is a freshman in college, and she was by that point a few months into it and feeling very unsure as to whether her chosen school was really the right place for her.  Not sure about the people, the vibe of the campus, all of that stuff that is crucial at that transformative age that so many of us recall as a life-defining year on our journey of self-discovery.  I remember saying to her, “This is going to come as no comfort to you, but I think you may not get to have an answer to that question this year.  You may go through the whole school year isolated in your dorm room and at socially distanced meals, not going to the parties and club meetings and lecture halls that all of the other college freshmen in the history of college campuses have used to find their crowd and their niche.  You may have to wait a whole year until you can start a “normal year,” using your second year of college to learn what everyone else in history has learned in their first year.  But if it’s any consolation, all of the other freshmen in the world are stuck in this same Purgatory. How can you know if a place is right for you if you are not able to experience it as it usually is?”  I’m sorry to say it, but you may just not get to decide anything big this year.”

I mentioned that conversation to my friend the other day when she was questioning the sanity of her sudden desire to retire.  We both agreed that the crazy extremes of circumstances and emotions this year have left us feeling like our minds are on shaky ground and thus we ought to be suspicious of any major, Life-altering inclinations that flash through them.  It has become difficult to trust our impulses, knowing that everything this year has been “unprecedented”—a word used more often this year than any other—and therefore “not normal.”

We have good reason to think that when we return to that normal—please tell me it is soon—that our inclinations and tastes will probably be more like they were before.  Our current desires to overhaul our lives and the world around us will go from a boil to a simmer, maybe even to a cool.  We will almost certainly go back to the same old, same old.  Our minds and passions will go back on autopilot and cruise control.  We will quickly shush those inner voices that suggest we shake it all up, whether that shake-up is a new job, a retirement, a new health care system, or a new way of policing our cities.  Big ideas will be replaced by small ones again.  Progress, if any, will be by baby steps again.  You remember, the usual.  These impulses—whether personal or societal–that have been allowed oxygen during these “unprecedented times” will crawl back under the rock they emerged from.  If you just ignore them for a little while longer, you will get to that spot where you won’t have to be so suspicious of your inclinations.  You will be safe and boring and uninspired again.  We all will.

But should we ignore them?

What if the lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic made it crystal clear to you how little time you had actually been spending with your family and how important that time is, making you want to dramatically shift your schedule and perhaps your career path?  What if the economic crisis made you aware of how thoroughly unfulfilling your luxury car or jewelry or fancy whatever is, making you want to sell off some things and simplify, giving more of your wealth to causes that you now see truly need it.  What if the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor stories sparked a sudden realization of your privilege in this inequitable world, stirring up an activist streak in you that you had no idea existed?  What if the Capitol insurrection of January 6th and the exposure of the lies about the election fraud made you wake up to the reality of the damage your political beliefs have been doing in the real world for years, causing you to re-think not only your use of social media and usual news sources but also your political party?  What if all of these cascading crises have actually made things not more fuzzy for you, but more clear?  What if it took all of this to reveal your true values and priorities?

Maybe we haven’t had our foundation shaken but rather just had the artifice scraped off.  Maybe it took all of this drama and uncertainty to make clear who we really are inside and what we want our lives to be truly about.  Maybe all of these “out of nowhere” impulses to change ourselves and our world aren’t really so out of nowhere.  Maybe they have been at our core, our foundation, the entire time, just covered up or blurred by all of the other superficial stuff that we thought we should be doing or the speed at which we’ve been going to try to keep up with all of our commitments.  Isn’t there some quote–or at least a meme–about how life is not about finding yourself so much as it is about uncovering who you always were?  Well, that is what I am getting at.  It’s just so easy to get swept along by “normal life,” with all its busy-ness, and become numb to the signs from our soul about what is truly important to us and what resonates deep in our being.  The panic of a global health scare, the guilt and grief of knowing a loved one is dying alone in a hospital, or the graphic video of one man calmly kneeling on another man’s neck as the life force slowly goes out of him—these things have the power to shake us to a different level and perhaps expose our Truths in a way that we can no longer deny.  Trauma breeds uncertainty, no doubt, but maybe it also breeds clarity.

So, how do we tell which is which?  How do we know if that newfound impulse to switch careers or run for City Council or lead a protest march or have a baby or get a divorce or buy a bookmobile or join the Peace Corps or get a dog–how do we know if these are the insecurity of a totally shaken core talking, and how do we know if they are a finally revealed core talking?  Is there a different sound they make—a resonance—we can listen for to know if this is the thing to reject due to the extremity of the year rather than attend to because it is the revelation of our essence?  How does one feel compared to the other?

Honestly, I don’t know.  That is why I journal every day: to try to flesh it out.  I fill up my pages with the rolling of ideas around in my head, taking them from different angles, ascertaining whether and how the impulse evolves over time, questioning my motivations and scouring my psyche for insecurities or unsatisfied longings.  I attempt to look at myself in the mirror as clear-eyed as I possibly can, hoping to decipher which of these new impulses is an imposter out for a persuasive but fleeting flight of fancy, and which is my Truth revealing itself in a way that my eyes can finally see.

I think my friend is right to be suspicious of her motives for her recent, dramatic shift in outlook on her career.  Not even necessarily the motives themselves—they should be mined for lessons for their own sake—but the sustainability of her motives.  Will they keep when her job goes back to the normal that she loved for so many years?  Maybe not.  I am guessing most of our impulses and temptations from this year will not.  Most, but not all.  Truths have been revealed to us; I am sure of that.  Whether or not we will do a good job of combing through the lot to dismiss the pretenders and find that priceless gem—or whether we even allow ourselves the courage to entertain the new ideas and inspirations at all—is a different matter.  I happen believe in the power of those impulses; I think they are messages from our deeper levels.  There is Magic in there.  Sure, it must be sorted through, but true Magic is worth the labor.  That is where the marrow of Life is.  It is why, when my friend was verbally dismissing her retirement idea with, “Of course, now is the absolute worst time to be making any sort of meaningful Life decision,” I replied with, “Or maybe it’s the perfect time… .”  Maybe.  I am here to find out.

How about you?  Do you trust yourself to make an important Life change at a time of multiple societal crises and a swirl of heavy emotions inside you?  Open up your journal and try to get a sense of how steady your current grounding is to your True North?  Generally speaking, how has your mental health been in recent months compared to other points in your life when things were more “normal”?  How much more grief, anxiety, and sadness have you been dealing with this year?  Have you found your mind feeling more foggy, your senses dulled, or your motivation lacking?  Have you enjoyed things as much as you usually do, or are you one of the many experiencing anhedonia, the loss of the ability to feel pleasure?  Do you like your job as well this year as you have in other years?  Are you as engaged in your work and as fulfilled by your tasks?  With all of that considered, how confident are you in your ability to make the wisest decisions on major Life issues this year (e.g. career or location change, family changes like having a child or getting a divorce)?  How much more or less confident is that than you are in “normal” times—i.e., any time before 2020?  Have you had to make some big decisions anyway, whether you wanted to or not?  If so, how has it worked out so far?  What fresh impulses or ideas have you had in the last year around bigger changes to your lifestyle?  In what area have they popped up most frequently or strongly?  Career path?  Family life?  Health of your lifestyle?  Politics?  Spirituality?  Relationships?  How have these inclinations and impulses been different than what you have felt in other, more stable times in your life?  How do you interpret their meaning?  Do you tend to take these new tastes or ideas seriously and follow through on them, or are you more skeptical of any big idea you have during these unprecedented times?  Which new changes have you made?  Which ideas did you disregard?  Which ones will you keep on your radar until Life settles down a bit and returns to normalcy?  What is the biggest, game-changing decision you have made in the last year?  How has it worked out?  Would you have made the same decision in normal times?  Has all of this crisis, change, and chaos served to make your values and priorities more clear to you?  How will this period change your Life in the long run?  Will you be better for it, or will you carry the mental and emotional scars and be weighed down by them?  If someone came to you now who has struggled emotionally through this period and announces a major Life-changing decision, would you caution them against making such a big move given the circumstances—essentially telling them to wait it out until it is easier to be clear-headed–or are you inclined to think that these times are good for clarifying priorities and are thus a great time to make a big change?  Is your opinion on this different for yourself than it is for the general public?  Leave me a reply and let me know: Is this age of cascading crises the absolute worst time to make a big Life decision, or is it the best?

Take care of yourself,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it.  Together we can get through anything!

P.P.S. If this way of self-reflection suits you, consider buying my book, Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

A Lost Year: Reflections On My Coronavirus Anniversary

“Reality continues to ruin my life.” –Bill Watterson, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.  “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Hello friend,

Last weekend, my daughter had her State Basketball Tournament.  On our way home on Sunday afternoon, we got off the highway and were heading down the frontage road when she chimed in from the back seat: “Hey Dad, there’s the last restaurant we went to!”  It took me a second to jar my memory, but finally it clicked in.  She was right: there beside the road was the T.G.I.Fridays we had gone to with her teammates and their families on the day her State Tournament ended last year.  The realization was a sobering one.

Last year.

With my daughter’s words, my mind was transported back to the first few weeks of March 2020.  The quickly escalating tension and concern.  The constant monitoring of the news for case updates and closures.  The immediate fear of contracting the virus and losing loved ones.  And what seemed like the worst at the time: the overwhelming sense of dread and inevitability as I watched the two biggest things occupying my mind head straight for each other like two runaway trains on the same track: my long-dreamt-about family beach vacation and the exponential spread of the coronavirus toward the point of national lockdown.

I remember how desperate I felt to get to that sunshine and warmth so I could immerse myself in the saltwater that always seems to make me whole again.  I remember how irrational my thoughts became as the numbers rose to the point where it should have been obvious that the vacation was simply not going to happen.  Things were beginning to shut down, and the dominoes kept falling.  My son’s State Tournament, scheduled for the weekend after my daughter’s and just a couple days before our trip, was canceled.  I begged the Universe for some loophole to appear that would allow us to go.  I was willing things to be different, so obsessed was I with that vacation.

When I finally faced reality, I remember sitting on my bed, breaking the news to my kids.  It was a heavy night in our house.  They were so disappointed.  We all were.  It was terrible.

And that was only the beginning…

As we got deeper into March, a bizarre new way of life emerged at my house.  School was shut down, only to be later restarted in a less-than-ideal way at home through devices.  I scrounged for toilet paper, but otherwise we avoided stores, restaurants, and even our own jobs (which we were grateful to keep as others were losing theirs).  It was a surreal new world to occupy, but the sacrifices made sense in order to quickly move out of the danger zone and back to our version of Normal.

From this view now, it seems odd that we imagined that the return to Normal would be quick.  But we did.

One memory of those very early days that stands out in my mind is of watching a news show and hearing projections about the damage the novel coronavirus could cause if we—as regular citizens and our elected leaders–didn’t take the right steps early on in its days in America.  I specifically remember them saying that it could potentially kill 70,000 people here.  I thought, “NO WAY!!! That will NEVER happen!  (But maybe the outlandish number will scare some people into behaving well for others in their communities.)”  Seventy thousand.  What a fantasy that sounds like now, as we recently blew by the half-a-million milestone and are still allowing 2,000 Americans to die every day from the virus, even as we continue to loosen our restrictions on gatherings and mask-wearing in many states.  Oh, America…

After that crazy start, April arrived and seemed to stay for about 87 days.  As an introvert, I felt like I had spent my whole life preparing for the forced isolation and quiet.  It was just fine with me.  At first, the “family time” and “break from organized activities” were relatively easy to sell to my kids.  It grew less easy over time.  They understood the seriousness of the virus and how each person’s behavior affected the entire community, so they accepted how disciplined my wife and I demanded us all to be.  Still, seeing the unmasked neighbor kids wrestling in their yards with friends and other too-large neighborhood gatherings of adults made them wonder (justifiably) why other people got to cheat the rules.  We can see now where all that cheating got us.

May was much like April—long and solitary—except that the warmer weather made getting out of the house for family walks and bike rides easier.  We all appreciated the diversion.  And outside, we could actually see other humans walking and riding as well, evidence that we were not alone on the planet, even if we couldn’t interact with them.

Summer is totally my season, and I had long been planning lots of adventures for my family for the 2020 Summer.  We were going to take camping trips and many trips to the lake.  To top it all off was to be a huge, cross-country roadtrip that included tons of sightseeing as well as visits with family and friends.  The kids were the perfect age for it.  It was to be one of those trips we would always talk about when we got together over the course of our lifetimes, forever family memories.  NOPE!  Canceled, canceled, canceled.  Thanks to some family members committed to keeping safe, we were at least able to get to the lake to be with people we love.  As I look back on the year, that time at the lake was the closest thing I have felt to Normal in the last twelve months.  It was fantastic, and maybe something I will never take for granted again.

For my kids, other than their four-guest, outdoor birthday parties, if they wanted to spend time with friends, they had to stay on their bikes and talk while riding around the neighborhood.  A far cry from the “just go out and play” days of the past.  Childhood, interrupted.

Despite the rolling disappointment of the muted previous seasons, Autumn came around too soon, as it always does for me.  Things like school and organized activities kind of halfway started, at least for some kids, including mine.  It was like coming into the kitchen as a full batch of cookies is coming out of the oven but only being offered a single bite.  Unsatisfying.  But it was something.  For the beggars we had all become over the previous several months, we clung to it desperately.

But then, of course, it ended.  Schools and activities shut down again as cases and deaths skyrocketed.  We were back to a fully muted life again, this time just more accustomed to it.  Holidays that we have always celebrated heartily, like Halloween and Thanksgiving, came and went with just the four of us hanging out at home.  The kids got lazy and addicted to screens in the absence of school and sports.  We were determined to still get outdoors whenever we could, searching for energy and inspiration in a time when those were in short supply.

