In these reflections, I find I frequently feel impelled to begin with my own stories, to show the roots of where I have arrived at. So let me say, I am bringing a couple of my own personal truths to the historical moment we now find ourselves in. Chief among them is the fact I was badly bullied when I was in what we now call middle school. The harm it did has taken me more than half a century to work through, to the extent that I can finally tell it out loud, without feeling ashamed or as if I somehow deserved it. It took sending me away to boarding school at the age of 15 to liberate me from that toxic environment. Had that not happened, I seriously doubt I would be here today.
One of the consequences of the bullying, and the fact that people around me did not know how to support me or protect me, was that suicide became a credible option for me in difficult times. I lived with suicidal ideation from my early teens until well into my adult life. Suicide was a recurring possibility, whenever some adversity came my way. Like many emotionally damaged people, I sought solace in substances until they no longer did the trick. At the age of 39, with all sorts of wonderful adventures already behind me, I finally came very close to cashing in my chips. Dear people in my life, and what I to this day consider an act of divine grace, guided me into a 12 Step meeting. I was blessedly able to hear the messages shared there, and the rest, as they say, is history. I will tell anyone who asks, and many who don’t, that the 12 Steps are one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and it breaks my heart when I meet or hear of people who sorely need what is to be found there and can’t receive it.
So, it is an objectively true statement to say I know from the inside what it feels like to be a Victim. It is also an objectively true statement to say I know what it feels like to be a Survivor. Life has given me repeated chances to move forward by stages with the work of healing, to the point that I now consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I am immensely grateful for the countless other gifts and blessings that have come my way – wonderfully exciting and formative educational opportunities, chances to live and study and travel abroad and get to know the world from other points of view, a multi-phase career that has allowed me to connect with lots of different people in different walks of life, active participation in several of the world’s great spiritual traditions, a relationship I am finally worthy of with a most remarkable woman – and none of it would ultimately have mattered much or become even possible, had I not found my way onto a healing path. On that path this Victim became a Survivor.
Now, when the chips are down, this Survivor does not do fear. Been there, done that. Sure, I fear rejection and worry about my finances and whether or not people will appreciate some professional or creative work I am doing, or whether I am being the sort of partner my beloved has a right to expect me to be, or whether I have enough gas to get to the nearest filling station. I went into and came back out of a very serious heart attack that might have sent me packing for good, feeling annoyed and inconvenienced, but not especially fearful. Indeed, I am no longer afraid of death after visiting the Great Beyond, except that I’d prefer it happen at my convenience, when I don’t have other plans. It is from this vantage point then, that I am contemplating the historic moment that is now unfolding before us.
As we begin to process the shock of Donald Trump’s election, I notice high tides of fear are flowing. I mean the kind of fear that can be incapacitating, as distinct from the sober, well-grounded, justifiable fear of what the future holds. There is absolutely no doubt that the Trump administration, with the support of a disturbingly misguided Republican congress, will take steps that will have very bad, very direct, life and death consequences for millions of human beings, at home and abroad.
Given my history, I know what a bully looks like and how a bully behaves. Trump is a bully, no news there. Bullies need two things to really get their jollies, and Trump needs both of them. They need weaker people to pick on and hurt and humiliate, and they need audiences to cheer them on while they do so. “You’re fired!,” after I humiliate the crap out of you; while an audience cheers me on. “Lock her up!,” … while an audience cheers me on. “I grab her by the pussy!,” while an audience cheers me on. This behavior is not going to stop on Inauguration Day. Be it noted too, that bullies are quick to identify and defer to other bullies – lest we be wondering what the deal is between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. We are well advised to be afraid of what he might do to anyone he perceives as weaker, above and beyond whatever policy initiatives he and the new Congress take.
On a very practical level, then, we have arrived at a point in the history of the nation and the world when some very bad, scary stuff is going to happen. Make no mistake. And yet I say, be not afraid. By which I mean, let not your fear incapacitate you, because we need all your energy, all your good will, all your cleverness and experience, all your acquired savvy for the fight that is now beginning. This is not about being desensitized. Share the pictures of the bloodied gay man beat up by Trump supporters. Share the stories about the Muslim man beaten up and murdered in Wisconsin. Share the stories about women having their hijabs yanked off their heads. Share the pictures of hate messages spray painted on peoples’ doors or left on peoples’ cars. Share the stories of kids unable to sleep, because they are afraid of what Trump is going to do to them. Share your outrage with loved ones and friends and kindred spirits.
And yet, be not afraid. Be cool. Think hard about what is to be done to support, assist and comfort victims of such assaults. Go forward, not back. Speak truth to power. Trumpies think it’s a patriotic American thing to do, to beat up on and humiliate women and gay people and immigrants? Spread the word. It ain’t. Get together. Take action. Interfere with every single step the Trumpies take, from beating people up in the streets to depriving people of access to quality healthcare. (Here’s a wonderful sample of how to respond directly in a critical situation, one transferable to other circumstances.)
It’s on us to see that we come through this and out the other side, stronger and healthier and more caring than we went in. When tired, take a nap. When freaked out, breathe deeply. When broken-hearted, find a shoulder to lean and cry on. When frightened, look for encouragement. When bad news comes in, think about how best to respond creatively and forcefully and then get together with others and do it.
We didn’t ask for this, though we also did not do what we might have done to avoid it – namely get down with the “deplorable” people we preferred to despise. We can now get on with the business of fixing that, as noted in my previous post. No matter, for now it’s Game On.
Ready to go.
We can do this.