Thursday, February 28, 2019

Fear and Freedom and Fear

I listened to a bit of Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress this morning. To tell the truth, the sound of mature-looking professional men yelling at each other in public wakened long-dormant memories of observing Baptist business meetings with my dad--when I was amazed to see a mild man, whom I had only previously known behind the pulpit or shaking hands, turn red-faced and angry when someone dared question the financial priority of his beloved softball!

When I turned the livestream on again later, a Republican Congressman was forcefully explaining why he didn't care what Cohen said. Cohen's words could not be trusted, he said, because Cohen is a liar. Greedy. A bully. A narcissist. He went on.

I shut the screen off again, because, really? As I learned decades ago from Winnie-the-Pooh, "there is no real answer to 'Ho-ho!' said by a Heffalump in the voice this Heffalump was going to say it in."

I used to love irony, but it has been so sadly stretched the last few years, so turned inside out, so prolapsed as to require surgical reconstruction. It turns out that irony is a kind of inside joke that is far less enjoyable when it is hanging out 24/7 and people are cruising past pretending it isn't even there.

Whatever words are spoken in the Capitol today, they will not solve my larger question:
How do I treat individuals...
      who voted for a sneaking, grasping bully... 
             with the dignity and humanity they deserve? 

Because I sure as hell* don't trust them.

Oh, they may seem like kind, decent people--they may be my neighbors, my relations, (heaven forbid!) my dance partners?--but their ballot choice exposed them as a threat, if not to me personally, then to my children and to other children and to the planet on which my children must live with their peers long after I've taken my leave.

I can imagine that these particular individuals, some of whom I must interact with, bear no malice toward me or mine. It does, however, require the exercise of imagination. Their alignment with a cruel incompetence may stem from ignorance--an excuse which, at best, reveals a deficiency of curiosity so acute as to be actually dangerous. Dangerous to me and to the ones I care about. Dangerous to women around the globe. Dangerous to anyone categorized by powerful men as "other".

The scent of danger on the air puts me on alert. My body stiffens, my heart pumps faster.

Fear. But we are warned against fear.

"Fear is a sin. We are commanded to 'fear not'. God has not given us a spirit of fear..." Jesus! I don't even believe in sin, or god, or spirits. Yet the deep anxiety over fear is ingrained.

"Fear is the path to the dark side! Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate..." Shit, Yoda. You're no help!

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!" Yeah, right.

I've spent the last five years learning that it's okay to protect myself. That my fear can be a signal, that my instincts are a strength, that boundaries are my salvation, that not everyone is safe. And when people show me who they are, I believe them and take precautions accordingly.

What am I afraid of, exactly?

My life is great, after all! I have the intertwined privileges of being white, straight, married, educated, insured, Midwestern and middle-class. So what fear is set loose when I see men yelling at a New York lawyer who is on his way to prison?

Well, rational or not, I am afraid of enslavement. Not literally, though it has come to mind. Of losing my hard-won autonomy. Of having choices taken away. Of being punished for asserting my humanity. I fear coldness and narrowness. I fear losing a debate and with it, my freedom. And it does make me angry. Cages--for the body or the mind--make me angry. Injustice and inequality make me angry.

I saw the faces in Congress today. I know there are plenty of powerful people in Washington, in Kansas, in my neighborhood even, for whom I represent a threat to the fabric of society. With as much glee as they deport immigrants thirsty for a new life, they would put me back in the box where they deem I will be most "fulfilled".

Deep down, that is what frightens me. I may have anxiety about the environment, about global conflict, about economic trends, but small-mindedness scares me most of all. That is why my pulse quickens when I have to share a road or a sidewalk or a room with someone who is comfortable with a government that separates children from their parents, or a god who would barbecue me for eternity. People with an abusive and narcissistic god have grown accustomed to manipulation and abuse. We do not cherish the same values. We are not building the same future. Where I want bridges, they want walls. 

I don't want to live in fear. I want to live bravely, boldly, out in the sunshine. I also want to feel safe.

So... it's a dance.

The humans who remind me that this world is a good and beautiful place, who take risks, who expose truth, people with wise hearts and kind hands, who see with compassion and love without judgement--to them I show my truest self. Them I hold close to my heart. Them I wish well.

And those who--from ignorance or misguided zeal--empower cruelty, and greed, and lies, them I will be on guard against. Because I have known abuse. I have known narrowness. I have tasted freedom and I refuse to go back. I give myself permission to respect my fear. To use caution in the presence of people who have not earned my confidence. To jealously guard my best gifts. To be a wise serpent always, sometimes taking the shape of a dove. Because by fostering my own humanity,  I honor theirs, as well.



  1. I too grew up in a church that worshipped a god of punishment. No matter how rational I become, how educated, I happy, I still get a twinge of fear when I see what is going on in this country. I'm not sure is we ever lose that fear. I suppose in my case, I spent years involved in politics and the peace movement. Guess what. Things got worse. Now I concentrate on the things that are important to me personally. I can't save the world.

  2. Thank you for writing this. I am definitely sharing it. It has been a very difficult few years with my own family, so many of which I did not expect to support brutalization of children, draconian walls, and other thoroughly unchristian (in my view) policies. You really captured the lack of trust that we have now - relationships can never go back to how they were.

  3. Your words have captured my sentiments and experiences perfectly. Thank you for writing this.