“Well some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown…”
~ Tom Petty (1950-2017)
I cried at my desk today. The tears fell quietly as I was reading…
About Las Vegas.
The Virgin Islands.
West Coast wildfires.
About the genocide against the Rohingya people in Mianmar.
The violence inflicted on innocent people by Spanish police during Catalonia’s elections for independence.
The relentless disease of racism in our country.
The brutality and militarization of American police.
The mass incarceration of black and brown people on American soil.
About our national addiction to the right to bear arms over the right to live free from the fear of violence.
The destruction of the EPA because who cares about climate change when there’s money to be made.
Last night I cried into my daughter’s belly as we listened to Tom Petty, who may have, in that moment, been breathing his final breaths. I remembered details of when I’d seen him in concert in 2009, on one of the most beautiful spring nights I have ever experienced, watching the most gorgeous sunset over the San Francisco Bay. Quite possibly the most incredible live performer I have ever seen and heard.
Last night it felt as if all of the rock stars of my childhood and teen years in the 1970s and 1980s were being taken away, one at a time. Last night I felt every single one of my years, hyper aware that when you’re in your forties, the people around you start to die more steadily. Should I be getting used to this by now?
Today I learned that a childhood friend had died of cancer in the past year. That was the piece that got me in that deepest place in my gut, and then the tears fell more quickly, less gently.
A dear friend recently told me that she thinks my “heart and mind have tremendous capacity.” Most of the time I think I can hold all this, the deep pain that is all around me.
The wounds I know my refugee clients hold from their experiences escaping war and losing everything they had known before.
The brokenness and injustice, in plain view or hidden, in every corner of my city, my state, my country, my world.
The image of the two black people who were pulled over by two white cops a few weeks ago when my family and I turned a corner in our car and we pulled over to film what was going on, just in case things went south and somebody with dark skin ended up dead. Thankfully they didn’t this time, but the imprint of the potential injustice that was happening before my eyes as the cops searched the car for what…? An excuse to lock up – or kill – two more black people for a broken tail light? For driving while black?
When I was younger I used to feel like a sponge, super sensitive to all that was around me. But I’ve learned with age that it’s possible to connect with the pain all around without being quite so absorbent. How to hold the pain without it getting stuck inside. Still, though… Last week I took Facebook off my phone, with no regrets. I needed the reminder that I am the one in charge of what information I take in, and when.
* * * *
Last Friday night and Saturday was Yom Kippur. For the first time in many years, I felt moved to actually fast completely. I still drank water so that I wouldn’t get a three-day headache, but this year it felt good not to put anything else in my body. I also powered off my phone for the day, which felt amazing. During breaks from the services I read and wrote in my journal. I walked around and talked to people. I sat with two very tiny babies and their moms whom I’d just met.
I cried a lot. Not just during the Yizkor memorial service, but at other moments too. While the most incredible cellist played the Kol Nidre melody, accompanied by organ and choir and cantor, and even more magically, when he played the melody solo. While I closed my eyes and connected with each of my relatives who have died, picturing each of their faces in my mind’s eye, feeling them close.
The veil between life and death feels thin at Yom Kippur, and I held both the humbling awe of that understanding and the comfort of feeling held by my ancestors and even my tiny baby daughter who died before me.
I don’t take any of it for granted. I’ve been through hardship, tragedy, loss and struggle. I know how incredibly lucky I am for the stability and goodness of my life. For all of the people I get to love and hold dear. For my health. For my home.
For my life.
It feels like an incredible responsibility, to hold that gratitude along with the awareness that things are so bad and so hard and so incredibly messed up in so many places outside my safe little cocoon.
The awareness that there is so much work to be done, so much light I need to summon up and magnify to help balance out the dark.
And the awareness that it is all so temporary and fleeting. And so precious and beautiful. Even the tears.