This weekend, in the darkness separating Saturday night from Sunday morning, our son’s high school was attacked by a hater with spray paint.
Some thug wrote despicable things. I won’t reprint them, but go ahead and presume the typical hate speech (albeit with 1970’s words), attacking the typical scapegoats: Gays, Blacks, Hispanics, Jews. As soon as it was discovered, a few of the good people of Pacific Palisades removed the chilling words from a mural, from a tree, from the walls welcoming people to Palisades High School. They painted over them on the sidewalk in front of school. I wondered, how could we replace them with kind, inclusive sentiments instead?
First thing this morning, Palisades High students did just that, and their chalk expressions filled the courtyard of the school.
The ugly attack feels like a a piece of the hateful spirit that is infecting public discourse in America 2016. I’ve watched it unfolding with horror and dismay, but done nothing but wring my hands and worry. Today we were reminded of the lesson that bad things happen when good people do nothing. That standing by is not an option.
That’s easier said than done. What do we do? We organize, we speak up, we vote. We teach our children tolerance, and we let them teach it right back to us. We take the high road, peacefully, like the young people of Palisades High, who responded not by hurling louder epithets, nor by raging when they may have wanted to, but with loving each other more loudly.
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.
Gratitude for rotting logs with peeling bark.
Gratitude for vines climbing a tree.
Gratitude for a burst of yellow when the path emerged from shade into sun.
Gratitude for the bend in the path, that concealed where it would lead.
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.
And who did I happen to see? Michelle herself, fastening a blanket around a “Little Free Library.” Community wrapped in community.
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.
Let me warn you: if you want to find a heat wave in summer, follow us. Two summers ago, our arrival in Barcelona ushered in one of that fair city’s hottest summers ever. Now in the birthplace of our own country, we are at it again, but this time with the blessing of central air conditioning awaiting us at home.
Even sitting inside with a fan blowing on me, simply reading The Weather Channel’s weekend forecast from two days ago is enough to make my skin shimmer with heat goosebumps:
It’s not as bad as it sounds, really. (See aforementioned air conditioning.) There is plenty of great local ice cream (hello Zebra Striped Whale!), our great-aunt and -uncle’s swimming pool is right around the corner, and tomorrow — barring the arrival of predicted thunderstorms — there will be tubing in the Delaware River.
This morning, we got an early start for a bike ride along the D&R Canal. The clouds that carried the idle threat of thunderstorms kept the bright sun at bay.
With bikes rented from Greenway Bikes at The Nelson House, just inside the entrance to the Washington Crossing State Park (on the New Jersey side), we rode along a tow path that for most of the 19th century was the “freeway” for commerce from Philadelphia to New York. (I mention this fact to our kids in the hope that some history will seep in, anticipating the 5th grade American history curriculum, but mostly I think they’ll remember the chocolate croissants they later got at the Lambertville Trading Company in Lambertville, New Jersey.)
(An ironic history sidenote: When we arrive in Lambertville, what do we see but the “James Marshall” house? Lo and behold, it is the house where a young James Marshall lived before setting off for California and igniting the California gold rush with his discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.
So it seems we are still meant to be reviewing 4th grade history.)
As we continue our bike ride, we pass a pair of joggers or bicyclists only every five minutes or so. It is peaceful enough for me to hear the loud whoosh of cicadas in the trees. Emmett offers me the exoskeleton of one.
As we ride I catch glimpses of the calm Delaware River through the thick green foliage on my right. I can’t help but think of the very different bike ride I took just last Sunday, along the Pacific ocean from Pacific Palisades through bustling Santa Monica, crowded Venice, along the oft-graffitti’d Ballona creek all the way to Culver City, trying to keep up with my father’s quixotic goal of riding to his “ancestral home,” where he lived until he was nine years old.
As we rode along that beach bike path, the spray of the Pacific at our side, my father kept saying, “feel that natural air conditioning” and beaming his widest smile. He knew that those ocean breezes would not be accompanying his daughter, son-in-law and grandsons on our trip, and he wanted to be sure that the refreshing air would be a vivid, sweet reminder of what we have to welcome us when we come back.
Until then, I’m on this path with my family, and we may be sticky, but we’re still smiling.
On the wall above my desk, over my right shoulder, is a framed homemade Obama lawn sign created last October by me and my young sons. Bold block capital letters outlined in black markers, filled in with red and blue crayons, it said everything we wanted to say: “OBAMA.” Right next to that is a framed poster saying “Yes We Did. November 4, 2008.” My mom and my sister have matching posters.
Down the hall in the kitchen, a Hillary Clinton button still shines on a bulletin board crowded with family pictures, Bar Mitzvah invitations, and newspaper clippings, revealing my initial hero in the last Presidential campaign. My mother and I vied to be Hillary Clinton delegates to the Democratic Convention. When that didn’t pan out (for any of us), my mom and I hopped an airplane to canvas door-to-door for Obama in suburban Las Vegas.
I think you get the picture. I’m a born liberal. A lefty. A political being. I’m also a lawyer, a person comfortable with words, persuasion and argument. At least I should be. But start in on the merits of any emotionally-charged policy debate–health care, anyone?–and I go all floppy in the head. I forget my facts. I fall apart.
It is so embarrassing. I need a Democratic Toastmasters. Because when the facts start flying, I’m like the post-season Dodgers with runners in scoring position: I choke. I don’t get it. I should be able to hold my own against Limbaugh-ites and Fox-heads. But when the debate starts, I get so riled! My cheeks flush, my blood heats, my veins burst. My politics live in my heart.
Lucky for me, I know some others who don’t get flustered this way. When it comes to the health care debate, here is one person who said what I would have liked to. Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben of Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, California, nailed it. We are our brothers’ keeper. Lives are at stake. We cannot stand idly by, or we are complicit. And, oh yeah, government does a pretty good job with this sort of large scale thing. Check out the whole sermon/speech at http://www.kehillatisrael.org/prayer_holydays.php?id=2129 And when I find some more good posts, I’ll add them.