November 21, 2018

I have some experience with this. Awkward teen years. Married young. Divorced. More breakups.

They suck. They’re like the flu. You feel like you’re going to die, and then eventually… you realize you didn’t. You are quite alive, and feeling better feels so good.

My busy day unexpectedly paused as a much younger acquaintance shared with me his very fresh breakup. Anger and hurt spilled from him in words I could recite from my own history. I barely know this guy, but we were suddenly in his grief together.

Instinctively I felt deep faith he would be okay, a faith he can’t muster yet. It felt useful to absorb all that energy, just listening and allowing its discharge, as others have done for me. It reminded me that at some point, I have let go of similar things. Many times.


My body simply let go when it was ready. Until then, I did stuff. Healthy stuff. Unhealthy stuff. Stuff that drew tears. Stuff that tapped deep joy. Stuff that made me feel whole. Stuff that made sounds echo in my hollow parts. Healthy choices on better days. Unhealthy choices? That’s what forgiveness is for. Sometimes you have to forgive yourself for treating you like shit before you can forgive someone else.

I got home late tonight and the Internet bestowed on me an 11 year old episode of This American Life (episode 339). If you are in that anguished place, either from a small breakup to the nastiest divorce, listen to it. You’ll feel less alone. I promise.


The East Side of Town

November 5, 2018

Uncensored by Zachary Wood – never has a book spoken so deeply to my love of argument, and faith in it as a means of change.  How this man became driven to engage in difficult conversations at a young age is stunning.

UncensoredThe poor quality of our public discourse worries me.  Often political and moral debate ignores the dangerous kernels of truth in the opposing side.  Those kernels grow in people’s psyches, uncontested under a cloak of secrecy because we are afraid to discuss them. They fester and drive the horrid beliefs we never seem to eradicate.  This man’s relentless pursuit of debate and sound argument to combat destructive ideas embodies the power of intellectual discourse.  He is committed to understanding his opposition as a fellow human being.

In 1997, a close friend of mine was murdered in her home.  The crime remained unsolved, and baffled all who knew her and touched that investigation.  Last week, an arrest was made for the first time, based on a DNA match.

While still digesting this unexpected milestone, I saw The Hate You Give with my three teenagers. It depicts well how we apply the simplest explanations to the most complex problems, assume victims are culpable in their abuse, and fail to acknowledge suffering because we cannot handle the discomfort it stirs in us.

Over two decades ago, the shock and grief from my friend’s murder rewired my brain and changed my life, and my experience is only a fraction of the trauma inflicted on her family.  I did not find her in that state or witness the event. I had no reason to fear for my safety, though I did because the unknowns were so frightening.  My experience pales in comparison to living in an environment plagued by violence, fear, poverty and desperation. My trauma was nestled in a privileged existence, and I still walked around in a fog of grief and shock for the next two years.

With sudden access to a suspect’s name and face this week, I could not stop staring at the image.  Who was this guy and how did he come to be in her home that night?  What was his story that he could be capable of such violence?  Why her? It is just a photo, a mug shot even.  In it I see a dejected and sad man – not what I expected. Then I am trying to extract from a single photo answers that may never come.

Our social and justice systems sit entirely on the notion that violent crime comes from evil. “Evil” is a fantastic, unmeasurable scapegoat for all we hate and feel powerless to change. We have no public systematic understanding of mental illness, trauma and suffering as root causes – not for a hardened criminal, and not for a deranged president.  We throw violent criminals in prison, a hot bed of trauma, suffering and human degradation.  We have the opportunity to study their cases, interview them, provide mental health services to inform interventions in communities, but we don’t.  We could focus on rehabilitation, but we don’t.  We throw away the key with proud vindication, and sleep softly in our safe cocoons.

Don’t get me wrong.  Assuming this man is guilty, I want him in prison.  I want anyone removed from society who poses a threat.  But his incarceration will not bring her back.  Somewhere there are kids who will become like him one day, whatever “like him” means.  When are we going to work toward prevention on a massive scale?

Zachary Wood is committed to having uncomfortable conversations, and there is nothing more uncomfortable than viewing our worst enemy as a human being.  Once we dehumanize those we oppose, our delusion prevents us from understanding the problems we need to solve.

In the midst of processing all this, a friend of mine messaged me to proudly share having voted early, right down the legalize cannabis party line.  If you review the Minnesota ballot for Tuesday, you’ll notice multiple party names reflecting the legalize cannabis sentiment.  It is not a party line.  It is a mishmash of petulant, disjointed distractors.

My friend believes his vote will contribute to the dismantling of the two party system.  It is interesting to me that third party candidate history has the most impact on elections across the time in which we have become increasingly polarized, and yet too many believe voting for a party they know can’t win is the path to meaningful change.

Many people believe we should burn the system to the ground and rebuild it better.  In this climate, how could we possibly agree on how to rebuild it, and how long would that take?  This mentality turns a blind eye to how divided we are, and the significant risk a non-functioning government poses to the US.   To lean on simple answers and ignore the profound complexity of our government is irresponsible ignorance.

Want to dismantle the two party system? Reconstruct it from within rather than throw pebbles at the structure holding it up.  Consider a compelling argument for the impossibility of that effort, and more strategic steps to take.

Don’t throw away your vote out of exasperation.  People are suffering who don’t have the luxury of choice that you do.

Whatever your vote or your beliefs about where we should go from here, I hope you’ll consider the humanity of your opponent and the suffering in this country greater than your own. I hope you’ll consider the immediate impact of who is in office.  I hope you’ll go to The East Side of Town and see what is needed beyond yourself.