STFU….Seriously

“Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.”
~Epictetus

A few days ago, I was at the grocery store pushing a cart full of mostly high fructose corn  syrup with a side of kale when a woman stopped in the tracks of her own shopping and with a wrinkled, crinkled look on her face said, “Wow, that’s a garbage cart of food.  If you can even call that food.  That’s disgusting.”

Prologue:  It’s been a long couple of months, right?  For everyone.  It’s like someone with explosive diarrhea has been bent over a fan and the shit just keeps on coming.

But in the grand scheme of things, I have to admit that my struggles have been more akin to inconveniences than anything else.

I am healthy, my family and friends are healthy, we remain employed and alive and the toilet paper situation in my area made a comeback before I had to resort to using a hose or something.  So, while I am most definitely weary and tired and frustrated and pissed….I am also grateful, thankful, hopeful and a bit fired up.  I am 32 flavors and then some.

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As it relates to the Coronavirus, my immediate family and I have taken the position that it’s best to listen to the experts.  And by “experts,” I don’t mean a politician, or the herd, or that guy I went to high school with who took a semester of immunobiology at community college before dropping out to pursue a career in sandwich art at Subway, who knows what’s up.

And I don’t mean that girl who sat next to me in “Human Genetics for Non-Science Majors” my freshman year of college, who thinks that the X-Files was a documentary and believes all will be well if we all just start taking some drug Donald Trump can barely pronounce.

By “experts,” I mean the thousands of medical doctors and PhD’s around the world who have devoted their lives and their careers to the study of infectious disease and SCIENCE.

I don’t expect them to have all the answers right now, because how can they?  But, I expect and believe, they are doing their best to shuttle us through this storm, unmotivated by anything other than the health and well-being of people.

Of late though, it’s beginning to feel as though many aren’t so like-minded.  It’s as if we did our quarantine time and then said, “Fuck-It, Facebook memes and a plastic surgeon from Miami said I can go whoop it up at the bar, so peace out sheeple, there’s a Miller Lite and Cheeseburger in Paradise calling my name!”

Or, those who have taken up shouting, “You got to protest and loot, so I get to cough and sneeze on whoever TF I want at Walmart.”

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Quite frankly, this is just more motivation for me to mostly remain at home.  I figure I’m going to go ahead and let the trash take itself out first, and then we’ll see where things stand.

But look, I get it, it’s not exactly that easy.  On a larger scale, we need to be able to regain some degree of normalcy.  Social interaction and the freedom to roam beyond our own homes and front yards is important.  And I am all for the phased approach to reopening that many states, including my own, have adopted; plans that align entirely with the medical communities recommendations for taking such steps.

For my kids, the lack of social interaction with their peers, especially for my teenaged step-children, has been really hard.  So when my step-daughter broached the subject of inviting her best-friend to spend two weeks with us at our lake house, where we’ve been living full time since March, (yeah, I hear every bit of the privilege oozing off that statement), we decided, after much back and forth between parents, that it would be OK. Like us, her family works from home and they have strictly adhered to all the rules.

“Give me a list of the snacks and foods you’d like from the store,” I told my excited step-daughter as the visit approached….which is how I ended up being shamed by a stranger for my cart full of high-fructose corn syrup.

I paused for a fraction of a second….after the word “disgusting” fell from the woman’s mouth.

And then, maybe it was because she was traveling the wrong way down the clearly marked supermarket aisle.  Maybe it was because she wasn’t wearing a mask.

Maybe it was because I’m just really sick and tired of people who wrap up their nastiness in packages dripping with self-righteousness and ignorance, and launch them at humanity….regardless of whether or not the receiver is interested in catching the gift of their opinion and/or their “right to free speech.”

Personally, I am about as interested in catching someone else’s BS, as I am trying to catch a handful of cat vomit….with my mouth.

Probably, it was those things and all the other things, because I looked her square in the eye and as clearly and succinctly as I could, I said, “Shut.  The.  Fuck.  Up.”

