I haven’t written much about my experiences or feelings navigating the last four or five months. I still have a lot to work through before I feel clear enough to discuss my thoughts regarding the traumatic closure of my business, my scramble to keep afloat, the uprisings all over the country and the way our mainstream political discourse has changed. I’m still struggling daily. Every crack and flaw in our feeble system has finally been exposed. Watching and living that reality through sober eyes has been an experience. It will continue to be for some time. Accepting that new reality is where I currently reside on my grief journey.
In the face of challenge or trauma I place myself in a constant state of motion. I’ve learned this through years of writing and a year of weekly therapy. Moving fast helps me to feel productive, like I’m in total control, which I understand is rooted in a deep history of societal ideology promoting capitalism and individualistic bootstrap culture in this country. The guilt I feel is constant; it’s enough to make me sick to my stomach at the thought of possibility of failure. It is with me daily. Were my parent’s sacrifices for nothing? If I’m not producing something, I feel worthless. I would be lying if I said that being Mexican / American – the daughter and granddaughter of people who worked hard and sacrificed everything to give me a better life – hasn’t influenced my relationship with work and my value. With production and permission to exist. It has. The extent to which I feel these things is something I’m working through now. And it’s tough.
I’ve gone through months of feeling unpredictable and intense emotions. And months of trying my best to stay busy and channel them into something tangible and useful. But for the last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling something different. Something that I couldn’t name until earlier this week when I listened to Rob Bell’s podcast episode “We Hung Our Harps” on The Robcast.
I listened to it three times.
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for
our tormentors demanded songs of
they said, “Sing us one of the songs
How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?”
Although I was raised in a strictly Christian household, I am not religious. I fall somewhere on the scale between atheist and agnostic beliefs. What I appreciate about Rob Bell is how effective he is at using the bible to teach lessons that make sense no matter what your religious beliefs may be. However problematic, these words spoke to me, on a symbolic level. They helped me to begin processing that emptiness I started to feel a few weeks after being back to work. I feel disconnected from everything that was taken from me so easily. From my job, from my business, from my relationship with work and to the part I play as a cog in a larger broken capitalist system in this country – that does not care if I succeed or fail.
Bell made two specific points in regards to the Psalm above that gave meaning to my feelings of emptiness and disappointment. The first is that we are on the cusp of a great, collective “lament.” We, as a country, had the opportunity to make something great. To use our privilege in this world for good, and we largely did not. We blew it. And now we’re here. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion.” We’re mourning many of our privileges, but also mourning our fantasies. The ones we had about who we were as a country and “how far we’d come.” I feel like the first stage of this lament began for many of us, after Donald Trump was elected. Bell acknowledges that even those of us that are critical of our country and it’s flawed systems still, on some level, believed at least something about what our place in this world was. What the United States could stand for, what goodness we could pull together to do if we used all that power in the right ways. We were capable of so much good. But the reality of what’s happening doesn’t reflect those beliefs. I had this personal moment of reckoning when I was thinking about the Muslims currently in internment camps in China. My immediate though was: “How can we help anyone else when we can’t even help ourselves?” I had never felt that way before. Before, I could either be proud of our country or disappointed in our country. Helplessness was an emotion, as an American with white privilege, I haden’t spent much time feeling. “There, on the poplars, we hung our harps.”
A great lament. A mourning for what we had, and what we thought we had.
An acceptance of our painful failures.
The second point that Bell made was in regards to exile. Exile can be a literal, physical banishment from one’s country or home. Or it can be an emotional expulsion. The anxiety I feel knowing that as a US citizen, the mobility and “freedom” that we’re used to owning has been largely curtailed, is intense. What a privilege we had. But the emotional exile is something interesting. A feeling of banishment, of loneliness, of losing the little faith I had in this country to keep us safe. The safety net I thought I had just doesn’t exist and that, more than anything, feels like abandonment.
I’m not bringing up these points to focus only on the negative, or to wallow in self pity. I bring these up to hopefully help others recognize that that sadness and grief for what we had, and thought we had, is real. And it will likely get worse and more intense before the upturn. But that’s the beauty about a lament – a loss, a grief process – once you allow yourself to feel it, you can move through it. With a clear head and a stronger heart you have the freedom to create something better, something new and previously assumed to be impossible. My hope, for all of us who make it to this next chapter in United States history, is that we have the courage to mourn what’s lost, let it go, and build something compassionate and new.