I’ve learned a great deal in the past few weeks, much of it arising from the recently concluded impeachment trial of Donald Trump. You may find it useful, so here goes:
I have discovered my capacity for hatred. At no time in my past can I recall hating someone. The impeachment imbroglio has changed that: it’s shown me I can hate as intensely as anyone else. I’m defining hatred as wishing someone dead, which distinguishes it from mere rage (see below).
I have now experienced two states of mind that I never, ever want to feel again. The first was despair, which is different from depression, or at least the depression I’ve known too well for 45 years. Despair, as I’ve experienced it—only twice in my life, thank God—is an abyss, utterly devoid of hope, spiraling endlessly downward. I would wish it on no one. The second, of course, is the aforementioned hatred. I can imagine it turning me into a gnarled, bitter, smaller version of myself. No one needs that, least of all me.
I do have the power of choice over these states of mind, but not in the way you might think. For me, the choice has to come from my deepest self. At that level, where I am most openhearted and flexible, there’s no mighty strain or effort necessary, no trying to undo years of conditioning or mountains of hurt by sheer force of will. Instead, it’s more like the turn of a rudder: a small, simple move that can redirect even a large ship. The choice, in my case, expresses itself as a desire: I do not—ever—want hatred to consume me.
I’m holding a great deal of rage, and rage (properly managed) is OK. Psalm 137 is no one’s favorite—it includes one of the most gruesome, violent verses in the Bible. Yet that very gruesomeness says something: the book that Jews and Christians call sacred gives vent to human rage in the face of the worst oppression. I want to be very careful in acting on that rage, but simply feeling it is OK. More than that, it’s natural, and God appears to understand. That’s a message of comfort and hope.
This is the first time I’ve ever had a palpable sense of belonging to a country. Being American, white, straight, middle-class, and male-looking (though non-binary), I have always had enough privilege to find country an abstract construct. Of course we’re free to live however we want, my assumptions went. That’s just the way things are. We don’t need a country to make it happen. Now large swaths of my country, including my president, are hostile to me and ideas I hold dear. I am aware of being American because America for me is no longer a frictionless place to live, and that’s putting it mildly. The election of Donald Trump felt like a giant slap in the face to everything I am, and that slap echoes still.
There is so much more than this. It’s become my mantra for the past few weeks. No matter how dark American life has become, no matter how hostile, no matter how violent or corrosive, there are forces that make it all look very puny indeed. Those forces—God if you’re a certain kind of theist, emptiness if you’re a certain kind of Buddhist, etc.—are good. Very good.
I wonder if all this turbulence can produce some good, like compassion. As a person with privilege, I experience these lessons and wonder about others who are not me. I wonder if African slaves, with their hope (and music) of heaven, were experiencing there is so much more than this. I wonder about countless people without homelands or independence and the rage they must feel. I wonder whether even these tiny glimpses of others’ experience might hone my sense of compassion.
I don’t know how all this turns out. By all this, I mean the state of my heart as well as the state of America. For now I like I don’t know: it forces me to focus on right now, right here—the only time and place where I can actually do anything.