Winter continued the theme, as our lives seemed a bit frozen in time for a while as the virus kept us under its thumb.  Slowly and tentatively, activities resumed.  Eventually, games began to be played—fully masked and short of breath–and talk of a return to in-person schooling in some form.  When school did resume recently, it was still the partial version.  Half-schedules and no lockers for older kids, eating at your desk for the younger.  There is no doubt the kids were glad to be back, but of course, it is not the same.  Not as free.  Not as fun.  Just like everything else.

And now, here we are again in March.  A full year into this COVID lifestyle and about to miss yet another Spring Break family beach vacation.  I cannot think about this past year without shaking my head.  It is involuntary.  I cannot even begin to explain how deeply disappointed and frustrated I am with everything about this situation.  The fact that we are a year out from the first deaths in this country and are still erasing 2,000 more people every day just makes me sick to my stomach.  The fact that I have essentially lost a full year in my fleeting life feels thoroughly wasteful.  I feel like I have been robbed.  I’m sad about it.  But I am also angry.  I am sick and tired of shaking my head.  At spineless or inept politicians failing their moral duties.  At yet another milestone marker in cases or deaths.  At people in the grocery store with their masks down below their noses. Or people going on vacation.  Or going to bars and restaurants.  Or refusing to get vaccinated.  Or leaving the house when they are sick.  Or complaining about how tough the guidelines and restrictions are when they aren’t even following them anyway.  My neck is sore from all of the shaking, I swear.

Let me be clear: I am well aware that my family and I have been extremely blessed during the entire pandemic and over the course of this awful year.  We have been healthy and connected: never got the virus and didn’t kill each other.  We have had paychecks and food on the table.  We are lucky, and I am deeply grateful for that.  I have made the best of a best of a bad situation.  And I can honestly say that I have been happy all year.

But not fulfilled.  Not enjoying my work the way I normally would.  Not getting all of my itches scratched for adventure, travel, laughter, and human connection.  Not free.  Basically, just not living my best life.  Pandemic living is just so awfully dimmed and muted.  I resent the dullness of it, how little there is to look forward to.  It is so unlike glorious, regular Life.

That stinks.  Because like I said, I am not getting any younger, and my years are flying by.  I don’t have any extras to just throw away anymore.  There is too much I want to do and feel, and too much I want to share with my kids while they are still kids.

So, I feel like I’ve been cheated this past year.  Every day going forward from today in which it still feels unwise to travel and play and hug and look deeply into a friend’s eyes while we share our deepest thoughts, I will feel even more cheated.  And not simply because there was a global pandemic.  Bad things happen; I get that.  Things don’t always go my way.  So yeah, the coronavirus has been a bite in the butt.  But I feel more cheated by my fellow countrymen.  My neighbors and co-workers, my family and friends.  And yes, my elected leaders.  Collectively, we Americans have behaved horribly regarding COVID, completely failing the exam.  Our federal policy was nonexistent (though I must say we did well in developing a vaccine quickly).  Our state policies were not strong enough.  But mostly, it was just the regular folks in our communities—our friends and neighbors–who were unwilling to sacrifice for one another.  As my co-worker likes to say, ”They never should have told Americans that wearing a mask (and wearing it correctly) was to protect others.  They should have led with, ‘The mask is only to save yourself.’”  Other countries were amazing.  There were plenty of examples to look to.  The keys to beating the virus back were not secret.  We just didn’t do it.  And we are still, a year later, not doing it.  That really makes me mad.  Sad, too, because I hate to think so poorly of my country and my countrymen.  But I do.  Because we could have beaten this thing by now.  We should have beaten this thing by now.  It disgusts me that we haven’t.   And that I am still counting.  I am thoroughly disappointed.  I have been that way all year long.

How about you?  What are your strongest memories and takeaways from your year dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?  Open up your journal and your heart, and wander back through the last twelve months in your mind.  Go ahead, begin at the beginning.  What was happening in your life in March of 2020 as things started to get real with the virus?  What were the first things in your world to get disrupted?  Which plans did you have to cancel?  What was your level of fear and tension around the virus itself?  How upset were you with the sudden changes in your lifestyle?  Do you have a personality that flows well with change and chaos?  Which aspects of “lockdown” living did you appreciate at the time?  Did you miss your routine?  Your loved ones?  Stimulation?  How was your job affected?  In those early weeks of the lockdown, how long did you expect your life to be significantly disrupted by the virus?  How many people would you have guessed would die in your country?  Did those expectations of length and severity color the way you have viewed the pandemic the rest of the way?  At what point in the year did you feel optimism about the possibility of the virus getting under control soon?  Mid-Summer?  Early Autumn?  Ever?  How disappointed are you in the way things have gone?  What would you say is your distribution of disappointment, anger, frustration, umbrage, fear, and sadness?  How wildly does that distribution vary from day to day?  At whom do you direct the bulk of your ire regarding the duration and depth of this fiasco?  Elected officials?  God/the Universe?  Regular folks not following the basic safety rules?  Does your answer vary from day to day on that one as well?  When I look back now over this letter to you and how I have described life in the last year, I see words like muted, disappointed, desperate, bizarre, dimmed, wasteful, sick-and-tired, frozen in time, tentative, slow, quiet, solitary, halfway, sad, and surreal.  What adjectives come to your mind when you think about your lifestyle of the past year?  Ten or twenty years from now, how do you think you will look back on this time?  Will this have been the worst year of your life?  Where are you with it right now?  Does the presence of the vaccine, even if you haven’t received it yet, make you more impatient about getting back to the life you once had?  What are the things you will try to keep from this COVID lifestyle?  If you could give some advice to the person you were one year ago about how to make the best of the year that would come, what would you say?  If you are like me and mostly feel like you have been robbed of a year on Earth, what will you do differently when we finally emerge from the pandemic to either make up for lost time or just make the best use of the time you have left?  What is the most important lesson you have learned?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What will you take away from your year with the coronavirus?

Onward and upward,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your community.  We must learn in order to grow!

P.P.S. If you like to examine your life both broadly and deeply, consider purchasing my book, Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

What Always Brings Tears To Your Eyes?

“Those who do not weep, do not see.” –Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“Tears are words that need to be written.” –Paulo Coelho

Hello friend,

Last weekend I attended my first virtual funeral.  I don’t ever go to real funerals.  It is just not my jam, for many reasons.  However, this one had me especially intrigued, and since it was over Zoom, I figured that I could escape whenever I wanted.  My commitment was minimal.  I was drawn to this particular memorial not because I was so close with the deceased—indeed, we didn’t know each other well at all and hadn’t seen each other in years—but because of my sense of who he was (perhaps a kindred spirit) and the wide variety of lives I imagined that he had touched in his too-brief stay on this Earth.   I knew that he was special, and I wanted to see how that presented itself in this final farewell.  And honestly, I wanted a little more of him.  I am sure we all did.

Throughout the service, which was designed to pack in as many different voices and testimonials as possible from the lives he touched along the way, I discovered a pattern in my emotional state: when the speaker was dry-eyed, I was dry-eyed; when the speaker cried, I cried.  It never failed.  Oh sure, I cried at a few other times, too, like when they showed a picture of him and my daughter when she was a baby or a picture of him and my wife smiling together.  Those got me.  But otherwise, it was a pretty safe bet that when I witnessed weeping, I wept.

I have come to know that pattern about myself over the years.  When raw emotion is in front of me—especially crying but beyond that as well, even in Joy—I am an instant puddle.  After studying myself through my journals for this long, I have come to chalk this characteristic up to the same Empathy that has shaped so much of my worldview, including my politics and spirituality.  When I witness someone deep in feeling, it just seems to channel directly into my heart.  I am powerfully moved in an instant.  It can be a problem, but I mostly appreciate it.  I like to be reminded occasionally that I have not hardened myself too much against this world that is so full of slings and arrows.  I am still raw and affected.  That is alright with me, especially the part of me that wants to remain an artist and a warrior for justice until the day I die.  As long as I keep having authentic interactions with people and absorbing their genuine emotions, I am going to be a weeper.

But when else?  Other than diving headlong into others’ drama, what are the other moments that get my tears going?

If you have been with Journal of You for a while—whether through these regular letters or just the book—you know that I spend a fair amount of time obsessing about Death and Legacy, the importance of my impact and what I will leave behind.  I am so grateful that I have not yet had to face many deaths of those closest to me; I have always been lucky in that department.  But it doesn’t stop my active imagination from running wild with images of that loss.  I don’t mean scenes of graphic violence or horrific accidents; my mind does not go there.  It does, however, go often to thoughts of learning of their loss or having the difficult conversations about life without them.  I picture things like hearing about my child’s (or sister’s or mother’s) death or explaining my wife’s death to my children.  Vivid scenes that sweep me away and leave me tear-stained.

Those daydreams, however, are nothing compared to the ones in which I am the one dying  (usually of cancer) and have to communicate that with my wife and, even more often, my kids.  Somehow, I seem to fall into this awful habit when I am driving alone.  I think about making videos for them to watch when I am gone, on occasions like birthdays, graduations, or weddings, messages from their father who would be so proud of them and wish he were there.  I make big speeches, often out loud in my car, by the end of which I am full-on sobbing, hardly able to see the road through my gushing eyes.  By the time I realize what I am doing, I am practically panting in despair.  It is embarrassing.  It is that idea of leaving my family, though, that I simply cannot abide.  That is a guaranteed tear-jerker.

Speaking of leaving my family, I am pretty quick to get weepy in saying goodbye to my parents and siblings after our too-infrequent visits.  I try to fight it by rushing through the process, but by the time I hit the gas pedal to drive away, I am mush.  Even though we all get frustrated with my Dad for doing it, sometimes I envy him for his habit of just sneaking off before the goodbye part of the visits.  If we have gone to his house to stay for a holiday, he always manages to be “at work” when it comes time for us to leave town.  If we meet up with him at the cabin and we are all planning to leave the same day, he gets up early and gets on the road before anyone realizes it is time to go.  It’s pretty weasel-y, but at least he doesn’t have to face the emotion of goodbye.  He leaves that for the rest of us, most of whom are pretty teary about it.  I don’t really get that way with goodbyes with other people outside the family, but that is why family is family.  It’s just deeper.  I know I will be awful about it when my kids are grown.

I have a terrible time reading out loud, too, without crying.  This happens with sad stories, of course.  I still read to my daughter every night before bed, and it is highlight of my day, but I occasionally struggle to keep it together.  I can laugh now at my attempts a few years ago to get through Where The Red Fern Grows with her, but it was a choking, teary mess at the time.  Any sentimental message read aloud can get me, though, like a card or a Facebook post that I am sharing with my wife.  It happens with my own writing, too, especially things about my feelings for loved ones.  I sometimes read my work aloud to myself before publishing it, just to see if it flows, and I have definitely found myself in a puddle of tears on more than one occasion.

Likewise, I can envision wanting to say something at my parents’ funerals but just not being able to.  I am one of those criers who simply cannot speak through the process.  The emotion stabs me like a knife, and it’s like my air is just gone.  I tried to say a few words about my grandfather during the visitation the night before his funeral, and it was a sobby, chokey, mostly silent mess.

Strangely, I have occasionally fancied the idea of being a television news reporter or anchor, probably a poor fit for a guy who cries when sharing almost any impactful story.  It was more acceptable when I was studying to be an actor, which, now that I think of it, is probably how I fell into the habit of imagining all of those dramatic scenes I mentioned above that so regularly slay me in the car.  I guess I am drawn to sharing the Truth of any situation—whether my own or of those whose stories need hearing—even if that sharing brings me to tears.

As I come to recognize that realization, I am reminded of my tendency to tear up—not sob, but just get “watery eyes”—in just about any direct, intimate conversation (typically one-on-one).  I can recall so many conversations, especially ones concerning my loved ones or my own work—things like parent-teacher conferences and job interviews—when the eye-to-eye and the intimacy itself seems to draw the water involuntarily up to my eyes, even when seemingly inappropriate.  As I said, it is not weeping in the usual sense—I am not breaking down emotionally in these otherwise-normal moments, just tearing up a bit (which can cause the normal to become slightly awkward, though people typically pretend not to notice).  I chalk it up to sensitivity.  I am a bit of a raw nerve, prone to really feel everything.  It is just one of my idiosyncrasies.  I roll with it.

I am not sure what it says about me, the things that bring me to tears and the regularity of them in my life.  I tend to not judge it, not seeing it as either a particular strength or weakness.  But is it?  I kind of appreciate the cleansing nature of crying, but I don’t seek out opportunities for it (like I said, the dramatic driving scenes are not planned or even fully conscious, but rather just the result of getting swept up by my overactive imagination).  I don’t have a strong desire to cry any more than I do now, though I would prefer not to have so much of the “watery eyes” in mundane, everyday conversations.  I tend to see the source of my tears as an understanding of Love and the value of connection.

I also understand that I come at this topic as someone who is unusually blessed in my life circumstances and psychological make-up.  I have been lucky all my life, with a healthy upbringing, a pleasant nuclear and extended family, always enough food on the table, with things I enjoy doing and people I enjoy spending time with (and, as I mentioned, I haven’t dealt with much death yet).  My worldview is naturally optimistic, and I don’t struggle with anxiety or depression.  I am resilient and self-confident, and I understand, thanks to my daily journaling, the minute details of what makes me tick.  My mental health is in good shape.  For all of these things, I am extremely lucky.  I understand that if any one of them went the other way, my outlook on this topic of crying would likely be entirely different.  I am grateful that most of my tears to this point have been healthy ones and from situations I could choose.  I don’t ever cry because the world all seems too much for me, because I am stressed out or just can’t take one more thing working against me.  I don’t cry because I hate my life or feel trapped or overburdened.  I imagine those kinds of tears are pretty common in the world, and I know that Life still has many challenges remaining for me.  A run of good luck doesn’t last forever.