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Her eyes widened in shock and her face turned red as she clearly struggled to adjust to what I’d just said.  This wasn’t the script she’d planned.  She’d expected me to explain myself to her in some way, as though I were obligated to assuage her concerns over my dietary decisions.  Well, fuck that.

Epilogue: This has been the banner under which I’ve been marching of late, on a variety of topics.

Because, let’s be clear about something.  Your right to free speech was never meant to be the excuse you hide behind in order to be an asshole.  If your words and opinions are intended to hurt, humiliate, degrade, oppress, belittle, etc., another human being, you are among the poster people for all that is wrong with our country.  You should be ashamed that this is the way you choose to honor those who gave all.

If I stand up in a crowded movie theater and yell, “FIRE!”  And mass chaos ensues and people are injured as a result, I don’t get to simply shrug and say, “I have a right to say whatever I want, because, America.”

But, I can devalue another person.  I can set another persons soul and feelings on fire, for no other reason than it just happens to be what I think and believe….and that’s OK?  I think any good person would say, absolutely not.

So, STFU, is the sentiment that perfectly sums up the degree of respect I have for anyone who believes they have the right to inflict their own personal feelings and beliefs onto another person.  Especially when in doing so, they are attempting to wield some manner of control over someone else’s life and personal choices and beliefs.

“But what about the value of healthy debate?  It’s OK to disagree!”

Of course it is.  But a person who starts from a place of believing it’s OK to inflict cruelty in any form, isn’t interested in debate, or education, or the broadening of horizons.  They are interested in control.  They want only to force others to surrender and conform and for those who don’t, to be violated, or cast out.

We are all walking some kind of path in life.  Paths that will include all manner of beliefs and opinions and feelings and our paths will cross millions of times with others who are walking their own paths.  Sometimes, we’ll find people we want to walk beside and keep close by.

Other times, we’ll cross paths with people with whom we don’t see eye to eye.  And you know what, it’s really simple to just keep on walking…

The Old Church Pew….

“You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”
~Psalm 119:14

Directly across the street from Ground Zero in New York City is St. Paul’s church.  An Episcopal church that was built in 1764 and is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan.

On September 11, 2001, as the towers fell, the church stood its ground.  Not a single pane of glass in the sanctuary was broken.  Not a single headstone in the cemetery was damaged.  Only one tree fell; a giant sycamore almost a century old.

In the days and then months that followed, St. Paul’s served as a relief site for emergency workers.  It stayed open 24 hours a day, seven days a week for eight months, providing food and rest and a sanctuary for moments of silence and prayer for hundreds of firefighters, police officers, volunteers and other rescue workers.

In 2006, I visited New York City with a group of girlfriends.  We hadn’t specifically planned to visit the site where the Twin Towers had once stood.  It had been less than five years since the attack.  The New York City Medical Examiners office had only recently ceased their efforts to identify remains.  And we didn’t want to be tourists there.

But one afternoon, as we were walking around the city near Battery Park, we ended up close to the site.  Though, it really couldn’t be missed.  The size of the devastation was staggering.

Then, we saw St. Paul’s church, perfectly intact, stoic like, defiant, amidst so much destruction.

It was clear the church was open and so my friends and I made our way toward it.  We walked around the grounds for a while and then we entered the chapel.  Inside were dozens of displays and memorials honoring those lost in the attacks.

After walking the perimeter of the church, we took a seat in one of the pews and a woman approached.

“See all these markings?” she asked, pointing to the large scrapes that rang the length of each pew.  “Those were caused by the boots and belts worn by emergency personnel who came in to rest.”

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I ran my hand along the markings and was overwhelmed by the weight of what those pews had held.  They had served as a place for so many tired bodies to rest and refuel….and for tired souls to pray and hope and cry and rage.

