There Is A Crack In Everything
So far, this is the most heartbreaking Memorial Day of my lifetime. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. There’s so much loss to remember, and it’s so hard to ignore. Growing up, Memorial Day felt like a fun holiday weekend, the start of summer, time for picnics and play. Now, it feels like it should be a National Day of Atonement, a day to grieve and a day to decide what we are willing and able to do about the state of our country and the world. In high school, I learned that after the American Civil War, the last Monday in May was declared Decoration Day, a day set aside for families to visit cemeteries and decorate the graves of their beloved lost. It was a solemn time of remembrance and grief for a country deeply, brutally divided, both politically and socioeconomically. Sound familiar?
A generation later, the day morphed into a celebration of ancestors, with families gathering at cemeteries with picnics, weeding and tidying up grave plots, planting bulbs and shrubs. Family graves were decorated with flowers, while those of military men and women were honored with American flags, reminders that their lives had been given for our country. Over time, it changed again, becoming just another day off for most people. This year, it’s painfully clear that our country is as divided as it has ever been, and the national response or lack thereof to the pandemic, to the mass murder of elders and school children, to the ongoing stonewalling of 50 senators is driving us further apart instead of pulling us together. What on earth are we going to do to make us change?
Rootless & Lost
Part of the underlying problem is the unraveling of the traditional ties that bind. We’ve become such a mobile society that decorating ancestral graves isn’t so easy anymore. We may live hundreds or thousands of miles from family, let alone family graves, and many families are more loosely connected than in the past. Though honoring ancestors remains a significant tradition in many cultures in American and around the world, many Americans have lost the rootedness that made decorating family graves, remembering and honoring family, a natural and comforting event. Instead, we watch in isolation as bullies and bigots and kleptocrats mouth empty platitudes about honoring murdered people, then snubbing or berating anyone who points out their hypocrisy.
We have too damn many lost people to even grieve. It’s too much for any of us to bear. For starters, well over a million Americans have died from Covid19. Since 2020, gunmen (not guns) have become the largest cause of death for American children. Over 90% of children murdered by gunmen were killed in the United States. Four times more Black children are killed by gunmen than white children. A friend was wondering why media calls murders shooters, saying isn’t that what we call soccer scorers? Does shooting a child count like scoring a goal? Why do reporters shy away from calling out the gunmen kill, not guns, acknowledging the person pulling the trigger? I read that in an experiment, a thirteen year old was sent to try to buy various things. Cigarettes? Not allowed. Alcohol? No way. When the teen went to a gun show, however, within 15 minutes, he walked away with a gun, purchased with cash. no questions asked.
Lost & Lonely
Whether we know it or not, I think we’re all grieving the losses of connection and community that give structure to human lives. The more we value privacy and individual rights, the less interest we have in promoting connection or participating in community. Just as habitat destruction can lead to pandemics, the erosion of community cultures opens gateways to addictions and violence, both based in deep fear. Many studies show that addictions and social terrorism are rooted in the lack of connection and community that’s made worse by trauma and major losses. When we are in dire need of connection, we are most likely to end up in a hospital or mental facility, usually with a constantly changing cast of caregivers.
When local parents called for the formation of a proactive, protective group of men to nurture and mentor and support local troubled male teens here there was a lot of pushback, with dismissive people pointing out that we have agencies to handle “all that.” It’s great that there are agencies in place, but there clearly aren’t enough, or their outreach isn’t stretching far enough, or perhaps they simply don’t go far enough to connect with suffering teens. Even here on this privileged, prosperous island, there are kids couch surfing (often unbeknownst to parents), sleeping in cars, camping in the woods. All of them are sad, some are angry, and some are desperate for kind acceptance and loving connection.
Stretching Past Our Comfort Zone
Humans need to be in community. It’s as basic a need as air and food and water. It’s right up there with shelter, as community is a form of shelter for those of us who are accepted. If we aren’t, if there’s no room for us, no warmth for us, then we begin to starve emotionally and often intellectually as well. We are all so hungry for the comfort of community! A few days ago, a group of high school students put on a panel called Young & Queer On The Rock (the rock is a nickname for our island). The students ranged from painfully shy to remarkably articulate and confident, and it was heartening to see the way they all supported each other, with a smile, a glance, a light touch.
One common theme that emerged was that despite increasing outward social acceptance, queer young people often feel isolated and not accepted or welcomed by “the straights.” They spoke about the hard work of teaching their teachers how to be more respectful of queer student, of losing friendships when they came out, and how finding community was a lifeline for them. One audience member challenged this and said, “Shouldn’t you be educating your peers as well as your teachers?” This made me think of BIPOC friends expressing exhaustion with always having to explain. “White people need to do their own work,” one woman said. Yes, and straight people have to do their own work too.
How The Light Gets In
One silver lining of the pandemic social isolation is that when we do connect, the conversation often feels deeper and richer than usual. We are learning how to pay attention in new ways, how to listen to what is and isn’t being said. I’m definitely finding myself listening better these days, inviting insights, feelings, and ideas that emerge more freely in slow, unhurried conversations than in quick check-in chats. I’m having deeply rewarding conversations with my fellow Trans-parents, the kind where we hesitate and fumble for words, laugh and cry and laugh again, feeling nourished by recognition and strengthened by understanding. I’m finding peace and comfort in remembering that we are all broken, that humans have always been broken, and that sharing brokenness can bring us closer together. I can hear Leonard Cohen right now, singing one of my favorite songs, Anthem; “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” So let there be light.