Friday, November 11, 2016

Favorite Pumpkin

Needing the closet space back, I’ve finally been going through a stack of Carlos’s papers and saving the things that made me smile, like a poem dated Halloween, 1992. He couldn’t decide whether to call it “Pumpkin Song” or “Favorite Pumpkin,” and the first stanza is:

I’m my favorite pumpkin
Pumpkin pumpkin
I’m my favorite pumpkin
Look at me (orange me)

The very last thing I put my hands on, this morning, was a love note from the woman he was involved with off and on for 25 years and never really got over. She was out of commission when he was dying, but he did get to see her a time or two in his final months. That relationship was the source of some anguish in ours, as you might imagine, but it seemed fitting that this beautifully calligraphed card—she did all the calligraphy on the Women’s Building in San Francisco—closed my document review project. I decided to save it.

I had a great weekend a week ago. I took a walk with my walking friend, during which we went into the SPCA to look at kittens. I also met F. for a burrito, and we had a very lovely time together. I was going to say that he unaccountably has become very pleasant again lately, but I think I can actually account for it. He does not grasp the concept of “I statements” and can only express angry feelings via accusations. I know what’s underneath, but it’s still unpleasant to be addressed in an overtly blaming manner. He also routinely brings up offenses that occurred long ago, including two things in particular that he brings up over and over and over. In vain have I suggested that we focus our efforts on the present, and to no avail have I apologized for the one of those two things that I believe I was indeed at fault for. But lately it dawned on me in a new way how genuinely painful both of those things must have been for him. Finally, I felt that on an emotional level, and I expressed that to him, and ever since then, things have been much better. Go figure.

Last Sunday, Tom and F. and I went to Berkeley to have lunch at Au Coquelet and then to Berkeley Rep (thank you, Ann!) to see It Can’t Happen Here, based on the Sinclair Lewis novel. It has striking parallels with our situation, at the time, of having a demagogue running for president. Back then, we were positive Hillary was going to win and that we had nothing to worry about. Ah, how foolish and innocent we were five days ago.

On election night, I was on call at the other campus. I saw several patients, but skipped the normal rounding and went periodically to the office to see how the election was coming. I watched with shock as Trump neared and then secured victory. I read what Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times about America perhaps being a failed state. I dreamed of someone attacking me with a pair of scissors.

In the morning, however, hearing Hillary say “I still believe in America” in her concession speech made me cry. I still believe in America, too. Or, at any rate, I was made in America and I’m staying in America, as Jessica Alba’s character says in the last episode of Dark Angel. Running the morning meeting that day, I started by acknowledging that not everyone in the room necessarily had the same views as mine. There were only two students there besides me, both very young, one African American and one European American, and our views actually were the same, but I don’t like to assume. I said, “If one of you voted for Trump, I’m still honored to have you as my colleague.”

I said that on the morning of election day, my mother and I had agreed on the phone that not only did we want Hillary to win, we wanted her to stomp Trump. I really wanted him to get his comeuppance. I was looking forward to never hearing his bloviating voice again. (I didn’t go into quite so much detail in the morning meeting.)

The results of the election, I said, were therefore shocking and disturbing, though I was glad to see that the popular vote was split pretty much 50-50. I said that at bedtime the night before, I noticed that things were exactly the same as on any other night: I put my warm socks on, I pulled the covers up. Trump’s election had not changed any of that in the slightest, and I reflected that I’m just as free to live from my values in Trump’s America as I was in Obama’s America. (Though I might be out of luck one of these days when it comes to health insurance.)

I ended by recounting what Steve Armstrong said at the end of a retreat I went on at Spirit Rock. He talked about being caught up in a terrible disaster, perhaps a catastrophic flood. With the waters rising around us, who would we want to see walking in our direction? He said we can be sure that the flood, in one form or another, is coming, and we can be the person we would want to see coming toward us.

After the morning meeting, whoever runs it send out an email to all the students, staff and faculty saying who is on call at each campus and other helpful information for the day. At the top of my note, I wrote this: “Remembering this morning that I can proceed from my highest values no matter who is president and that I can (try to) be the person I would want to see walking toward me on the worst day of my life: calm, kind, present.”

Sarah, the manager of Spiritual Care Services, did a reply-all that started this way: “Thank you, Bugwalk, and beautifully put. Your words inspire me to share that this morning I too recommit myself to acting from and being grounded in my highest values, including humility and resilience, and embodying powerful love and inclusion in all the ways I possibly can.”

The SCS director’s subsequent reply-all included this: “I too am proud to be associated with such centered, clear-minded, and big-hearted people as yourselves.”
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