This is part of why this topic is fascinating to me, and why I want to know your answer.  It illustrates yet another way in which our stories are all different and thus why we need Empathy and Grace.  Our tears, whether of Joy or Sadness or anything in between, reveal something special about us.  No, reveal is the wrong word.  Maybe indicate.  The tears don’t tell the story.  They merely indicate that there is something special worth digging into.  Something deeper.  Something worth the effort to understand and appreciate, because it is soul-level stuff, the kind that makes us who we are.  For me, that means there is magic in those tears.   The magic of our Truth.  And I always, always, want to be a part of the Truth.

How about you?  What always makes you cry?  Open up your journal and your heart to explore the source and significance of those tears.  What predictably makes you cry?  Are your things specific events (e.g. a funeral, a break-up, a goodbye) or mental health-triggered issues (e.g. anxiety, depression, or the accumulation of Life just becoming too much sometimes)?  What are the events that trigger you?  Are they obviously heavy hitters, like death, or are they more subtle things?  Who are the people usually associated with your tears?  Has it been the same people all your life?  How often are the these “people tears” due to how much you love them, and how often are they due to these people wronging you?  Is that a healthy ratio?  How do you do with goodbyes?  What about books and movies (I’m a big movie crier)?  Do you have any memories that always bring tears with them?  Are those good memories or bad ones?  How often do you cry tears of Joy?  What other emotions make you cry?  How often do ordinary, everyday life situations bring tears to your eyes?  What kinds of conversations do it?  Do you cry at the sight of others crying or suffering?  How empathetic are you?  Do you think your Empathy rating dictates how much you cry in response to others’ pain?  Do you ever wonder about the source of your tears, their true trigger?  What do your tears actually say about what is going on deep down inside you?  Are they revealing of something you haven’t yet addressed and need to dig into?  Do you need help with that?  Do you believe your crying to be mostly a healthy sign, or a sign of problems?  Do you usually feel better afterward?  Do you wish you cried more often or less often?  Which topics give you your best cries?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What always brings tears to your eyes?

Be free,

William

P.S. If today’s topic resonated with you, please share it.  We could all use a release from time to time.

P.P.S. If this way of introspection appeals to you, consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

Election Stress: What Do You Have To Lose On November 3rd?

“You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality.  Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” –Malcolm X, By Any Means Necessary 

“If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States.” –Henry Wallace

Hello friend,

Remember the old days, when it was common to say that the distinction between Republicans and Democrats was simply a matter of both wanting the same things for our country but just having slightly different ways of getting there?  Gosh, how swell we all were.  Remember when it was normal for members of Congress to “reach across the aisle,” to pass lots of “bipartisan legislation” on issues we could all agree on?  How quaint.  Remember when, even though you may have really cared who won the presidential election, your everyday life and the general tension and anxiety you felt in the ensuing four years didn’t change much depending upon who won?  Remember that?  I do.

Those days are gone.

Although I have voted in every election since I was 18, I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t the most politically aware and engaged citizen in my teens and twenties.  If there was a wild disparity between the candidates’ positions and how their time in office would shake out for us, I was blissfully ignorant of it.  And while I know that no one likes it when their party’s candidates lose the big races, I just never felt a lot of extreme animosity between the actual voters based on who they were voting for.  Like I said, maybe that was simply my ignorance and the naïveté of an optimistic youth, but maybe there is more to it.  Maybe we actually had more in common with each other back then, politically speaking, and the reach across the aisle didn’t require all that much flexibility.  Maybe we only needed to be sour about the lost elections for a few weeks or months—definitely not years–afterward because our lives didn’t actually change that much either way.

This moment feels nothing like that to me.

I remember Election Night in 2016.  As it became clear that Donald Trump was on his way to defeating Hillary Clinton, a feeling of awful dread came over me.  Here was a man who had, in both his presidential campaign and his many years of celebrity beforehand, exhibited blatant racism, sexism, xenophobia, boasts of sexual assault, and general moral indecency.  Combined with the fact that the policies he stood for and against were in direct opposition to my own, I was none too excited about the coming four years under his leadership.

Still, I held out some measure of hope that, as many pundits suggested, “the office would chasten him.”  Surely, as the representative of every American, he would tone down his callousness toward the majority of them.  Surely, as someone without experience in global politics and diplomacy, he would surround himself with wise and seasoned counsel and heed their advice in order to keep Americans safe and prosperous and keep America in its position as world leader.

None of that happened.  As the four years have dragged on, one Twitter rant and national embarrassment at a time, my hopes have long since faded.  As I listened to a news show this week, the host implored the President to use these last days before the election to turn things around on his brazen, anti-science messaging around the coronavirus pandemic in order to save American lives.  The guest, once a surrogate for the President, shook his head and said, “No chance.”

That is the essence of the effects of these last four years of American politics for me: a crushing of hope, a growing shame, perpetual disappointment, and a growing list of reasons to fear for my family’s health and safety.

So you better believe I am anxious about Election Day 2020.  Even with all that has been lost under this leadership, there is still so much more to lose if it is allowed to continue.  These are just a few of the things that keep me up at night when I think about four more years of this:

The environment matters to me, as does addressing the scientific reality of climate change.  When we began this Presidency by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords, I knew it signaled an opening of the floodgates.  It sickens me each time I read of the administration’s gutting of our environmental regulations–more than 100 at this point, including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act–and opens once-protected lands to new drilling, logging, mining, and fracking.  The sides in this election could not be more different when it comes to climate change and the environment, and indeed, even simply acknowledging the value of science and truth.

Health care matters to me.  Even though neither of the big party candidates endorses the universal health care/Medicare For All type of plan that I believe would best serve all Americans, it is clear which candidate’s plan–or, at least, the one candidate with a plan–will get more people covered with fewer of the crippling expenses.  I will not get to my preferred destination in this election, but I at least want the guy who is going in the same direction I am.

Our democratic norms matter to me.  I miss the days when the President actually followed the rules and norms associated with the office (even if I despised that President).  The President used to be unable to profit directly from the Presidency while he was President.  The President and his staff used to not endorse products.  The President used to not give top security clearance to people denied security clearance.  The President used to not publicly urge the Attorney General to bring charges against his political opponents.  The President used to not conspire with foreign governments (especially enemy governments) to get elected.  The President used to disclose his taxes and financial dealings so that the people knew to whom he might be beholden.  The President and his doctors used to tell us the truth (at least most of it) about the President’s health.  The President used to not encourage uprisings in the states or fail to condemn threats against governors.  The President used to not spread lies meant to cast doubt on the validity of an election.  The President used to not directly contradict the findings of his own Intelligence agencies and Health experts.

Decency matters to me.  Period.

I wish I didn’t have to mention this after all of these months, but here goes: a national plan to control the coronavirus pandemic and to get ordinary Americans and small businesses back on their feet financially matters to me.  The current administration has plainly had its chance and failed miserably with its anti-science, anti-responsibility, “non-plan” approach.  Nearly a quarter of a MILLION Americans have died as a result.  It is indefensible.  There is another way, as proven by most other countries around the world.

Finally–and this feels absurd that I should have to say this in America in 2020, but I do–my Black family’s safety matters to me.  I know there are lots of White Americans out there rolling their eyes at this idea.  If that is you, consider yourself privileged.  When the President calls the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville “very fine people,” their websites celebrate a major victory and hail him as their leader.  When the President tells the violent, neo-fascist Proud Boys to “stand by,” the effect upon them is the same.  When he is silent around issues of police brutality and the killing of unarmed Black people, it is a clear message to those inclined to do that kind of harm.  His lead in the birther conspiracy regarding President Obama, his history of racist business practices, and his infamous role in the Central Park Five miscarriage of justice all further lay that racist foundation.  If those things seem disconnected from your life and just another knock on the man’s flawed morals, then, again, consider yourself lucky.  If you are Black or Brown, however, you know that these comments and this silence have a very real impact on your life.  I have loved ones who have anxiety about being out anymore, who fear being physically or verbally assaulted in a public place by White supremacists emboldened by the President.  Think about that.  Hate groups reveling in their glorious worst because their ideal President gives them an encouraging wink and a dogwhistle.  The momentum of it builds with each speech and act, and the number of hate groups has risen dramatically during this administration.  I have watched videos of these groups showing their eagerness to bring violence should the Democrats win this election.  Imagine how much worse it will be with another four years of hate-mongering.  It should not be the burden of any American to carry that fear with them every day.

I am well aware that there are many more reasons people are feeling anxious about the results of this election.  Supreme Court imbalances, women’s rights, immigration, LGBTQ rights, gun control, the stock market, minimum wage, college tuition pricing, corruption, decline in our standing in the world at large, and on and on and on.  And not just on my side of the spectrum.  All sides.  And not just reasonable concerns backed by facts and historical record.  The liars and conspiracy pushers make for fantastic anxiety boosters.  My own mother, for example, consumes Fox News like a drug all day long and happily swallows any flavor of nonsense they feed her and uses it to fuel her delusions about what the Democrats might do if elected.   Even if you are so fortunate as to be unconcerned with politics, I don’t see how you aren’t still aware of this moment’s effects on your family and friends.   The tension is palpable.

I suppose the only thing to do now is to vote and then see what those votes tell us.  Of course, if the Proud Boys videos are accurate, we may then have to endure a “war” in our own country.  Ah yes, another reason for anxiety, just what we need.  For me, those vote totals will either lead to four more years of stress (and anger and sadness and embarrassment and…..), or they will lead to what I hope will be a pivot point, the first step of many in the direction toward Calm and Decency.  As one of the candidates is fond of saying, it really does feel like a battle for “the soul of America.”  I hope my soul can relax soon, because, politically speaking, these have been the four worst, most tense years of my life, by a country mile.  I will be on the edge of my seat come the first week of November, aching to lay down this heavy load.  The stress has taken over me.

How about you?  What stresses you about the results of the upcoming election?  Open up your journal and sort out what the different leaders might bring to your life and your mental health.  Over the last four years, what things have been lost or gained in our country’s leadership?  How is this administration different than a “normal” one?  Which of those differences would you like to see continue?  Which aspects of the current President most concern you?  Which issues are mere annoyances–personality flaws or differences of opinion on policy issues–and which are downright alarming (e.g. genuine threats to democracy)?  Have you felt your personal health or safety unusually threatened under the current President, with things such as COVID-19 or unchecked hate groups?  How unsettling are the flouting of democratic norms and authoritarian tendencies (e.g. use of Justice Department to threaten personal enemies, use of Presidency for direct financial gain, antagonizing journalists) to you?  How has your general stress level changed in the last four years?  Do you miss Decency and Grace?  What are you most anxious about losing if the President wins re-election?  Let’s switch it around.  If you are voting for the President to win again, how anxious are you about what a Democratic leadership would bring?  What issues most worry you?  Of the things that you gained in the current Presidency, which of those things would it hurt you most to lose?  Do you recall all of the things you thought were so terrible about President Obama?  Do you fear a repeat of that if the Democrats win this time?  Do you fear worse this time?  In what ways?  Do you believe that someone who has been a moderate his entire life is suddenly going to become a “radical liberal?”  What does your worst-case scenario look like?  No matter which side you are voting for, on a scale of 1 to10, how stressed are you about this election?  Is that number higher or lower than most of the people in your life?  Is it higher or lower than in other election years?  What is it about this one?  Have you found any ways to reduce your election stress?  If you could look four years into the future, do you think the next big election will bring you any less stress?  Does this feel like the most important election of your lifetime?  Is that why it brings so much tension?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you have to lose on November 3rd?

Vote like your life depends on it,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonates with you, please share it with all the parties you know.  In the end, it is our connectedness that will save us.

P.P.S. If you like this way of introspection, please consider buying my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

Have You Made Any Lemonade From All Of These 2020 Lemons?

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.  That’s what this storm’s all about.” –Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’  One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.  In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity.” –John F. Kennedy

Hello friend,

I am SO HAPPY to connect with you again!  It feels like forever since I have written to you.  I love to write these letters.  I love the whole process: what I learn about myself in the exploration, the struggle to piece together the right combination of words to make my idea clear to you, the ecstatic blend of calm certainty and dancing butterflies I feel deep down in my chest and my soul from the knowledge that I am acting on my purpose, the joy and relief of hitting the “Publish” button and seeing my labor of love go out into the world to mingle with your beautiful mind, and the connection I feel with you as a result.  All of that is everything to me.  I love to write.  I am so grateful to be in your world, to share space with you today.  This is where I am supposed to be.

So, why haven’t I been here more often lately?  That is the logical question.  In Pandemic America, after all, the story goes that Time itself has slowed down, and with it, all of our lives.  We have the headspace and the minutes and hours (and days and weeks and months….) to collect ourselves, to nest, to make our spaces feel more like home, to set our priorities right, and to finally do all of the things we have been longing to do for ourselves.  As disruptive as the coronavirus has been to our normal—our economy, our relationships, our work, our fun, our faces—it supposedly gave us this gift of a “RESET,” the time to get ourselves right and clarify who and what we love.

This is why I have been racked with guilt and frustration that I haven’t been writing more over the past several months.  This would seem to have been the ideal time to churn out letters to you every week like I used to.  After all, Journal of You is about digging into our own existence and coming to understand where we have come from, where our passions lie today, and where we see ourselves going in the moments we have left on this Earth.  This should be our opportunity to nail that stuff down, right?  A chance at complete clarity, at least for a moment in our otherwise-busy lives.  Somehow, I have failed to capitalize on this most golden of opportunities.

