I like to ask real questions.
When I meet a person and they say, “My husband this...” or “My wife that…” I regularly ask, “Do you like your wife?” or “Do you like your husband?” Generally, people stop dead at this question. Culture demands that “of course” we love the people with whom we have chosen to spend our lives. The question is preposterous, isn’t it? Except when it’s not. Which is more often than you might think.
Another question for which I have great fondness is, “Why do you get up in the morning?” This one is also often met with incredulity and quickly followed with a wry, resigned sound that wants to be a laugh, but is more like a sigh. Because my kids have to get to school. Because I have bills to pay. Because I don’t want to be the kind of person who stays in bed. Because it’s easier to get up than to wade through the merciless head trash that awaits on the other side of doing otherwise.
I feel like you don’t have a right to ask questions like these if you haven’t considered them yourself. These two questions guide my days on this earth. The answers are like a gondolier’s oar, keeping me roughly in the middle of the canal of existence or, maybe, one day, showing me I’m in the wrong canal and it’s time to disembark and seek a new one.
Lately, I’m deeply thankful that my answer to the first question is a resounding affirmative and that “yes” is a wild understatement at that. The answer to the second is a bit murkier. I feel like a person who, at the bedside of their dying loved one, says, “I just need to know that I did everything I could.”
Years ago, I read a book called Don’t Bite the Hook by Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. As she reflected on the 8th century teachings of Shantideva, she laughingly, but soberly offered, “all I can say is at the level of human neurosis, nothing has changed much.”
And so it is.
I look around. I read the news. I see it. We simply can’t resist biting the hook. The hook of anger. The hook of “not enough-ness.” The hook of “what about me?” The hook of fear. The hook of “I deserve.” That bait. That temporary satisfaction. It’s just too much for us to swim past it. A few of us do it and then we slip. Lots of us never even think to do it, but continue our pinball-esque existence, bouncing off the unpleasant toward the temporarily pleasant, all the while overwhelmed with our sense that there simply isn’t enough… of anything. Meanwhile, we miss the reality that we are all sitting upon a seething, cesspool of centuries of harm and suffering and attempts to escape what’s here. In our delusion. In our exhaustion. In our denial, we wonder how we got here.
The truth is that we’ve always been here. And we hate it so much that we just wriggle and writhe and spit and fight to pretend something better is true, all the while harming each other and our chances for anything like peace. Anything like enough-ness. Anything like love.
I used to get up in the morning to “make the world a better place” give or take. Admittedly, the world has set a low bar. But here’s the thing: the world will always be full of fragile, sad, angry people acting out their sadness and anger on others for temporary relief. For fame. For power. For something like comfort.
The world will also be full of optimistic, resilient people with the inner resources to show up to that suffering. People who refuse to give in to the ravages of anger and who know that the greatest fame and power lie inside our own hearts, when we stay with ourselves and with our experiences in each moment, and still remember and nurture the love that could feed all of us; bodily and spiritually.
I get up each morning to see if my heart can be deeply saddened by the experiences that have led Ron DeSantis to make the choices that he is making without feeling “better” than him and to also love the people who feel seen and empowered by his dangerous, harmful choices. I get up each morning to see if my heart can make space for the harm and fear that make Texas Governor Greg Abbott unable to feel the tenderness in his own heart that would horrify him as he puts his pen to hateful bills. I get up each morning because people who wonder “how much it really matters” that an increasing number of states are passing bills that attempt to erase humans who don’t fit their vision of the future need to know that my own friend’s 14-year-old child attempted suicide a few days after the “don’t say gay” bill was passed in his state.
It matters. My willingness and ability to stand in this space and to continue to speak the truth matters. Maggie Kuhn, badass human advocate and Gray Panthers founder said, “Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes.”
I’m starting to forget how my voice sounds when it doesn’t shake.
I get up in the morning because I need to stand for the gorgeous truth of nuance that is this messy, never-ever-binary human experience. I get up every morning because I know the truth of the limitless human heart. I get up every morning because, I will not lie down while the people and the truth that give me inspiration are being erased before my eyes. I don’t know that the world will ever be a “better” place or that it will get there because of me, but I will get up every day until I can’t so I can know that I did everything I could to make it possible.