I was in the woods the other day — Monday morning — after getting my teeth cleaned. I’ve been on high alert since November 8. An American flag on someone’s front porch sends my mind to the question, “Whose America? Whose flag?”
The hygienist is a woman I see every six months who is always infinitely attentive and kind. Again, my mind fixated on the fact that Donald Trump is our President Elect, and I wondered who she voted for. Was there a chance she was one of the 58% of white woman who voted for him? I didn’t ask.
The dentist came to do a quick exam. I thought about his last name, four syllables that would fall foreign on many English-speaker’s ears, and wondered if he or his children had ever been harassed or worse.
I left the office with no cavities, an appointment scheduled for May, and my little paper bag of goodies — new toothbrush, whitening paste, a miniature roll of floss. Instead of driving back up Main Street to go home and get to work, I drove east to the Amethyst Conservation Area to walk a bit on the Robert Frost trail. The high that morning had been only in the 20s, but by 9:30 the air was already warming and I left my coat in the car.
On the trail, I just walked. I exchanged easy smiles with other walkers, stooped down to give a dog a pat on the head. I also found myself reflexively sizing people up as they approached. “She looks nice,” I’d think to myself, based on something arbitrary like the colors in her hat or the pants she wore or the lines in her face. Sometimes, these are the only cues we have.
If nothing else, this election has heightened something that any marginalized person has known for a long, long time — people might seem “nice,” might in fact be perfectly pleasant and lovely, but until you get to know someone or see them in some context other than, say, their work uniform, or walking the dog, it’s unknown whether they stand with and for you. Trust becomes complicated.
I had gone into woods not to meditate on such troubling and complicated questions, but to meditate, period. To try to find a pocket of quiet in my own hurting and vigilant heart. I walked and tried to bring my awareness back to my breath and the ground beneath my feet and the way my own breath was visible on the air. How good it felt to hit an incline and push myself forward through space! A relief to get a bit winded, to have physical exertion overtake a busy and over-tired mind.
I tried to pray. I even told God, “I don’t know how to pray right now.” And then the message echoed back to me, “Then that is your prayer.” I know better than to think God only listens if I get it right.
The only other clear thing I heard was this: Walk. Hold an acorn in your hand. Do small things. Love the people in front of you.