I suppose it was some combination of laziness, busy-ness, and distractedness.  That natural slowing down during the earliest, “lockdown” phase of the pandemic seemed to slow everything down, including my ambition.  I was enjoying the relative quiet and solitude of my home and family, content to soak up their company and the extra moments without errands and commutes.  The urgency to write it all down just wasn’t there.  Then came the urgency to do the other things that are typically much more neglected than my writing.  Like so many other people, I took on all sorts of home improvement projects, becoming an apprentice painter, landscaper, and organization guru.  With my time going into those tasks, the hours allotted to writing diminished.  Then there was the issue of headspace.  For so much of the last half a year, my brain seemed to split its thoughts three ways: pandemic, racial injustice, and governmental/political nonsense.  All three are psychologically and emotionally draining in their own ways, leaving precious little energy for regular functioning, much less for creative expression.

I found myself at the breakfast table this week reading up on the wildfires currently devastating the American West.  The whole thing is absolutely heartbreaking to me on so many levels: the loss of life (human, animal, plant, and more), the loss of Beauty, the loss of habitat, the loss of personal property and the priceless feelings of “home” for so many, the loss of jobs and dreams, the recklessness of human-created climate change, the addition of even more greenhouse gases from the fires themselves, and all of the trauma caused, to name just a few.  The thought that rose up from inside me was, “My God, I hope we are learning something from this, at least.  There has to be some good that comes from it.  Something!”

It came out like a plea, I suppose, an imploring of the people of the world to find a way to do better as a result of this catastrophe, to create a silver lining from these darkest of clouds.  To make lemonade from this overabundance of lemons we seem to be tripping over wherever we step.

Just think about these last few months and the swirl of awfulness that has joined our already-tense and divided country. The gross mishandling of the coronavirus and subsequent spiraling death toll and economy.  The very public murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor (to name but a few) and the subsequent protests across in cities big and small across the country.  Unemployment and food insecurity for so many.  The deaths of social justice giants John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  The continued lies and indecency of the President.   The approach of a contentious election.  The fires.

These are all things that have the potential, individually, to knock you down and leave you feeling lost and unmoored from your moral and emotional home base.  They can also, individually, leave you deeply bitter and lacking faith in our country, its institutions, and its people.  They have the potential, individually, to make you want to shut down, to retreat, to go into self-preservation mode.  With powers of destruction that strong individually, when taken together, in a series of relentless, cascading blows one on top of another and often simultaneously, the cumulative effect of 2020 has proven devastating.  The countless memes it has generated are a reliable testament to that (e.g “Cue the murder hornets!” and “Apocalypse Bingo”).

In a year when so much seems so wrong, the natural reaction feels like it ought to be to simply weather the storm, try to not get sick or committed to the asylum.  Dodge the bullet.  Just try to wait it out and hope to begin dreaming, loving, and achieving again next year.  Save self-improvement for 2021.  That makes sense.  “To everything, there is a season,” right?  This year definitely feels biblical, so maybe this is just the season of our lives to hunker down and ride it out, having faith that next year must be better.

That idea soothes me.  It placates me, softening my usual urgency for personal and global improvement, lets me off the hook for my recent lack of achievement and production.  My guilt is assuaged.  I appreciate the pass for 2020.

But I can’t help being suspicious of it.  I tend to disbelieve any philosophy that tells me it is okay to stop learning, growing, and making my life and my world better.  Sure, I understand that our ambition ebbs and flows along our journey, and I try to listen to my intuition about how hard I need to push in a given season.  And I am a huge fan of self-care and filling up one’s tank when it is running low so you can face the challenges of the present and the future.  On top of that, I realize that some of these blows that 2020 continues to deliver require true grieving—they are just that painful–which takes its own time.  Still, my internal dashboard is always measuring for Progress.  I am naturally monitoring myself for signs of growth and surveying the world around me for ways I can both use my talents for good and be enriched.  I am also naturally optimistic, so I live with the assumption that all situations can lead to better ones, and Growth is ours to claim.

With those traits in my nature, I should not be surprised at my response to the wildfires in the West (which are sending their smoke across the country as though to remind us that we are all in this together and no one gets away clean).  Even in my deepest despair, I cling to the idea that we must learn and grow from our situations. 

But have I?  This year, I mean.  Have I hunkered down and simply tried to survive—which may be enough, honestly, depending on how close to home each crisis has struck—or have I found any ways for these calamities to improve my life or the world around me?

I would say I have done very little directly for the world (e.g. I protested for racial justice and wrote some pieces, but I definitely didn’t write often enough), but I have improved myself in subtle but certain ways.  Much of it has come in the form of solidifying my priorities and values.  The pandemic, with its extra time to think and the need to stay in one place with only the people in my household, has served to thrust those values and priorities into bold relief, forcing an examination and a culling of the excesses and the things that just don’t feel authentic and uplifting anymore.  And because all of these other tragedies and tensions have occurred inside of the pandemic, each has received a thorough vetting in the recesses of my mind and the pages of my journal.

It has become increasingly clear to me this year that my family is the most important thing.  It turns out that I chose the right wife, and my kids are the right ones for me.  With all of this working and schooling from home and acting as each other’s playmates, teachers, and co-workers, I can only imagine how many families are at each other’s throats during all of these overlapping crises.  For all of my pre-family-life worry and fear I had over whether I could exist—much less be happy—with the responsibilities of a husband and father, I am so glad that I ended up with these guys.  I feel much better about that now, and I believe that foundation will support me no matter what else I have to face.

In watching the way my country’s institutions and people have handled (or mishandled) the crises of 2020, I have become even more deeply committed to moral and political positions I have held in the past.  The coronavirus pandemic has made crystal clear what a failure of leadership looks like.  In the halls of Congress and the White House, and in examples from different governors and mayors from around the country, I have seen examples of the best and worst kinds of politicians.  It has affirmed for me that, even though I am not a fan of our two-party system and neither party acts exactly as I wish they would, the folks that at least lean my way are doing so much more basic Good for ordinary Americans—that is, almost all of us—than the ones leaning the other way.  The particular political issues that have come into relief through the crises—climate science with the wildfires, health care coverage with the coronavirus and its ensuing unemployment, voting rights and women’s rights with the deaths of John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, racial injustice with the murders of George Floyd and others, and the need to protect our democracy with the regular assaults on it by the President—have made me feel stronger in my positions than ever before.  My conviction has multiplied.  I have become even more of Me.

These things have also cast each of my relationships and potential relationships into the light, making me very protective of the kind of people I want to keep in my life now and let into it in the future.  Though my heart will be wide open with love, I have no doubt also that the gate will be well-guarded.  Boundaries are beautiful.

These overlapping crises and the time I have had to consider them has made these things very clear to me.  I am certain that this clarity will make me a happier person going forward, better able to see my way and also better able to use my gifts to serve the world and all of the beautiful souls finding their way through it.  Though I am eager for this year and its many calamities to be behind me, I can honestly say I am grateful for it.  I will come out the other side of 2020 as a better person.

How about you?  Have you managed to grow and improve your world amidst the stress and tragedy of this year?  Open up your journal and write out your own version of a progress report.  What changes have you gone through internally as the various crises of 2020 have piled on top of one another?  What is your balance of “just trying to ride it out” versus “I can thrive in this” mentality?  How different is that balance this year compared to a “normal” year?  Which aspects of the year’s drama—coronavirus, job loss, racial injustice and protests, social isolation, change of routine, economic stress, climate emergencies, death of heroes, murder hornets, political drama—tend to send you into self-preservation mode, where simple survival is the goal and personal growth seems out of the question?  In which areas have you made efforts to address the issue head-on and learn more about it to achieve better clarity in your position and/or take action in the world to help the cause?  How has that effort changed you?  If this year has had you “stuck” at home more often and unable to physically interact with others much, how have you dealt with that?  What have you learned about yourself through that aspect of the experience?  Did you reach any conclusions about yourself that caused you to make any major changes?  Do you feel like you have clarified who you really are this year?  What do you value most?  What are your top priorities?  Are there things that you have reduced or eliminated from your life in this process?  What about people?  How has seeing your “friends” react to this year on social media (e.g. their responses to George Floyd’s murder) changed the way you feel about them or their place in your life going forward?  If you have let some habits or people go, do you feel lighter and more authentic for it?  Have you started some new habits?  Are they healthy or unhealthy?  Can you point to anything specific in your world where you are making a more positive impact than you were before this crazy year happened?  Is it enough just to know that you are bringing a better self out into your regular life each day?  If you feel like you haven’t spun any of 2020’s calamities into growth experiences, how might you start today?  No matter what you have done to this point, which crisis area feels ripe for your next growth spurt?  I hope you will take on the challenge.  Leave me a reply and let me know: How have you turned 2020’s many lemons into lemonade?

Rise,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Let’s improve together!

P.P.S. If you appreciate this sort of personal introspection, I encourage you to purchase my book, Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.

All The Things You Can Think In 8 Minutes & 46 Seconds

“When honor and the Law no longer stand on the same side of the line, how do we choose?” –Anne Bishop, Heir To The Shadows

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” –Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

Hello friend,

I just finished watching the video of George Floyd’s murder again. Now that a couple of weeks have passed and the edge has come off of my initial burst of rage and sorrow, I wanted to see if the footage would somehow make any bit of sense to me this time, that maybe I would uncover some clue that would make it seem less like pure Evil and Corruption. It didn’t.

8:46

That is the number that has haunted me from the beginning of this nightmare. Eight minutes, 46 seconds: the length of time Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of a handcuffed and subdued George Floyd. How can that be explained???

Last weekend, I went with my wife and kids to a local, student-led protest of racial injustice and police brutality. It was peaceful in nature, with the many young speakers sharing authentic words of pain, anger, advice, and inspiration. It reminded me of the Good in the world and of the immense value of every human being, but especially of those whose lives and freedoms are in danger each day they attempt to simply live.

We had had the discussion in our home in the preceding days about the importance of protest and of using your voice to bring positive change to the world, so my children were eager to experience the event. The night before, I cut up some cardboard boxes and got out markers, crayons, and construction paper so we could all make our own signs. My 9-year-old son wrote “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on his. My 11-year-old daughter made a creative version of “kNOw JUSTICE, kNOw PEACE.” My wife wrote “JUSTICE FOR GEORGE.” As for me, after much deliberation, I finally wrote exactly what had been hanging like a dark cloud over me for days: “8:46.”

A little over halfway through the two-hour rally, one of the leaders asked that we all stand, raise our signs or a fist, and take a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd. But not just a typical 30ish-seconds “moment” of silence. The moment she called for was to be exactly 8 minutes and 46 seconds long.

I had been at work and missed Mr. Floyd’s funeral service on TV earlier in the week, but my wife had told me that Reverend Al Sharpton had led a similar moment during his eulogy and that she had been deeply moved. I believed her, but her story didn’t prepare me for what I was about to experience. Along with the couple hundred other people spaced widely in the crowd, I raised my arms and my “8:46” sign and fell silent. And I thought.

I thought SO MANY THINGS.

First, I thought about all the Black people I have had in my life, the ones I have loved or that have been special to my family. As I considered each one, I sent them the best energy I could muster, wishing them strength to live in a world that has never been as kind to them as it has to me. I started with my wife and kids, of course. Then I thought of my mother-in-law and (deceased) father-in-law, who grew up in the Deep South in times worse than these. I thought of my sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law, who all grew up Black in a town almost completely White. Next I thought of my nieces and nephew, our family’s future. I thought of all of my wife’s cousins and aunts and uncles around the country. I thought of the two young women, Nicole from Ghana and Peré from Kenya, whom we have hosted during their years at a nearby college. I thought of colleagues from the past. I thought of Joi, who presided over my wedding, and all the other dear friends my wife has brought into our home and family over the years, including Myra, Ramon, Maddie, Sedric, Demetrius, Suzanne, Harry, and Joan, to name a few. I thought of her sorority sisters. I thought of all the young people and families in the children’s group my kids belong to that is centered around their Blackness. I thought of my kids’ Black teammates and school friends and their families. I thought of all the Black kids I interact with in the school where I work and the light that they bring to my life.

I thought of all of those people. It was quite a process to conjure those faces and really feel their energy and give them mine. And at the end of that long exercise, I was painfully aware that I still had a ton of time left on that 8:46.

I thought about George Floyd and the countless other unarmed Black people who have been killed by White police officers, lynch mobs, slave patrols, and other vigilantes throughout America’s sordid history. And I thought about their families. I still had time.

I thought about how tired my arms were getting holding up that sign–that little, flimsy piece of cardboard–and peeked around to see other people clearly struggling to keep a fist or a sign raised. Then I thought of how minuscule our pain and struggle were compared to what George Floyd felt with those three officers pinning him to the dirty pavement and a knee driving hard into his neck. I did some crying.

Next, I thought about the world I want my kids to grow up in and the improvements I hoped we could make (no small list).

A few different times I also caught my mind drifting, and in my moment of reminding myself to stay present and focused on the topic at hand, I also thought, “Dang, this is a LONG TIME!” And it was. But I still had more time.

And as I was thinking of those hopes for a more just and equitable future, the speaker called an end to the time. The first thing I thought was, “Wow, my mind covered A LOT of territory in 8 minutes and 46 seconds! Emotions were fully felt and processed, tears were shed, and I got to think hard and clearly on some important topics.”

That’s when I began to think about Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, the four police officers who took part in George Floyd’s murder. Long after he was in their custody, when he was already handcuffed and lying facedown in the street, with no other dangers and the situation totally under their control, the clock began to tick on their 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

They had all that time to think.

