Savor Every Sweetness; It’s About to Get Nasty

Waiting in line yesterday at a coffee joint in my small-town Los Angeles suburban village,  I scanned newspaper headlines, and was drawn to the most catastrophic: the likely nomination of the Exxon Mobil CEO — a man with as much diplomatic experience as I (then again, maybe he didn’t spend a semester in Spain) —  as America’s Secretary of State. I wanted to shout FORGIVE US THOMAS JEFFERSON! Instead I emitted a muted groan, shook my head, and looked up to see a friend and her little girl at a table in the corner. My friend was reading the same newspaper. I walked over to them, touched her shoulder, and she looked up, aghast. We cupped our hands to our foreheads. Can this be for real?

Seeking solace, we turned to her daughter, a pre-schooler carefully sipping spoonfuls of oatmeal drowned in whole milk. We let our talk turn to baking gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies, and adopting puppies, and wondering when she’ll get a dog. We talked of things that might suck the poison out of our blood; emergency triage for the soul.

We are just two of the the millions of Americans horrified by each new designated Cabinet nominee and the damage they will do to our country — to our natural resources, to our economy, to our rights — and who are pulled by a primal desire to look away. To bury and busy ourselves in cookies and sweet singing and this little girl enjoying her oatmeal in her rainbow-striped sweater, yellow floral dress, and red and white striped tights. Maybe here in this village, in this coffee shop, in this protected affluence, we who don’t depend on the minimum wage, who can buy water flown in from Fiji if the tap turns bad, who might avoid the initial arrows of hate, have the luxury to look away.

But we can’t. I’m sorry, folks, we can’t look away forever. The world is counting on us.

So let’s get R&R, let’s bake cookies and build gingerbread houses and celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, but let’s remember they are not for hiding in, but for restoring us for the fight.

My friend asked as we parted, “Is your sign still up?” I smiled and said, “Yes. It is bathed and sparkling in holiday lights.” It is adorned for the duration.

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(In case you missed it, my lawn sign got the attention of a neighbor who opined in the local weekly paper that it was “silly” of me to keep it up. Thing was, I had just taken it down. After reading the paper, I had no choice but to restore it, lest anyone think I’d been cowed by the unsigned comment. Here it stands. I still think it’s pretty.)

A Walk in the Woods, aka The Reset Button

If ever a political junkie needed to get clean and sober, now is the time.

I’m addicted to watching the tragi-comedy of the election cycle on CNN/FOX/MSNBC, and it’s taking its toll on my mental health. Sure, it has helped my exercise routine: the horror show helps me stay on the elliptical for an otherwise interminable 30 minutes. But last night I had to apologize to the lady on a recumbent bike next to me for my loud grunted outbursts while reading the closed captioning of Donald Trump’s “press conference” — where reporters aren’t miked, his “answers” are how much everyone loves him, how “amazing” everything is, and how much he loves everyone. BLARGHFF!!!

That stuff poisons my soul. It piles up in stress and disgust and unease. Today I recognized that my spirit needed a work-out that could not be found on a machine in front of a screen, a fix that only the calm of nature could provide.

I needed to take a walk.

“Go outside,” my baby group leader counseled us fifteen years ago, as we exhausted new mothers expressed bafflement with babies who couldn’t be consoled. “Stepping outside is like a reset button for a baby.” It worked. And it works for grown humans, too.

I needed mountains and trees. I needed to run, panting until my chest hurt. So I went to my local State Park. When my shoes touched dirt paths that were still drying out from a recent downpour, I felt my reset button pressed. So simple.

The outside worked its magic. It created space for me to feel gratitude.

Gratitude for purple flowers popping up in patches along the path.

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Gratitude for rotting logs with peeling bark.

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Gratitude for vines climbing a tree.

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Gratitude for a burst of yellow when the path emerged from shade into sun.

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Gratitude for the bend in the path, that concealed where it would lead.

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Gratitude, even, for the discomfort that had pushed me to get here. The reset let my mind roam. I thought about words I might write. Sights triggered happiness-boosting memories of earlier hikes here, playing hooky from pre-school, and leaf races in the creek.

When it was time to walk home, I came across something special and temporary – a “Yarn Bombing” in honor of Women’s History Month: a bold explosion of beauty, color, creativity, whimsy, fun, collaboration, generosity, education, history, values and remembrance, created by local artist/writer/actress/activist/mom/craft-goddess Michelle Villemaire. Each tree honors a different woman in history, from Sally Ride to Sacagawea. And each blanket will be donated to the Downtown Women’s Center when the installation is over.

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IMG_7947And who did I happen to see? Michelle herself, fastening a blanket around a “Little Free Library.” Community wrapped in community.

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Michelle Villemaire poses with the “Rose Gilbert” tree — honoring the late high school teacher Rose Gilbert, with roses knitted by Pali High students

All this goodness came from getting myself outside: out of my house and my car and my TV and my Facebook feed and my head.

But I’m not naive. I know things are not always as simple as “a walk makes everything better.” Problems get thorny. Days get dark.

But the premise holds true: there is always a reset button, there is always a clean slate to be had. It begins with a step outside, a deep inhale of fresh new air, a cleansing exhale, and another step forward. Maybe alone, maybe holding someone’s hand, maybe a little of both. One foot at a time, one step after the other. We can’t know how our journey will unfold, we can see just enough to take our next step. We walk forward, and sometimes beautiful surprises pop up to greet us on our way home.