This period of protest and national dialogue should make me feel hopeful but, so far, it makes me more despairing. It reminds me of the racism my son, Gabe, has endured over the years in our “liberal” Bay Area community. It reminds me of the anger I feel for the times I have tried to talk about racial issues and gotten the message that I should move on. It reminds me of the shame I feel for the times I could have done something and didn’t.
In spite of my best efforts, I still think like an economist. Don’t ask me whether that thing is too expensive. Ask me whether it’s worth the price, or whether spending a dollar on that thing is better than spending it on that other thing. During this *unusual* time, the spenders among us are probably thinking a little more like this. Maybe we don’t need 12 pairs of jeans and 30 pairs of shoes. Maybe we don’t need to spend $160 on hair color every month. Maybe we should use the money to plant a garden or support the local food bank. Maybe we should put it away in case one of us gets laid off….
Last month in Mexico, my friend, Pepe, who has four kids, lost his job when his gringo employers decided to abruptly leave Mexico. Closer to home, two of my nieces are working from home with toddlers who insist on acting as personal assistants. We all have stories like this, some tender, some tragic.
My own story changed on March 14 when I boarded one of the last flights out of Morocco a few days after my sisters told me, wisely and somewhat *emphatically*, to come home. If a global crisis hadn’t intervened, I would be in Portugal walking the Camino de Santiago after two months in Central Asia and the Middle East, before heading to who-knows-where.
I see a lot of news articles lately that feature lists of books we could be reading right now. Many feature dystopian novels, heavy classics and slogs through history. Some are books you think you should have read by now or those that will remind you of your worst fears. The Plague. War and Peace. Steven King. Cormac McCarthy. Thucydides.
I don’t want to read that stuff right now, and, for many of us, it’s hard to read anything. People talk about feeling too distracted by worries and the barrage of news. We are slowed down by over-eating, the world’s lowered expectations of us, and an unfamiliar kindness toward ourselves.
On this Mother’s Day, I am going to begin with a story that makes me cranky but I will end with one that makes me happy. So, as Rachel would say, stay with us.
A couple of nights ago, a reporter on national news (it was Lawrence O’Donnell) told the story of a young friend who left her job to help care for her disabled father. The reporter suggested the nobility of this young woman’s sacrifice and the tender irony of a 25 year-old sleeping in “her childhood bed.” The story concluded with the young woman’s observation that, during this period of “new worries,” her neighbors “swing well away” to give her father’s wheelchair more room than usual on their daily walks. The reporter suggested the neighbors’ gesture was evidence of American “love” and “solidarity.”
I cried yesterday but not for the reason I would have predicted. To put my crying in context, I have been traveling nonstop for four years partly for the kindness and connection I discover in other places. I can find these things here at home. It’s just easier to find them in places that are new and different, where I have to pay more attention. And, honestly, it’s easier where the dominant feeling is a little softer than my American culture these days. (Something like that….I was supposed to be in Saudi Arabia today).
After five years of travel, I am not on an extended vacation. The road is my home. It is like religion to me because it helps me fill in some of the gaping holes in what I know and believe. It feeds my spirit and challenges me. But now, I realize I may not be able to travel for what could feel like a long time. Although I don’t know how, my life is going to change.
I am still in Singapore and I still have a little jet lag so last night at 3am, I started reading the news. And I noticed something by accident — the photos on top of the headlines seemed to be all white men. This surprised me partly because the news feed on my phone, Flipboard, only sends me articles from what are generally considered to be left-leaning news organizations, like the NYT, The Nation, CNN, MSNBC, and The Atlantic.
So I did a little survey. I flipped through the first 50 articles and counted how many photos showed only white men. And guess what?