Emotional Survival in the Time of Covid, Donald Trump, and the Murder of George Floyd
There’s an image I visualize of my strength and of my ability to survive. I picture myself like a circus performer, a trapeze artist. I’m high in the air, ascended to levels that could pose great risk to life and limb, but below me is my safety net, thick rope woven together in an intricate, orderly, beautiful pattern, there to break my fall against all of the assaults of life that might throw me off balance, or thrust me into hopelessness and helplessness.
Hopelessness and helplessness are not foreign states of being to me. I know depression — deep, consuming, all encompassing depression. But over the years I wove that thick rope web to keep me from ever descending into those depths again. The net is woven of loved ones, of inner peace, of the wisdom of the ancestors who came before me, of creativity, beauty, of adventure, of fun, of all things that bring happiness, strength, and resilience. But the net isn’t invincible. Nothing in this life is invincible. Injuries to psyche, soul, and body can create tears in the net. But I stay present. I watch the net, and when needed I take out my needle and thread, and I sew what has been torn.
When Covid first hit and people began to die, the net tore. I stopped, as the solitude, spaciousness, and time of quarantine gave opportunity to do so. I took that solitude and time to descend from my flying trapeze and sew the torn net. With the net shored up, I ascended back to my trapeze, more tired than before, but still able to fly, and flip, and swing high above the ground where hopelessness and helplessness reside. When it became clear that President Donald Trump was as callous and as foolish as we had known all along, and that his inability to lead this country in Her moment of crisis would lead to more death and despair as Covid ravaged our country, the net tore. When I saw white men with assault weapons raging against public safety measures put in place to protect the vulnerable against Covid, the net tore. But once again, I climbed off my flying trapeze, returned to the net, and I sewed. I sewed with my respect for the strangers whom I wanted to protect from Covid. I sewed with the voices of my friends and family. I sewed with my love for my children. I sewed with the warmth of my pets curled in my lap. And back to my flying trapeze I climbed.
When George Floyd was murdered under the knee of hate incarnate wearing a blue uniform, and I bore witness through 21st Century technology, a gaping hole was torn in the net. It tore so far and so wide, I feared the dangers of just climbing down to inspect the damage.
But down I did climb, despite being unsteady as images of the Devil obscured my vision and my own rage made me unsteady and vulnerable. Down I climbed as angry tears burned my eyes as the abused and murdered bodies of generations of black men, women, and children screamed for justice. Down I climbed as history and abstractions became humanized and concretized. And once again I sewed the net. I sewed the net with marches and rallies. I sewed the net by listening more, reading more, and learning more. I sewed the net with long conversations about how now we can do better. I sewed the net by making vows with myself and with God to never look away from what is ugly at the hands of humans that look like me, and always to fight in alliance with humans who look different than me.
When my children put themselves on the front lines of the fight for social justice and I feared for their safety, the net tore. When the Devil tricked the masses into seeing the Black Lives Matter movement as the enemy, as nothing more than rioters and looters, as an infestation to be exterminated, the net tore. As warriors for social justice were beaten, bombarded with rubber bullets, and tear gassed throughout America by those sworn to serve and protect, the net tore. When vehicles ran down peaceful protestors, the net tore. When police cracked the skull of a 70-year old man in front of City Hall in Buffalo, NY, the net tore. When Kyle Rittenhouse shot two people in the streets of Wisconsin, the net tore. When the gentle soul, Elijah Jovan McClain, was murdered by police as he told them he loved them, the net tore. When not one officer was indicted for the murder of Breonna Taylor, the net tore. When Americans fought each other on social media and in their own homes over whether or not black lives even matter, the net tore.
When teachers were forced to return to school buildings with no real assurances of safety from Covid, the net tore. When friends lost their parents to Covid, the net tore. When I was infected with Covid, was sick for weeks, and fatigued for months, the net tore. When 74 million people voted for Trump in the 2020 election, the net tore. When Trump spread lies of election fraud, the net tore. When people believed the lies, the net tore. When Americans stormed the US Capitol and the possibility that democracy could be stolen by fascists became more real than ever before, the net tore.When the outcome of the second Donald Trump impeachment trial was already decided before it even began, the net tore.
And I sewed. And sewed. And sewed. I sewed with every reserve of energy I had. Too tired to talk, I texted friends and I sewed. Too tired to laugh, I cried and I sewed. I dug deep into my roots and I sewed. I opened up my veins and I sewed. I cut off oxygen to all non-vital organs and I sewed. Finally I stopped, and I looked. The net is still there. It is not beautiful, but it’s there. The once orderly pattern is chaotic, but it’s there. Hopeless and helplessness have been kept at bay. There is still a net. I have not given in and I have not given up. But at what cost? What has been the cost to stay present, bear witness, and to sew? What am I with my roots torn? What am I emptied of so much blood? What am I, so short of breath? What am I, no longer even bothering to climb away from the net to the flying trapeze, knowing before long I’ll be climbing back down to sew again?