They had the opportunity to consider the worth of George Floyd’s existence and, even if they considered it and deemed it of no value, the opportunity to decide whether or not they could get away with killing him in broad daylight, with cameras on and other humans begging them to stop the killing. Because when you sit with the scene in your mind for a full 526 seconds, you realize that this was no heat-of-the-moment, knee-jerk reaction–no “He surprised me and before I knew it I had pulled the trigger” or “I feared for my life” situation–in which they had no time to consider their actions and what it all meant. They had 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

It is so much time! Time for clarity, time for certainty, time to ensure an absence of remorse or regret.

What was happening in that time, you ask, that might have stirred the conscience of these four men, three of whom were kneeling on him (one on his neck), the other standing idly by? Well, in one five-minute stretch of the 8:46, an agonizing George Floyd said he couldn’t breathe sixteen times. Sixteen. He called out for his dead mother: “MAMA!!!” Bystanders pleaded with the officers: “Get off of his neck!” “The man ain’t moved yet, bro.” “Check his pulse!” “Get off of him!” “What is wrong with y’all?” “Do you think that is okay?” Even after the officers had called in for medical assistance because George Floyd’s mouth was bleeding, they kept him pinned down for seven more minutes, some of those minutes after he was completely unresponsive. Even after the EMTs arrived and checked George’s pulse, Derek Chauvin kept his knee on George’s neck for another minute until the EMTs asked him to remove it.

The fact that they took the full 526 seconds so casually, so nonchalantly–Chauvin sliding a hand into his pocket like he was just hanging out on a holiday–and landed on the conclusions that 1) George Floyd’s life was expendable, and 2) we can get away with this, is just bone-chilling.

On the personal, psychological level, the conclusion that someone else’s life–someone you don’t know and whose alleged crime is passing a phony $20 bill–has no value, and that you are worthy of making that determination and also of ending the worthless life, is revealing of some seriously dark stuff inside. (Never mind that four out of the four officers working that stop came to the same conclusion seemingly without a word of debate passing between them. Is that not frightening?)

On the sociological and systemic level, the belief–again, apparently by 100% of the officers on the scene–that you can easily get by without consequences for killing an unarmed, subdued Black man on the street in front of witnesses and cameras in broad daylight is evidence of severe dysfunction in our police and “justice” system, as well as in society as a whole (because our history proves that they were justified in believing this).

But those were plainly the conclusions drawn by Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao in the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that they kneeled quietly on George Floyd and listened to him beg for his life as it left his limp body.

Dear God, that makes me sick.

How about you? What are your main takeaways from the murder of George Floyd and its aftermath? Open up your journal and your heart and explore the elements that have stayed with you in recent weeks. For me, it was obviously this issue of Time and the inexplicability of doing something so awful given all of the other options at their disposal and the extended opportunity the officers had to make a better choice. What is it for you? Have you been more hung up on the protests and violence? The other examples of police violence (e.g. tear-gassing and shooting rubber bullets at random and innocent bystanders, slashing tires, etc.)? The unprecedented momentum in the desire to make changes in society to diminish systemic racism and improve policing? The President’s combativeness throughout and his absence of any meaningful mention of race and racism in America or words of comfort to a demoralized country? What issue(s) do you keep coming back to in your mind? Why do you think that sticks with you? Do you need to dig a little deeper? Or is it just more personal to you? I invite you now to a moment of silence and reflection in honor of George Floyd. Choose your own way to do it: kneel or stand with a raised fist or sit or do something uncomfortable, but do it for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. You can choose to think about George Floyd, or you can just sit mindfully and watch all of the different thoughts your mind tumbles through and all that it has the chance to consider in that duration. Set your timer and begin…….. What did you think about? How much did you think about? A lot, right? Given your experience with it, how does it change your reflections about the thoughts those four officers might have been thinking and the conclusions they reached as they ended George Floyd’s life? Can you imagine it? How disturbing is it to even try? How easily could even one of them have changed that entire situation for the better? Isn’t that all the more heartbreaking? Do the moments that George Floyd will never have make yours all the more important and impactful? Leave me a reply and let me know: What will you choose to make of your moments of opportunity?

Always rise,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you today, please share it with your community. Consciousness-raising is a group activity!

P.P.S. If this type of self-reflection appeals to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

“But I’m Not A Racist!” And Other Things We White Folks Need To Do Better

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” –Benjamin Franklin

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hello friend,

What a week to have skin in America! In the wake of the tragic and wholly unnecessary killing of George Floyd by a police officer to start the week, Minneapolis, a city with a long history of racial injustice and inequity, has been consumed by protests and destruction as its residents process their understandable grief and frustration. I live a safe distance away in a suburb of the city but have felt the waves of emotion reaching my doorstep in a way that is deeper and more personal than the other seemingly countless and regular newsworthy occurrences of racial injustice in America.

Just in the last few weeks, we have been dealing with new revelations in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who, while out jogging, was tracked down in a truck by two white men who had decided that he was a burglar and shot him dead in the street. Also in the news has been the killing of EMT Breonna Taylor, a young black woman, by police who broke into her home–the wrong home, as it turned out–unannounced while she was sleeping and shot her multiple times while her boyfriend tried to defend her from what he believed to be a home invasion.

With the sadness and anger from those two tragedies hovering in the American air, joining the long list of unjustifiable killings of black people–Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and Terrence Crutcher, to name just a few off the top of my head–we woke up Tuesday morning to viral video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling for several minutes on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd as Floyd repeatedly says he cannot breathe. We already knew from the headline that, of course, George Floyd had been killed.

So began this week, a week that has continued like a dark cloud hovering over my home and, a little further up the freeway, my city. The mood in the house–which has white me, my black wife, and my two biracial children, ages 11 and 9, one who looks more black and one who could pass as white–has been at times outraged, depressed, furious, disappointed, appalled, apprehensive, curious, irritated, and thoroughly exhausted. Predicting it from hour to hour or nailing it down is impossible (though the exhaustion permeates). It’s like when I read the news articles about it on Facebook, and I have to choose the emoji to react with for the person posting. I tend to sway between angry and sad. I’m fully both.

Sadly, one thing I am not–and neither are my kids, which is truly horrifying–is surprised.

I have lived in this country long enough and done enough personal work to educate myself to both the historical facts and to the flesh-and-blood people and their stories that I feel like I somewhat know the score. It is plain to me that we live in a society based on white supremacy. We, especially we white folks, dare not to speak of it and deny it at every mention, which is how it has retained its power over centuries. But it is plain to an objective eye, if such a thing exists.

White lives are valued more highly than black lives. When doing the same job, white people get paid more. When convicted of the same crime, black people receive more severe punishments. A white person is believed in favor of a black person when their stories conflict. (And yes, I know there are other colors in this silly invention called race, but I trust that you understand the argument and the expediency of sticking with black and white for the moment. Thank you for your grace.) When fashion or language or housing or hair is compared between the groups, we work from the assumption that the white whatever is “just normal,” the standard, without distinguishing characteristics to judge it, whereas “black” things have ways that are different and can be judged (like when white kids do badly in school or break rules, they are considered individually–Timmy has anger issues or a lower IQ–or are “just being kids,” but when black kids behave badly it is taken as a reflection of their race, not of their individual difference). I could go on and on, but you get it.

Thus, it was not at all surprising to me to hear on Tuesday morning from a co-worker that an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer. She said that there was a bystander video that she couldn’t bring herself to watch. I knew it was about to be a challenging week.

So, when I arrived back at home later in the day, I immediately went to one of my news apps to learn more. While I was there gleaning information about the killing of George Floyd, a different article caught my eye. You have possibly seen the viral video recorded by bird enthusiast Christian Cooper, a black man, after he asked a white woman, Amy Cooper (not related), to leash her dog in an area of Central Park in New York City where leashes are required. This caused her to become very upset. A tense exchange ensued, during which he asked her not to come close to him and she then threatened, “I’m calling the cops. I’m gonna tell them that there’s an African-American man threatening my life!” She repeated that claim to the 911 operator multiple times in the video.

I could taste the bile coming up and could feel my blood boil. It wasn’t that I was any more surprised by this video that did not, fortunately, lead to more unnecessary violence, than I was by the video of George Floyd’s killing by Derek Chauvin. Rather, it was that this ordinary, everyday argument in New York City between Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper symbolized the entire culture of white supremacy–a culture that we are so deeply woven into that we don’t even recognize it or acknowledge it–that flows so seamlessly and inevitably to the death of George Floyd (or Eric Garner or Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice or….).

The fact that people of color are seen as less than, worse than, not to be believed, of little consequence, and dangerous sets the stage for George Floyd’s tragic death and the deaths of untold millions of people of color throughout the sordid history of this country. Whiteness has a power that people of color can do nothing about. Amy Cooper knew that in the park that day, whether she had ever consciously formulated the thought. She laid bare America’s essence and gave away our secret in those few short words: “I’m gonna tell them that there’s an African-American man threatening my life!” Translation: “I can end your life right now. I’m the one everyone will believe. I own you.”

As I said, the video didn’t surprise me at all. After all, in the age of smartphones, we have become accustomed to seeing the kind of “threats” that white people call the police about regarding black people just trying to live (grilling in the park, having a lemonade stand, using the gym, etc.). Much like with the police killings of unarmed black people, we see them more often now not because they occur more often, but because there are cameras.

Outside of the video’s encapsulation of America’s signature theme and its perfect timing with the killing of George Floyd, I was, in fact, not so interested in it. What caught my attention more from the story was Amy Cooper’s apology. After all, her blatant racism had gone viral and her employer had suspended (and later fired) her in its wake. So, of course, she said she was sorry. No surprise there. The kicker, though, was her use of the now-standard line for anyone who is caught doing or saying something patently racist: “I’m not a racist.” It’s a classic.

Believe it or not, I don’t care whether Amy Cooper is a racist. My point today is not to make a case for what makes someone a certified racist and what makes someone else a good-hearted person who, in a moment of weakness, committed an obviously racist action (or how many of those racist actions it would take for that person to slide into the genuinely racist category). No, I mostly want to offer my fellow white people a suggestion or two about our racism (which is inevitable given the culture in which we live and our privileged position in it).

In your apology for your racist action, please don’t include, “But I’m not a racist.” And definitely don’t lead with it. It sounds so disingenuous after what you have just said or done to get yourself in hot water (I don’t want to list examples). Even if you believe that in your heart and even if you have a long list of examples to “prove” it, saying that is not the way to be heard. Maybe something more like, “That was a horribly racist thing I said. I didn’t even know I had something so vile in me, but clearly I do. I am sorry.” Or this: “Even though I was raised in a racist family, I thought I had moved beyond that. My racist action today showed me I still have work to do. I am so sorry.” If you still really, really want to say you aren’t a racist, the furthest leash you might stretch could be, “I truly don’t feel anything negative against black people, so I didn’t think I could do something like that. But I can see that it was a racist act, and I take responsibility. I am so sorry, and I promise to do better.” All of these apologies, of course, work better if you actually mean it and change your behavior. It is one small thing.

My other small suggestion today, my white friend, is to raise your voice and take a stand for people of color and against white supremacy. As I said before, people of color have no real say in whether the American culture of white supremacy (and therefore inequality, abuse of power, injustice, protest, riots, etc. in roughly that order) gets to continue. Black and brown people have been calling us on our abuses since we showed up on the land centuries ago, dragging some of them with us and slaying others in our wake. That has not changed us. It is unfair and phony of us to keep asking people of color to explain injustice and inequity to us, to tell us their experience so we can understand our own. They are tired of explaining (not to mention tired of the rest). The whole thing is exhausting for them, and it is simply not their job. People of color have borne the burden of white people’s culture of racism for centuries and been powerless to change it. Not because they are weak or stupid or unorganized, and certainly not because they are less than white people. They haven’t changed white supremacy because white supremacy is white people’s responsibility. It is our burden. It was created by us, and it must be undone by us.

So take a stand. Use your white voice, which is way more powerful than you understand it to be. This week I have been so moved to see a couple of my white friends on social media, whom I have never seen say anything about injustice or the need for anti-racism, actually speak up on their feed, with either a shared article or a heartfelt paragraph or two about how George Floyd’s death was wrong and how we must work to root out racism. I thought of these normally-silent white people’s respective spheres of influence–some small, others quite large–and the impact their voice might have to free up other silent-but-pained folks to speak their own truth about these matters. I thought, “What if everyone who was bothered by George Floyd’s death actually spoke up in a public forum?” That could be in conversation with others at a church or social event where they had never previously dared talk about such things, or it could be a social media site where they typically just watch silently or post only about “non-political” things. What if they raised their virtual hand and simply said, “This is wrong, and we need to change.”?

We are such a culture of people who need permission–from celebrities, trendsetters, the cool people in our social circle, our peers–to say what we really feel and what is hard. My goodness, we could change so much if a critical mass of white people would just speak up on behalf of people of color and the injustices brought to bear on them by our system of white supremacy. Equality would become cool. Anti-racism would be trending. Imagine that! Congress members would have to listen to their justice-minded constituents because there were just so many of them. The tide would turn.

It could happen. It really could. But it won’t happen just because black and brown people have had enough of our racism, just because they are sick and tired of being held back and held down and brutalized by the police and by unfair housing practices or racist bosses or neighbors. It won’t happen because they protest peacefully or because they riot or loot or burn buildings. We have already proven that none of those methods are effective. The only way our system is going to change is if we white folks take on the challenge ourselves, if we take responsibility for the job that should have been ours all along.

There are a million ways available to help the cause, and I hope you will take advantage of many of them. But even if you can just take one small step today, I hope it is by raising your voice in a way or in a space that you have not before. I guarantee you the world will be better for it. If you take my virtual hand, I promise to take that step with you. I’m here and ready.

