These days, I am washed over by all the losses of my own, of my friends, and of my country. Like many others, losing a world with scheduled events and responsibilities has not led to my being able to do things I used to say I was “too busy” to accomplish. Being less “busy” means I lose days or whole weeks without making progress on any of those projects and activities I began setting up for myself when the pandemic regimen began. This lack of motivation to do even things I relish, e.g., painting walls or being in my beloved garden for hours on end, propelled me eventually to set up a couple of Zoom sessions with an old therapist. She introduced me to “behavioral therapy” and I set up an Action Plan where I’d write in a little spiral notebook just one thing I was going to do on a given day. Cautioning me against self-sabotage, I didn’t try to have one per day; maybe three in a week. This broke through some lassitude and I finally did things like lay down bags of mulch in my garden so weeds wouldn’t thrive, though I’d remained frozen about the bag so long that the weeds it was to prevent had returned. So an activity that might have taken a few minutes–cutting open the bag, pouring out the mulch, and spreading it lovingly with my gloveless hands–took the better part of an hour. But I did it and felt proud of myself for moving off that particular dime.
I’ve continued to list more projects in my little notebook and even complete some of them. So now I don’t berate myself for procrastination. But my next hurdle made more difficult by not being able to be in other people’s houses or have them in mine turned out to be how to cope with the fact that too many of my old and good friends were having their serious health issues or coping with serious health issues visited upon those they love. But I knew where to turn for help on this kind of loss: I attend a 12-step program that teaches me to concentrate on my own side of the street, and how to love and support someone important to me without being consumed by their pain or sadness. So I worked my program hard and have been able most days to know where I start and stop in relation to those closest to me. And, of course, I turn out to be a better friend because I understand that their pain and sadness is their pain and sadness, not mine.
Then those of us in Minneapolis have had to face the callous murder of George Floyd by a white cop who clearly felt a horrible sense of rightness as he kept his left hand in his pants pocket and his knee on another human being’s neck until and after he stop breathing. Mr. Floyd’s senseless killing became the next in a nightmarish list of names of black men and women shot or otherwise killed by police who almost always go unconnected or punished by the essentially white justice system. All this constitutes loss for me–of the specific and beloved human beings whose lives have been cut short just because their skin is black, and of even a vestige of equality under the law. So I do listen to these individuals’ families and legal teams. And I read books by the likes of Ibram Kendi or Isabel Wilkerson or Resmaa Menakem or Claudia Rankine.
Finally, there’s the world of America in 2020, ruled by a despot who lacks three components I have long argued make us human beings–he has no brain, he has no heart, he has no soul. I understand that it is best if I listen very sparingly to news, even presented by PBS since they must report the same facts as other sources. If his face and voice show up when I turn on the TV, I mute immediately so as to avoid fury and meltdown. But I know what’s happening to what we think of as our democracy, flawed and imperfect as it surely remains. And loss on that large a scale is frightens me. That hovering fear got measurably worse when RBG died and he and his Republican minions raced to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court that means Chief Justice Roberts will lose control of that body. So, even as I wept over the inevitable lost battle over all the cancers that have been visited upon Justice Ginsberg, I looked for ways I can be active.
This last level of loss–of institutions and practices long adhered to by leaders with whom I might not agree but whom I could count on to respect those institutions and practices much of the time–staggers me. A friend with whom I walk once a week said recently “Things I thought were solid have turned into liquid under this president.” That metaphor leaves me putting my smaller losses into perspective even as I honor that they are real losses. And I now believe lots and lots of us are grieving. So we need to think in those terms and not ward off feeling how it feels to be grieving. I want to reach out in ways I still can to tell those who matter to me that they matter to me. And I want to listen to whatever it is they choose to share with me, offering them silent support and promising not to get tired of hearing what hurts. That way a few of my “solids” cannot be melted by the heated rhetoric from the man in the White House or by the ghostly presence of the virus, or by fact that more and more white people in this country are able to admit that institutional racism exists all around and inside us.