Sitting in St. Paul’s that day, I thought about the hundreds of people from New York and all over the country and all over the world, even, who had come into the chapel in the wake of September 11.  Many religions and faiths were represented in that church, as well as non-believers.   And they sat alongside one another, united in grief and fear and disbelief and anger and hope and love.

It always seems that in the immediate wake of a tragedy, we see the best of humankind.  Strangers helping one another, consoling one another, praying together, making sacrifices for each other and so on and so on.  And we do it regardless of race, religion, gender, or political affiliation.

I think that when it matters most, when we are called, really called to be good humans, we answer the call.  We rush towards those places and people who need us to help in whatever way we can.  Some rush directly to the front lines to offer their skills, others rush to places of worship, or into groups/organizations that are lending their support from afar.  We rush to family and friends.  We organize and we pray together and we just be together and we embrace one another, strangers and family and friends alike.

I was in college on September 11,2001 and later that afternoon, as we students wandered through the day in a dazed fog, I remember being in the dining hall that was unusually quiet as we picked at our food, going through the motions.  Then, another student whose name I didn’t know and still don’t know, stood up and said,“Would anyone like to pray with me?  

And we did.  The dining hall full of students, believers and non, stood and we held hands in a large circle.  He led a very short prayer, followed by silence, in which we prayed across our own denominations and faiths and beliefs.  I wasn’t sure if I felt God in that circle, but I certainly felt a steadying and comforting energy as I shared that intimate moment with people who were otherwise just passerby’s in my life.

A year or so ago, I purchased an old church pew from a large, beautiful church in a small rural town in Maine.  The church had been sold and was being renovated into a mixed use space for the community.  I wandered the aisles of the church inspecting the pews, all of which were still affixed to the sanctuary floor, until I found the one that spoke to me.  Then, I brought it home.

The story about those pews in St. Paul’s church had stayed with me and I loved the idea of bringing something into my home that I think represents a part of what makes us great; the coming together for a shared purpose or passion.

For the last several weeks, we’ve been again watching as New York City, the current epicenter of the pandemic in the US, suffers.  This time though, we’ve been watching from our own communities that are also under siege and we can’t rush anywhere.  Not to one another, or to the places that feel familiar and safe.  We can’t congregate to hold one another up and together.

The comforting energy created when we are able to be together, that urge to connect with touch (a hug, a pat on the back, a handshake, a handhold) is palpable.  Our impulse to rush is as innate as breathing and in our most desperate moments we are, for each other, like those pews in St. Paul’s chapel; holding one another up, offering one another a place to rest.  Together, we help carry the weight of our collective grief and anger and we share our hope and joy.

This experience has left many, myself included, feeling disconnected and alone, even in homes where we aren’t technically alone.  I’m fortunate to be isolated with my husband and our son, for which, I am incredibly grateful.  But still, I miss the casual connections that tether us to community and the broader experience of being a human.  Right now, it feels as though my small family and I are an island of our own.  It feels tenuous, fragile.

In what was normal life, I am as introverted as a person can possibly be, but I have come to realize, in all this, how deeply connected to people I actually am.  How simple, natural, day to day interactions with strangers and friends and acquaintances and neighbors…. interactions I was never even fully cognizant were happening….have always been tiny little strings connecting me to an enormous community.  I’ve come to understand that although I have often said, I enjoy being alone, I need alone time….I have rarely been truly alone.

Of course, true to our nature, we are finding new and beautiful ways in all this to rush to one another, to hold one another up and together.  However, I don’t think anything can replace what happens when we are able to literally close the distance between us.

I hope that when this is over, we have a greater appreciation for one another in every way.  I hope we are softer and gentler and more patient.  I hope the slowing down of life gives us a fresh perspective about what it means to be alive and a part of something far greater than just ourselves.

I think it would be a shame if we simply fell right back into the exact same lives we lived before we were given this opportunity to stop and reflect.  Yes, opportunity.

Because I do think there is room, in all this madness, to consider that it includes a gift or two….