How about you? What role have you been playing in the racial dynamic? Open up your journal and explore your relationships with the other humans on the planet and the systems and decisions that have placed you there. On a scale of 1 to 10, if one is an avid anti-racist and ally to people of color and 10 is an unabashed bigot, where do you land when it comes to your level of racism? If we asked the ten people closest to you about your level, do you think they would rate you higher or lower? How would you rate them? Do they exhibit more or fewer ignorant attitudes and behaviors than you? Are you aware of your specific weaknesses and failings, such as which groups you are particularly biased against and how those biases present themselves in the world? Are you ever shocked at how narrow-minded, even vile, a thought you have is? How about a comment or action? Have you ever apologized to someone regarding a racist comment or action? If you haven’t, should you have? Do you feel embarrassed now at some of the racist things you did or said in your past? In what ways have you changed? Can you point to incidents or reasons why you have changed? Are you now more open-minded and accepting (even celebratory) of other races, or have you views become more narrow and bigoted with age? How have the people in your friend group influenced your perspective on matters of race, equity, and justice? How have you influenced them? Are you able to speak freely with your friends on these matters? Do you? How about your family? What percentage of your loved ones would you consider to be a true ally to people of color? If you had to name percentages for the people in your circle, how many would you say are generally 1) racist, 2) not racist, or 3) anti-racist? In which category are you? How big of a stretch would it be for you to become anti-racist, to be an intentional ally to people of color and speak out against racist actions and systems? What would it cost you? Discomfort? Friends? What could it gain you? Greater self-respect? A richer life? Friends? What is your typical reaction when an injustice occurs, such as the murder of George Floyd? Do you ignore it? Do you shake your head and move on? Do you get a bit upset but not say anything? Do you talk about it with a loved one? Do you speak out on social media or in other large groups, such as church or social gatherings? Is it clear to the people around you what your position is regarding people of color and the injustices they deal with in our society? If not, why not? Are you trying to protect them–your people–or protect yourself by not raising an uncomfortable topic? Are you being brave or cowardly? Overall, how uncomfortable addressing this whole topic are you? Does the term “white supremacy” as a normal term for America’s culture make you cringe? Does it feel wrong to admit you are the beneficiary of white supremacy and a part of the group that keeps other groups down? How does it feel when someone says that doing nothing, staying silent, and staying “neutral” on these matters only aids the oppressor and does untold damage to people of color every day? Is there really no neutral? Do you think the discomfort around this topic is all the more evidence that we hide from it in our everyday discourse? Do you agree that keeping white supremacy out of conversation and out of our heads has only made it more difficult to root out? Why don’t you speak about it more often? If you have people of color in your life, do you think it comes across to them as a betrayal when you say nothing about these regular acts of gross injustice? Can you be a true friend to them and not say something? How much of an idea do you think you have about what it is to live in their skin every day? How can you do better for them? What will it take to get you to start on that? Is there something you can do today? I dare you. Leave me a reply and let me know: What will you do to bring more equity and justice into the world?

Be the light,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. This task will require all of us!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself appeals to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

Silver Linings: In Search Of The Positives In A Pandemic

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” –Laini Taylor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone 

“In a time of destruction, create something.” –Maxine Hong Kingston

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” –Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Hello friend,

I have had moments of anger during this pandemic, such as when I see my neighbors having yet another play date with their children’s friends and parents, ignoring all science and government warnings and putting the rest of us in danger (and keeping us home even longer) because they lack either the will power to resist their social nature or the moral fiber to care about their potential damage.

I have had moments of deep sadness, too, such as when I read the social media post of the nurse who had flown to New York to help in a hospital, who had just had her patient die, and she reported that they had 17 deaths in their 17-bed unit that night. How does that NOT break you?

I have had moments of fear and anxiety as well, each week when I go to the grocery store and when I think about the possibility of my wife losing her job or a family member needing a hospital visit.

I have felt at least some degree of all the negative stuff that I am guessing you and your loved ones have felt during this unusual time. And though currents of them dash in and out of my atmosphere like phantom winds, I can say with some certainty that–with the notable exception of the first few days following the cancellation of my vacation, as I shared in my last letter–I have not let the negative overtake me. Some of that, I am sure, can be chalked up to the fact that I have been lucky. My family has money coming in, food in the refrigerator, health insurance, and none of my loved ones have contracted Covid-19. Relative to what other people are dealing with and will deal with, I have a dream gig going here right now.

The rest of it, though, seems to be attributed to my psychological make-up. I am a glass-half-full kind of guy by nature, and I tend to have my radar up and tracking the potential blessings in any situation. In the course of my day, I tend to find the fun, the kind, and the beautiful that is available to all but seemingly noticed by few. I have been blessed by an inclination toward those things and a willingness to train my eye to find more. It leaves me uncommonly grateful and, by extension, happy.

So, amidst the throes of the rampant sadness, frustration, anger, fear, and anxiety that seem so common and expected in this unprecedented age, I have found myself all the more determined to uncover the blessings and the good that might come of it. In this storm of storms, I am looking for silver linings.

It is easy to latch onto the most popular ones, which start with the frontline medical personnel. These people are just amazing to me. I look at me, not wanting to so much as leave my yard because I don’t want to closely interact with anyone and risk getting the virus and subsequently passing it to my family members. Then I look at the emergency room staff and first responders, going into work every day nearly certain that they are going to get it, if not today then tomorrow. There was the video that went viral a few weeks ago of the man in scrubs coming home and his tiny child running to greet him. It broke my heart to watch him have to suddenly keep her from excitedly running into his arms for a hug. Anyone who has ever been a parent knows that is probably the single greatest feeling in the world. To think that there are people like that all over the world, voluntarily eschewing the proximity and affection of their loved ones in order to continue serving the sickest among us, well, that is simultaneously both deeply saddening and incredibly inspiring.

All of the other frontline workers are so uplifting for me as well, even as I fret for their safety. I go out to the grocery store once a week and, as I am standing in the long, spread-out line for my turn to pay, I am absolutely spellbound watching the employees–these folks barely, if even, making a living wage for their services–ringing people up. It boggles my mind how they keep doing it day after day. I am so grateful for them.

Obviously there are very few people who signed up for this gig, whatever it is they are doing in this new age. Nearly everyone’s job, if they still have one, has changed. So many public-facing difference-makers–the teachers, the coaches, the therapists–can no longer do their jobs in a way that they can feel the daily difference they are making. There are a lot of teachers in my life, and I know that it pains them to have to “only” deliver educational modules to their students through a computer every day rather than their usual nurturing of the whole, complex person for the 25 or 30 growing souls in their classroom. They don’t get to directly help them through their challenges and witness that spark in the eye when the light bulb comes on or the hug of gratitude and love when it is most needed. I exchanged a message with one of my colleagues about this, and she lamented, “Distance learning is like planning, shopping, wrapping, and sending the perfect gift for someone you adore, but never getting to see them open it or know if they even like the present.” But teachers keep pouring their all into it because our children depend on them even in their absence. Those kind of people inspire me.

There are so many others, of course, whether they work on the front lines or are struggling because so much has changed behind the lines but they keep putting one foot in front of the other because the world needs them. I am even inspired by the people who, unlike me, are so wildly social at their core and need company like they need oxygen, but are choosing to be good humans and stay home. There are admirable sacrifices all around if your eyes are open to them.

One thing that tickles me these days is seeing so many people out walking, running, or bicycling in their neighborhoods. I have always loved visiting “active” towns–usually in places embedded in the mountains or by the ocean–where it seems like everyone is an outdoors enthusiast and people are moving their bodies wherever you look. My community is not typically one of those hubs of energy, but it sure has become one in the last month. I have never walked so much in my life, and I get the sense everyone else could say the same. I love seeing them all out and active. It energizes me. I hope we can keep that outdoor momentum going even when gyms and stores open up again. There is new life in the fresh air.

I also take great joy and inspiration in some of the new opportunities that people, especially artists, have created and made available online during this time. The actor John Krasinski’s YouTube broadcast from home, Some Good News, has been a delight, and I highly recommend it. I have also loved the “quarantine concerts” that so many musicians have put on their social media, whether it is a daily song (I have been digging Michael Franti on Facebook) or weekly concerts (I adore Matt Nathanson’s weekly events from his home office on YouTube, during which he sings songs and reads beautiful passages from books of poetry or wisdom that inspire him) or those big sing-along collaborations that artists have been putting together through ZOOM. There is nothing like music to lift the spirit, and these times ought to give us a greater sense of the necessity of the arts in our society. I have also appreciated those virtual tours of some of the world’s greatest museums and our national parks, both the sights themselves and the thoughtfulness of the people bringing them to us.

Though all of these inspirations have flashed regularly across my radar throughout the pandemic, the one ray of Hope that has grown exponentially in my mind as the weeks have passed falls under the theme “How We Might Grow From This Experience.” I am enchanted by the possibility of some sort of simultaneous mass realization of the errors of our former, “normal” ways and a subsequent move toward a more highly idealized society, perhaps even to the extent of an evolutionary leap in the behavior of our species. Might we take advantage of this collective pause in our society–one that is unlikely to ever happen again in our lifetimes–and use it to gain wisdom in the direction of a world that is more peaceful, equitable, and just? Might we come to value each other more? Might we come to value our time more? I desperately hope so.

What kinds of things might this translate to? Maybe it is as simple as choosing our commitments–whether to individual people or activities or groups–more discerningly. Now that we have been pulled out of our sports, clubs, churches, stores, meet-ups, coffee shops, restaurants, classes, and gyms, I hope that we are using the time away from them to better understand how much we (individually) need each one of our diversions. Even though most of us are going stir-crazy in our homes, we may also be realizing for the first time that perhaps it would be wise to begin prioritizing some downtime at home when “real life” resumes. As we have been removed from nearly all of the people in our usual routines, I hope that we are realizing which of those people are really not a positive influence on us and perhaps which are more deserving of our time and energy. Maybe we need more quality and less quantity, both in people and scheduled activities.

I also hope that this time–with its isolation, its anxiety, its uncertainty–leads us to put a greater premium on our mental health and self-care. I hope it becomes easier and “more normal” to talk about mental health and to understand that the issues that we have been hiding are so very common in our community.

I hope that it becomes more obvious–and more painful in the realization–that the poorest among us consistently bear the burdens of our crises to a far greater degree than the wealthiest. It is the poor who are both put on the front lines of exposure in times like this–cashiers, janitors, delivery drivers, etc.–and also more likely to lose their jobs, being in positions less likely to have a work-from-home option. I hope that in this time that we suddenly have to think more clearly and become more aware of the realities of our usual set-up, we find it in ourselves as a society to become more compassionate of those most in need and more aware of our own, typically-unearned privilege.

Along the same lines of this potential growing awareness, I have been increasingly hopeful that this health-crisis-turned-economic crisis might make it more clear to the average citizen how much more humane a single-payer, “Medicare for all” health care system would be. I think of the more than 22 million people who have lost their jobs in the first four weeks of this collapse, and how many millions of people that takes off of health coverage. I am up-front about the fact that I have long been in favor of a universal health care system in America, seeing health care as no less a natural right than a “free” public education or police and fire protection, as I have written to you about in the past. It has always seemed crazy to me that we don’t have this system in place and instead spend far more per capita on health care than other “civilized” countries for generally worse results, not to mention leaving tens of millions of our citizens uncovered and poorly covered to the point that they don’t take care of basic medical needs. It embarrasses me as an American. If we have to go past the idea that it is a basic human right–which we should not; that ought to be the start and end of the discussion as to the necessity of universal coverage–I have always found it sad and tragic that the reason so many people stay in jobs rather than quit or change or try to start their own business or pursue a dream is because of the loss of health insurance. The current system is, in so many different, insidious ways, breaking our spirit. And now we have tens of millions of newly unemployed, resulting in millions of families losing their health coverage. How many people lost their coverage due to the pandemic in the rest of the world? Zero. Because they have humane systems. I have been surprised and disappointed that we have not seen more spoken and written about this in the traditional and social media as the numbers of unemployed pile up. It is my hope that people will see that now is the perfect moment in our history to do right by each other. Health coverage for everyone would be a giant step in the right direction. I remain hopeful that hearts and eyes will open.

It is this and so many other structural, systemic issues that I am looking toward in this time, hoping we open our hearts and minds to find the compassion and the wisdom to see our “we’ve just always done it this way” as a compilation of attitudes and tactics that have simply not served us all as well as we may have hoped. But I see people doing right by others, helping and giving and supporting. And I see others who want to be a part of a better world, who want fewer people to suffer and more people to get along, who want the resources spread out more equitably. I see all of that good action and good intention, and they make me hopeful. They give me light in a time that could too easily turn dark.

There are so many good people out there. You know that. So many lights. So many silver linings to this storm. You can find them almost anywhere you look. It seems to me that with this many good people, we deserve to live in a world whose structures–be they social, political, economic, or otherwise–serve to provide or facilitate all of those positive intentions and gestures of good will. But the responsibility is upon each of us to both do better in our own little corner of the world and to raise our voices to demand better of our larger structures. We must use this collective, reflective moment to consider the ways that our religions, our education systems, our health care systems, our political institutions, our judicial systems, our use of science, our natural resource consumption, and our philosophy of diplomacy and warfare facilitate the kind of goodness that is in our hearts. If we deem that those systems are not representative of our goodness, we need to rise up and demand that changes be made. And we must do whatever is in our own power to see those changes through. We must be the bringers of our own light.

This pandemic era is difficult. It is angering, frustrating, depressing, and anxiety-inducing. But it is also so much more, and its potential for a positive outcome is massive. Even with the scars that we will no doubt carry from this era, we could actually come away with a more caring, compassionate, equitable, just, and peaceful planet, both the humans and the systems designed to help the humans live their best lives. I see the possibilities all around me. I see it in hearts and gestures. If you are having a hard time seeing that light in your world, I hope you will find it in yourself. It is there, my friend, just waiting to be discovered. I am happy to lend you some of mine in the meantime. I have hope for you, hope for us. With so many beautiful examples out there to use as a guide and this quiet moment to steel my resolve, I am inspired to find out just how high we right rise. Together.

