Sometimes I lie in bed and wait for the alarm to go off. Do you know that feeling? You awaken, maybe you have to go to the bathroom or your feet hurt and you want to circle them around, wake them up so they stop hurting? But your spouse or your cat is lying beside you, and it’s so warm and cozy under the blankets and the alarm hasn’t gone off yet. You’re not quite awake enough to figure out whether this is a brief wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night (I’m sure there’s a German word for that), in which case, you should turn over and finish your sleep; or is it a wake-up-just-before-the-alarm-goes-off, in which case, you should just go ahead and get up because, if you go back to sleep, you’ll wake up later groggy and sluggish. Labeling becomes of prime importance here, a decision that has Sliding Doors implications for your day.
This morning, it felt like the first kind of waking up; luckily my bladder reminded me that it was the waking-up-because-you’re-going-to-burst kind of waking up and I got up. I say “luckily” because yesterday the power blinked. It was the middle of a workday and I was too busy at the time trying to reconnect with the call that had been dropped to check the clocks. When I went to bed last night, I remembered and checked: the time on the alarm clock seemed right and I reset the alarm itself which was stuck at 12:00. What I didn’t check last night that I should have because I’ve been burned by this before, was whether the clock was set to AM or PM. Last night, it was set to AM, which was a problem because that meant that this morning it was set to PM, which means that alarm didn’t go off. And I got up an hour late.
And immediately began obsessing over someone else’s imperfection.
I had watched this person the night before, on TV, get manhandled badly by a slick politician. I knew she was capable of better; and, in my head, I knew all the things she should have said, how she should have faced the camera and called him on his bullshit. And I knew she was capable of that, having seen her do it before. And I was disappointed that she hadn’t. I had been attached to the idea that she could handle this guy or that the moderator would handle him; and they didn’t.
So, even before my feet hit the floor, I was making up stories in my head, what I would have liked to have heard her say; what I would like to believe that I would have said myself. I carried that into the bathroom and obsessed while I brushed my teeth; into the kitchen where I took my pills; into my meditation space, where I set my meditation timer and obsessed for 15 minutes, pausing every now and then to recognize that I was obsessing not meditating. And then continuing to obsess.
Sometimes we get like this. Humans!
And then I started to get attached to my obsessing. What a bad person I am to obsess like this. Yesterday I thought that meditation helped me but today I can’t even let go of my latest obsession for 15 minutes. I must be a fake, a fraud.
How the stories grow.
Only when the timer went off did I recognize how far I had drifted from meditation. My jaw was tight, my shoulders were tight, there was a knot in the pit of my stomach. So I rested a few minutes just in those feelings. And recognized the fear that lay beneath them.
The fear that the pain and suffering that people are experiencing will continue for another four years and beyond. This fear is real. And it drove my obsessing.
The fear is real; my attachment to it – the storifying that I was engaged in – was unhelpful.
If things are going to get better, we are all going to have to let go of our stories. We’re all going to have to let go of the idea that our leaders are any better human beings because they get elected to office. They are going to make mistakes, to have a bad day every now and then, to have an off-night at a debate.
We’re going to have to let go of the idea that all of our family and our neighbors should think and believe and make decisions just like we do.
I have often reflected that the U.S. is so young, compared to other nations. China, Italy, India, Greece, Egypt, Mexico City, Ethiopia, even the U.K. have ruins that are thousands of years older than the United States. The U.S. has often behaved childishly on the international stage – and our people behave childishly at home, always reaching for the marshmallow, even if waiting 15 minutes means we can have two; we lack object permanence as a society. Always having to be the center of attention.
There comes a time when a child looks at their parents and suddenly realizes that they are not perfect. As a teen, this comes with great morale high-ground: you want me to live up to your expectations but you don’t live up to mine! In some families, this takes the form of disappearance, the kid disappears into themselves, into their room, into world of distraction on-line (or, in my day, on the telephone). In other families, this takes the form of open warfare: nothing the parent does is right; any little thing sets off WWIII. One of my nieces perfected the third option: get good grades, develop a healthy social life so she isn’t stuck at home with them all the time, gain their trust – then get the hell out of dodge as soon as she can.
Our parents and children are not perfect. Our politicians are not perfect, our families are not perfect, our neighbors are not perfect. They are all human beings, going through the same BS that the rest of us are going through, seeking the same relief from suffering, having the same bad days. Just because they make imperfect choices does not mean that they are bad people, that we have to change their minds, that it’s our job to control them, to make them better people.
If they are family or neighbors, we can learn to accept their differences while we model the behavior that we’d like to see; we can practice active listening to understand what is beneath their beliefs and learn to speak with patience and compassion about our own beliefs. Or, if they are physically dangerous, we can move away from them.
If they are politicians, we can vote them out of office, replace them with someone who – while also imperfect – can at least get the job done.
We don’t have to start a war.