People, it is SO hot outside. Going out is like putting your face as close as possible to an oven that's been on high broil for three hours and then opening the door. You reel back, stunned by the heavy slap of heat; your limbs wither immediately and your skin beads with moisture. Sweat drips down chest and back, the hair at the nape of your neck dampens with breakneck speed. Inhalation makes you wonder if you have or need gills.
I feel enormously grateful to have an air-conditioned home and that the class I taught at Strosniders earlier today was inside rather than out, as it has been for years. Today's was a terrific class- lots of people, friendly faces and new ones, great energy. Thanks to all who came!
I pulled up to the store just after 8am and saw a woman sitting under a tree on the sidewalk that immediately abuts the parking lot. She had two pull-carts with her, each stacked with plastic storage boxes and bags, and strung with water bottles, helpful hooks and straps. She was wearing shorts, and her hair was pulled up in a clip. I could see that the tendrils hanging down her neck were wet.
As I put my car into park, I noticed her lower legs. Her calves were so swollen and reddish purple that I did a double-take. They looked waxy and cracked. They looked enormously painful.
Her ankles and lower calves were wrapped in layers of fresh-looking gauze, but even so, the bandages were stained with what was weeping from underneath them. My heart pinched, and I fought back tears of worry as I ferried my canning pot and supplies inside.
I returned to the car to get another load and approached her gently. "Excuse me, ma'am, may I buy you some breakfast from the bakery here?"
She turned to me, her beautiful blue eyes clear and sparkling. "Oh no, I'm fine. I have some food and water here, and really, it's almost too hot to eat a thing."
"Are you sure? I'd be so happy to help you if you're hungry or thirsty. It's SO hot."
"If you can imagine," she said in a soft, sweet voice, "it was even hotter than this at 3am this morning. I'd just gotten back here from Twinbrook, and you always think it's going to be cooler in the dark, but it wasn't. My goodness, at least there's a little breeze now." She smiled broadly, revealing a mouth missing most of its teeth.
We talked a bit more, and I again offered a meal, but to no avail. I wish I'd asked if she needed some Advil or something, but I suspect that lovely woman would have demurred.
"Take good care of yourself today," I said.
"You too, and thank you so much for the kind offer," she replied.
She was gone when I left class a few hours later, and I have thought about her since, continuing to marvel at her grace. I hope she is OK. I hope she can get some care for her legs. She seems to walk a lot, to carry her belongings with her on those sturdy carts. If the look of her calves was any indication of discomfort, she must suffer so much.
Yesterday, while the boys were at camp, I logged into Facebook and saw a few private notes on Messenger. I clicked the first one open and was so happy to see they were from a friend who I've not seen since the school year ended. I adore this woman and wish we crossed paths more.
By default, I expected a basic check in, how's summer going, what's new. Instead, I read of her fear about the upcoming Presidential election.
"I watched George Takei's video...what a powerful message...I can't imagine the pain those families went through. And now, 'a Mexican is a Mexican.'(1) Can you imagine? My kids keep asking if something will happen to us."
My heart pinched again in a big, yukky way. She and her husband are incredible people. Their children and bright lights, smart and vibrant. She dedicates huge amounts of time to our kids' school. He is one of the warmest, most intelligent men I know. They came to the States because they are talented and were recruited to work here. Because they have so much to offer.
It has not been without sacrifice. They miss, strenuously, their extended families back in Mexico. Where they once had the proverbial village, here they don't really feel they do both because of distance from grandparents and cousins but also because American culture and communities have become so diffuse and inward.
"You can always call me," I've told her many times before. And in her answer I see what so many of us feel: But do you really mean that? Can I really call? Mightn't it burden you?
I do mean it, but I understand her skepticism. And I am heartbroken that her children are fearful, that little kids even think to ask that question. Mine never have. For her family and for so many others like them to live looking over their shoulders, to worry deeply about the safety in tomorrow and next month and next year is, simply, wrong.
Earlier this week, as I slogged through the ugly, hateful, bigoted, fear-based vitriol being spewed from Cleveland, I found myself wondering what had happened to non-partisan morality. To non-partisan compassion. To bearing witness to the plights and pain of fellow people and feeling an innate desire to help because helping is right and good, not because of what team they bat for.
When I see a woman with swollen, red-purple, cracking, weeping calves, I don't see a political identification. I see a human being who needs assistance.
When I hear the anguish in my friend's fears, I don't see Republican or Democrat. I see a human being who needs support and community, who deserves to feel safe.
When I watch the pain in Diamond Reynold's face, the frustration and fatigue and heartbreak flashing in the eyes of oppressed communities of color, the agony in the trembling bodies of wives and children burying husbands and fathers slain in the line of duty, I see humans who have endured violence no one should have to experience.
None of these sights should be political, but all have become so, and that is a national tragedy and a collective moral failing.
The Republicans have tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act roughly SIXTY-TWO times since it was passed in 2010 and rolled out in 2013. The ACA is imperfect; no one disputes that. But since a 2013 high of 18% of Americans under 65 uninsured, we are now at a record low of 9.1% uninsured in that same group. Only by continuing to expand access, lower costs, and increase the ways in which people can obtain health care will we be able to reach more and more people like the woman I met this morning.
My friends are fully legal immigrants. Their fear is not based on being here without permission (not, in short on problems with our immigration system which does desperately need addressing) but instead, and wholly, derives from the xenophobic language embraced by Trump and a sadly huge number of his Republican supporters.
Trump and too many Republicans tell us daily that we are in great danger from all fronts:
Islamic terrorists abroad and at home which means we should ban all Muslims from America; Mexican "rapists and criminals" are swarming across our border to harm us and so we must build a huge wall and shut them out; transgender people want to use our restrooms to access and defile children and so we must shut them out of the restrooms they prefer to use; the threat of death and financial ruin is around every brown and black and progressive corner and so must arm ourselves, renege on the alliances that have helped us stand strong with our allies (imperfectly in financial terms, I admit that, but we are an exceedingly wealthy country) since 1949.
The use of fear and jingoism to oppress and overpower and rule dictatorially is as old as the sun, but it never loses its atrocious glare. That Trump and his cronies would stoop to such depths is appalling; that people respond to his fear-mongering and bigotry with zeal is ugly and craven and scary. Watching the rabid calls and answers from that convention hall last week was terrifying political theater.
Actually, "theater" implies something far less sinister than the Trump-Pence-do-anything-to-get-power crew seems to have planned.
To scream that Black Lives Matter protesters are terrorists and that Hillary should be locked up and then killed for treason (a death threat in my opinion),
to aver that come inauguration the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will be abolished and that a President Trump will appoint judges who are staunchly pro-life and anti-gay marriage in the hopes of overturning Roe v Wade and reversing the Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality,
to continue to claim that climate change is a hoax (per the RNC platform, "we demand an immediate halt to U.S. funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Chang") and that stem cell research must be banned...
These are not ways forward. These are not beliefs based on inclusion and respect for difference. These are NOT ways of ensuring that everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
They ensure quite the opposite and that is neither moral nor compassionate.
We desperately need to do better, and I deeply believe that the best option for our immediate future is by voting for Clinton and Kaine in November.
(1) Back then, they simply said, “A Jap is a Jap,” and we lost our homes and freedom, even though two thirds of us were U.S. citizens.
Today, Trump tells his supporters that a “Mexican is a Mexican.” -from Takei's speech