How about you? Where do you look for hope and inspiration in this time of crisis? Open up your journal and your heart and uncover the source of the light shining in? Where are you finding your positivity these days? Do you see it in the people in your community and the actions–or inaction–that they are taking? Which profession seems to awe you the most at this time? Medical personnel? Grocery store clerks? Delivery drivers? Janitorial workers? Teachers? Are you inspired by people’s willingness to stay home to limit the spread of the virus? What acts of personal generosity have you witnessed or been a part of that remind you of people’s goodness? Which people–individuals or groups–have you come to see in a more positive light as a result of the their actions during this pandemic? Are your own actions worthy of someone else’s inspiration? What other sources of positivity have you used lately that are unique to our current situation? Are there live events that you “attend” online, whether workouts or concerts? Do you watch TED talks? Have you started reading any books that you might otherwise have neglected were we not in a pandemic? What sorts of hopes do you have in the “How We Might Grow From This Experience” category? What realizations would you like us to have about our ways of living? What personal “A-HA”s have you had about your own lifestyle and priorities? Which aspects of our society has this crisis exposed for you in a way that you never realized before? Do you believe in our ability to at least begin large-scale, structural changes to the way we do things based on the lessons we are taking from this period? If so, what part do you see yourself playing in the positive change? How much light do you have to share? What sources of inspiration will you use as your fuel? Leave me a reply and let me know: What positives do you see emerging from this pandemic?  

Bring the light,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with your community. This is a team effort!

P.P.S. If this type of introspection stirs something in you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.

First-World Grieving: Sadness & Loss In The Wake of COVID-19

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” –Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore 

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” –John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

Hello friend,

“It’s all over,” I thought to myself as I stood, shoulders slumped, by my bed in the dark. “The whole world is shutting down now.” Seconds before, my alarm had jolted me upright in the dark hours of morning. I had just climbed out from under the sheets and started for the bathroom so I could be at the gym when it was still quiet–my usual routine. The alarm had also stirred my wife, who, knowing where I was headed, rolled over and said, “The gym is closed. They sent out an announcement last night.”

It felt like all of the life went out of me. My window of escape was closing rapidly, and I knew it. I didn’t want to say it out loud, but I knew it. Just the day before, as the closures and cancellations were beginning to gather momentum, I was still willing our vacation into being, ignoring the signs and buying goggles and sandals for the beach and pool. The world just had to hang on for a couple more days so I could get to the ocean, then it could take away its concerts and large gatherings all it wanted. I would be in peace on the water with my little family. It just had to be so.

Thoughts of the beach and the pool were all that filled my quiet moments for the past three months, maybe more. We have been going to our special spot on Spring Break for the last few years, so the fantasies in my mind were crystal clear. It is just the right speed, just the right activities, and just the right vibe. For my liking, you cannot beat the combination of water, warmth, and sunshine. All the better that I get to see my parents and a best friend.   Every day and every place we go while there is perfect for me, for my wife, and for the kids. Everyone is giddy about getting there, blissful while there, and so sad to leave. For me, it is the trip I look forward to all the year long. It becomes an obsession the nearer I get to it. I needed this trip! So, needless to say, being only a couple of days away, I was downright manic in my excitement to get there when the news of COVID-19 started to become more ominous and the feeling of the window closing began to creep in.

Denial is a powerful force, though, and I was in no frame of mind to let my obsession go. My bag was already packed! I could practically taste the saltwater. I was not able to think clearly about anything. I was seeing friends on Facebook on their Spring Breaks. My niece was sending photos of her trip to the same place we were going. It was all right there. I was so close!

My wife, whose mantra over the preceding weeks was, “Just get me on that plane! You can quarantine me on the beach if it comes to that,” was constantly monitoring travel recommendations, and nothing was saying we couldn’t go. My belief began to crack, however, as the CDC recommendations for the size of gatherings hit 100 people. Even in my delusion and denial, it was not a stretch for me to start thinking, “There are more than 100 people outside the gate, and there are definitely more on the airplane.”

Still, my will to go was strong, and with no government directive to cease travel, I began this sort of desperate self-justification process, making a last gasp of trying to convince myself it was acceptable. “If we could only just get through the airplane stuff,” I pleaded, “we would spend the rest of the week on an open expanse of beach, far from other people and their germs. Isn’t that enough?”

When my alarm sounded that morning, though, and my wife told me about the gym closing, it was like my last breath came out of me. There was no fight left. The dangerous reality of the virus and its exponential spread were suddenly facts to me, and I could deny them no longer. Social responsibility, which had been the elephant in the room that I had been trying to ignore, grabbed me by the shoulders and made me look him in the eye. When I finally did, I knew: I would be a selfish, irresponsible jerk to get on that plane, and perhaps also a merchant of Death. The trip I had been dreaming of for months was simply not going to happen.

I was absolutely crushed. Devastated. That night when I called my kids into my room individually to break their hearts with the news, I wanted to cry right along with them. It was terrible. I wasn’t torn about the decision anymore by that point; I was certain that it was the right thing to do. But it still hurt like hell.

I moped around the house for the next few days like my dog had been shot. It was hard to find light. I was weak, slumped, and slow. It was in the air all of the day, thoughts of times in past years that I would be missing out on this time. The first face-full of saltwater as I raced the kids to be the first one into the waves. Frisbee in the sand. Ice cream at the splash pad with my parents. Swimming races against my kids in the pool. Walking the shoreline with my wife, the water chasing its way up to our feet and then receding. Watching the pelicans dive for fish and the dolphins rise to breathe. Just being there. All beautiful, happy thoughts that made me sad to think about.

There were moments that were particularly difficult, mostly the ones that confirmed the reality that I would not be living that much-anticipated journey, such as calling my parents and friend to speak the words out loud and going to the grocery store to stock the refrigerator that I had been working diligently to empty before we left. The most poignant one was unpacking the suitcase I had filled with swimsuits, t-shirts, and sandals. That felt like a burial.

I’ve come out of it, though, at least part of the way. I still have moments when I realize what I have been missing or think about what I would be doing if we were there. When my Google Photos or Facebook memories pop up on my phone from one or two or three years ago “On This Date,” and I get to see all the fun we had and the memories made: those are bittersweet parts of my day now. I am glad I have the memories, but they are kind of a punch in the gut when they arise this week. But that pain is easing, if ever so slowly.

I can feel other losses in the wake of COVID-19, too, though thankfully not as intense as the loss of the dream week. I miss starting my day at the gym. I am still exercising at home when I wake up, but it’s not the same. There is little variety in my basement, and no pool or basketball court. I am not social at the gym–shocker, right?–so I don’t miss that part, but I feel terrible for the many senior citizens who go there less for the workout and more for the coffee and fellowship in the community room and find a real home there. That is all gone now.

I empathize with my kids, for though they aren’t necessarily dying to be back in school just yet, they definitely miss playing with their friends and being on sports teams and running out to join the neighbor kids in the cul-de-sac for games. They were bummed when the earliest possible date to resume school got bumped out to May. Connecting them with their cousins and friends on FaceTime or ZOOM helps, but there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction: wrestling, hugs, baking, high-fives, Girl Scout meetings, basketball games, sleepovers. So much stuff. I am sad about them missing that. And though my own kids are generally happy and stimulated and fed and safe when they are at home with me and my wife, I have worries about so many kids at their schools (and every school) who I know are struggling without the structure, socialization, food, and caring adults that their school provides for them. I am sad thinking about those vulnerable kids.

I always feel a bit silly and self-absorbed when I am tempted to claim any exceptional quality, so I tend to balk at claiming to be something of an empath (because maybe everyone feels this way and we just don’t talk about it). But here we are telling our Truths, so I will just say that I most often feel my sorrows or have my tears when I witness other people having theirs. I am less inclined to cry over my own misfortune than I am of yours, especially if I can see how it weighs on you. My heart feels yours, and that is more depressing to me than any burden of my own. That is what I am feeling more of as these days go on. I feel other people’s anxieties, fears, and sorrows and desperately wish there were more I could do to alleviate their pain. I would rather take it on my own shoulders.

And hey, I know I have it easy compared to most. I have very little desire to get together with people for work or play; I can imagine that part being the most depressing for a large percentage of people. I don’t typically enjoy going out to restaurants, bars, or even stores. At least for now, I can still get to parks to walk around and be with the trees, the water, and the fresh air. That tends to satisfy my soul. I actually enjoy my wife most of the time, and extra time playing with my kids is a treat for me. I can hardly imagine how sad, frustrating, and scary this time is for people who are extroverted, who love going out at night to eat and drink, prefer to shop and run errands, enjoy the coffee shop and the gym, whose “family” is their co-workers, who live alone but long for company, or who can’t stand the people they live with. Then multiply that for people who have lost their jobs and dreams; I shudder to think about it.

It will be interesting to see how the losses and our grieving evolve as the pandemic goes on (and on and on and on…). I know that my psyche will be vulnerable as our income declines. That will change my concerns dramatically. And who knows how the people around me will change as the weeks drag into months. Solitude and distancing affects everyone differently, but so does living in close quarters with only the same few people every day. Will they grow irritable, or get cabin fever, or become depressed? Will I? And how will we deal with each other when that happens? Will we spiral together, or will the least affected help the others to rise again? What will happen when more people that we love get sick and possibly die? All of these things, and more, are on the table. Suffice it to say that there is likely more loss and grieving to come.

I don’t want this letter to come across as just a big list of complaints against the Universe and a search for “Poor Me” sympathy, as that is not my style. And maybe in the next letter, we will look at all the blessings that this crazy time has brought us; that deserves its own space. But I also think it is important for us, as people who are working to uncover our Truth and to live authentically, to acknowledge our losses and speak to our grief. We can own those things without qualification. My loss of a long-dreamt-of vacation, or your loss of going into work at a place that you love, or someone else’s loss of the convenience of their favorite gym class or coffee drink need not be apologized for just because we know others have it worse. It’s not a contest. (And let’s face it: even the worst of our hardships in this time are much better than what people in war-torn countries face in normal times.) If you are grieving for anything in this unprecedented time, it is your job to name it and process it and do your best to eventually come around to Gratitude for it, however long that may require. That is the job of Life, actually.

I wish I were swimming in that turquoise water right now, basking in the warmth and sunshine, and WooHooing at my kids as we ride the waves to shore. It breaks my heart that I am not. And that is my Truth.

How about you? What losses and sadness have you suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic? Open up your journal and your heart and share some of your low points from the beginning of a difficult time in our history. What is the biggest loss you have felt in this early phase? Have you canceled a vacation or important event that you had looked forward to? How disappointing was that? Enough to bring tears? Is it still bumming you out? How much does the current social distancing and isolation play upon your psyche? Do you miss your friends, relatives, and co-workers? Do you miss the people you serve in your life (customers, students, patients, clients, etc.)? If you still have your job, how has its meaning changed for you? Does it make you sad to work alone? How have your relationships changed with the (hopefully) few people you still have face-to-face contact with, especially those who live with you? Does the containment cause the relationships to deteriorate? How has your financial situation and outlook changed as a result of the pandemic? How much of a weight is that to carry around with you? What about the little things that have just broken your rhythm (e.g. the gym closing) or kept you from your usual treats (e.g. a favorite coffee shop)? Does that kind of thing get to you? How difficult is it for you to live with being aware of all the pain and suffering that people around the world are feeling right now? Are other people’s sorrows much of a burden to you? What do you grieve most about your changed life? How do you imagine your sorrows will evolve as the weeks and months go on? Do you need help? Are you getting it now, and are you in a position to get it when you need it? Does naming your pain help? Are you inclined to dwell on your sorrows or do you tend to move through them quickly? How is this experience different? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the losses you are grieving as a result of COVID-19? 

May your burdens be lightened,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you, please share it with those you care about. Let us share each other’s loads.

P.P.S. If this way of self-examination appeals to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Be well and Namaste.

Misguided Saints or Friendly Villains? Assessing Loved Ones In The Age Of Trump

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” –George Carlin

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” –Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.” –Deb Caletti

Hello friend,

If you and I meet up any time in the next year–or maybe forever–and I don’t seem to remember how to act, it’s because I don’t. Truly, I don’t. I’ve forgotten. I may be dying to interrogate you, rip into you, gloss over you, or lavish you with empathy and good will–or all of the above simultaneously. What you get? I don’t know! Never in my life have I felt so torn about how to interact with people in general, but especially the people I have always known and loved. Ninety percent of my interactions are a form of torture. And I blame it all on Donald Trump!

Just kidding. Not about the torture, but about the Trump. (I am not here to litigate the President, really. We all know where we stand on him already, and I don’t expect to change that. My question today, as always, is ultimately about YOU.) I know he is only a symptom of a deeper disease–and I generally don’t even mention his name–but he makes the arguments stand out in bold, cartoon-like form, making it easier to highlight our differences of morality. So let’s go with it for the moment.

I suppose I have been tortured by a version of this syndrome all my life–a liberal, “bleeding heart” kind of soul born into a family, community, and region of the country that oozes conservatism–though most of my years were spent in happy denial of it. At some level, I could always say that I felt “different,” as though I didn’t quite belong, but I didn’t ever really do the work to crystallize what it was. I was blissfully unaware of politics and the ramifications of political beliefs on the lives of the people around us and the people of the world. I casually accepted the idea that all of those politicians in Washington were pretty much the same: White men who agreed on the problems but just had slightly different views on the solutions. I suppose I figured the rest of us were pretty much the same: it wasn’t our politics that separated us or showed some to be “good” and others “bad,” but rather our day-to-day actions and our morals. Politics seemed to be a separate thing and far less important.

And then I opened my eyes and started paying attention. It all changed pretty fast from there. Me, I mean. I changed. Not me, as in, who I was. But me in how I understood the world and its workings. The curtain got pulled back for me, and I couldn’t un-see what I had seen, though it would have saved me a lot of torment in the ensuing years.

Politics is morals put into policy form.

The policies–and, by extension, the politicians that espouse them–that you support tell so much about your character and your moral compass. At bottom, your politics reveal exactly what (and whom) you value. Simultaneously, they tell about what you are willing to swallow in order to make your values win. It is a crystallization of your priorities.

So, why do so many of the people from my past–people I have liked or loved, people I played with or share blood with, people who raised me–support a brand of morals that makes my skin crawl? How could we come from the same home and seemingly be moral opposites? And should that make us, if not enemies, then at least cordially not-friends? Are we deluding ourselves by thinking that the bonds of old friendship or family should endure even though we realize we are thoroughly incompatible morally? Should I be cutting ties, or do I have to just shine it on at reunions for the rest of my life, keeping my conversations agonizingly superficial in the service of tolerating each other? Or is there something more, some level of wisdom or grace that I can reach that allows me to fully embrace them again, the way it was before I could see these things clearly?

I want to know how to interact! Maybe more so, I want to be able to think better of the people I have been feeling hurt by and angry with, people who have been a big disappointment to me since I opened my eyes to the stark differences in our beliefs. I want that, but at the moment, I admit that it’s hard to see a path to the bridge.

This may seem random, but I think we need to talk about Jesus. As I have shared with you before, I am not a Christian but am a huge fan of the man. His example and his teachings are wonderful. In this era, though, I feel as though I have to defend Jesus from his followers. It truly makes my blood boil to listen to certain high-profile religious leaders as they not only cover for the despicable acts and policies of our current President but celebrate him and lean on their congregations to do the same.

But, as I said, I do not want to make this seem like it’s about Donald Trump. As easy of a target as he is in any discussion of morals, I would rather pull it back to a party level, but still stick with my guy Jesus. My pet theory–perhaps incorrect, but still mine and sure to offend even more people, but hey, I’m already in the deep end on this one–is that the “Christian coalition” (or “Evangelicals” or once upon a time the “Moral Majority” or however you would like to name the right-wing Christian movement) was willing to hitch their wagon to whichever political party was going to side with them on the issue of abortion. The Republicans signed on and have happily won a ton of easy elections out of the deal (hence the “Bible Belt” also being called the “Solid South” to signify that it votes solidly Republican).

But what policies did the Christians–and just so we are clear, I am not suggesting this applies to every Christian but rather to the movement and leaders (e.g. Franklin Graham) that try to speak for the religion–wed themselves to for the sake of abortion? How do they look after this deal? And, more importantly, how do you imagine Jesus would see it?

I have studied this guy Jesus fairly seriously, both as a kid and as an adult, and these are some of the traits and principles that stand out to me about him: generous, nonviolent, empathetic, welcoming, charitable, open-hearted, peaceful, forgiving, an ally to the outcast, opposition to greed, caring for the poor and the sick. When I look at the issues of the modern world that our political parties disagree on, I always shudder to think how he would feel about the side taken by the leaders and followers of the religion that bares his name.

Tax breaks for the wealthiest, leading to greater income inequality and a greater number of people suffering and impoverished. LGBTQ discrimination. Separating immigrant families who are fleeing war or cruelty at home–hey, like Jesus!–and caging children at the border. Gun laws. Expansion of the prison-industrial complex and military-industrial complex. Civil rights and righting past wrongs to African-Americans and other minority communities. Guaranteeing health care for all. Protecting the environment. From what I can tell about Jesus, he would land on the exact opposite end of the political (i.e. moral) spectrum than the people who are supposedly carrying his banner.

Whenever one of these issues comes up and I ask myself that famous question, “What would Jesus do?” the answer inevitably turns out to be so different than the Republican/”Christian” response. That is deeply disturbing to me. I wish it were to them, but judging by the election results at all levels, it plainly is not.

Just look at the President. We will pull him into the discussion for a moment. I have no need to write the laundry list of his moral failings, but suffice it to say that in both his policies and his social (e.g. Twitter) messages to the world, he would seem to me to be a glaring embarrassment to not just his country, religion or political party, but to humanity. Horrifying things are said and done, and yet who in his party–whether a politician or an ordinary citizen–ever says, “Yikes! This time he crossed the line. That is unacceptable.”? As my wife is fond of exclaiming when at her wits’ end about these silent enablers, “How do they look themselves in the mirror? How can they live with themselves?” I would like to know.

Because I have Republican family members who practically spat in disgust when Donald Trump was a candidate for President. Until he became their nominee, that is. Ever since, I don’t hear a single negative thing about him from them, no matter how egregious the latest lie or slander or tantrum. All is well in their world. I would like an explanation for that.

But what I also want from them–and I know this sounds extreme and self-absorbed at first blush, but it is my truth–is an apology. I have been highly sensitive to racism my whole life, even growing up White in a thoroughly White community. And now I have a Black wife and two biracial children, as well as dear friends of color. Any neutral account of this President’s history before and in office show him to be plainly racist. You, as a supporter, can say all day long, “I am not a racist. I am not a racist. I am not a racist.” But if you pledge your support to a racist, what does that make you?

And I get it, there are more things about a politician than whether they are racist or not . So maybe you love your politician’s foreign relations philosophy or immigration policy or health care plan so much that you are willing to overlook their racist statements and actions, but does that mean you should not even acknowledge that aspect of it to someone who is hurt by your vote? Especially if you love them? Something along the lines of, “You know how I voted, and I know that must feel like a punch in the gut to your family because his racism is truly ugly and harmful. But the other issues are ones I couldn’t compromise on, so I felt compelled to vote for him despite serious misgivings about his character. I really do apologize for the damage his racism causes; I can only hope I am right about the rest and that our relationship survives it.” From my own experience, I will say that the votes of my family and friends for Trump have deeply hurt my feelings on this issue of racism. The possibility that they are blind to their hurtfulness doesn’t do much to salve the wound. It mostly makes me feel the moral divide between us is that much greater.

That divide tends to feel like a gulf, because, as I said, this is not just about Donald Trump, and I am sure it won’t disappear when he leaves office. This is about political issues that are shows of our moral character and thus our priorities. After all, conservative media spent decades portraying Hillary Clinton as, alternately, morally weak for sticking with a cheating husband, then frigid, calculating, ruthless, and finally, as corrupt and untruthful as Trump himself. But in the end, whether any of those cartoon-villain descriptions were accurate or not, she still stood for policies that revealed a morality far, far different than the policies of her opponent, never mind his well-chronicled character flaws.

So let’s be clear, I don’t think anyone in Washington is a saint. They play in an ugly game, and to rise to the top, they have probably done things that they don’t want to tell their mothers about. But you and I aren’t playing an ugly game. We are living this one life, and I, perhaps naïvely, presume that means we are trying to be good people and leave the world better than we found it. In this one life, we get to choose how we come down on every issue, and we get to step privately into that voting booth in every election and vote with our moral compass as guide.

But that’s the problem I am having and why old relationships have become so awkward and challenging. I get to see the election results and know the values and priorities of the people in my community. In the case of family members and some friends, I already know the way they vote, so there becomes no way for me to deny their moral positions. When I do the old, “What would Jesus do?” test and their votes come out on the opposite side of me and Jesus, it creates a crisis of conscience for me. Not because I doubt my political positions, but because I doubt my relationships.

I begin to wonder whether, in staying loyal to the person, I am betraying myself. Am I taking the high road with them but low-balling myself? Their presence in my life–at least on some level–feels like a violation of my principles.

But then they go and muck up my righteous indignation by doing what they have been doing all my life: being kind to me and my family or doing other good works for their neighbors or the world. They tell me funny jokes. They enjoy a walk on the beach or in the woods with me. We play sports together. Our kids are best friends. We take each other’s suggestions on great books and movies. We have an intellectually stimulating conversation or commiserate about our children, all of whom we love and want the best for. They act like friends and family are supposed to act. In effect, they make it complicated.

Humans are so darn messy! The so-called Good and the so-called Bad. It turns out neither is exactly what we call them. None of us are. We are all grey, all wearing one angel’s wing and one devil’s horn, showing them off alternately depending upon which angle someone is looking from. You are this to me, but you are also that. I can therefore not put you in a box. Knowing you requires nuance and perhaps a sacrifice, some boundaries, or even some cleverly placed blinders. That is frustrating because it is a lot more work. It’s so darn much work!

But what is the alternative? Solitude? That is tempting to me on many days, believe me, but I have mostly made peace with my decision to be a (somewhat) social animal. I know that I will have people in my life, and that means I must accept some degree of compromise of my many principles (I do like to have things my way!). It doesn’t mean I will accept just anyone into my life or that my current relationships have not changed from my end. As I said at the top, now that my eyes have been opened to the ramifications of political positions, everything has changed, but most especially my boundaries. But it is a murky task. I thought maybe in the course of this letter, I would come to a hard and fast conclusion on this. Like, “I can no longer commune with these people, even in our superficial way! The moral gulf between us is too wide.” But my heart does not seem ready for that extreme lockdown, even if it has narrowed the pathway in. I guess I have to learn to be okay with a little more messiness, a little more grey than I would like. I have to learn Grace. Grace is hard. But I suppose that is Life, isn’t it? It is not easy, and it isn’t clean. It resists boxes and absolutes.

The entrance of politics into my life has done so much more to muddy the waters. It is no wonder that new studies show that the more people pay attention to politics, the more stressed they are. But I cannot go back to denial. The cat is out of the bag. I have allowed the complexity into my life, and I want to be responsible with its ramifications. So, if you see me on the street and I seem a little wary, forgive me. In all of my balancing between assessment, acceptance, rejection, and practice of Grace, I no longer seem to know how to behave in public. It turns out I am a work in progress.

How about you? How well do you balance your natural feelings for the people in your life with the new information you gather about their character as time goes by? Open up your journal and take a deep dive on this enormous and so-very-pregnant topic. How open and honest are your communications with family and friends on sensitive topics such as politics and religion? Are you able to really say how you feel and challenge them on their beliefs and your differences, or do you remain silent on these topics and pretend your differences don’t exist in order to keep the peace? Whether or not you talk about them, are you aware of the political differences you have with your loved ones? Do you know where they stand on the various issues and how they vote in elections? How much do you think about that? In what ways does it shape your relationship with them? Do your differences, even if unspoken, cause you to keep them at more of a distance than you might otherwise? Do your political similarities bind you together more tightly? Perhaps the dictating factor in all of this discussion regards how much weight these issues–and politics in general–carry in your life? Are you like me and feel very passionately about things like health care, the environment, or gun control, or do you not think much about any of these issues and not care to allow them to shape your relationships one way or another? If you are in the latter camp of not caring, does this idea of politics making or breaking relationships seem silly? Do you believe that politics are really just our moral values put into policy form? If not, then how do you see politics? But if so, why aren’t more people more invested in them? Whatever your level of investment, how do you deal with people you care about who have very different politics/morals than you do? Do you try to change their mind? Does it affect the quality of your time together, or the amount of it? Have you cut anyone out of your life for their political/moral beliefs? If these moral issues are as important as I think they are, shouldn’t they cause more relationships to break up? Do you feel weak or somehow in betrayal of your principles when you allow people with starkly different beliefs into your life and/or the lives of your children, especially if you take their positions to be detestable and their influence a negative one? How do you deal with a racist in your family? What other moral/political characteristics are hot triggers for you and cause you much tension at family reunions or other gatherings? Does a lot of this depend on how long someone has been in your life and how late in the game you learned of their moral shortcomings? For example, if your father is severely racist or your sister nasty to the poor, but you didn’t fully grasp this and gain footing in your own convictions until more recently, do you feel as though it is impossible to change your relationship dynamic with them because they have been with you–and good to you–for so long? Are you able to merge the new information you have with the old and manage the good and the bad, or do you tend to keep focused on only the good or only the bad? How about with new people in your life, like a co-worker whom you have become “work friends” with but then, upon getting closer, learned you were politically opposite? Now put specific political parties or politicians to all of those questions. How do you react to someone when you learn how they voted in the last presidential election? What if you were planning to meet a friend or family member somewhere socially and they showed up wearing a red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hat (or an Obama T-shirt)? Would your blood curdle? Would you say something? Would it instantly change your relationship? Think of the loved one who is farthest from you politically but that you still allow close to your heart. How do you pull that off? How much of it is denial? How much is it that you have witnessed them doing so many other good things interpersonally–being kind, generous, or compassionate–that you let the bad stuff slide? How much is that you are wise enough to see everyone as complicated and messy and that you have learned to just see through to the good and be more accepting of everyone? How do you think this whole issue varies between liberals and conservatives? I once wrote you a letter about my theory that conservatives tend to see liberals more as foolish and overly idealistic–but not morally lacking–whereas liberals tend to see conservatives as morally corrupt. What do you think? Are liberal-minded people more likely to keep the conservative at arms’ length and/or break off the relationship entirely because of perceived moral failings, or the other way around? Or equally likely? Is your tendency to see your politically opposite loved ones as good people who are just misguided, or do you tend toward seeing them as bad people who have done good things for you? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do your relationships change when politics are revealed?

Do your best,

William

P.S. If this letter resonated with you today, please share it with your community. Let us try to better understand ourselves and each other so we can beautify the world!

P.P.S. If this way of questioning yourself is appealing to you, consider buying my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth at your favorite online retailers. Namaste.