Yesterday was Election Day in the United States, and the impossible happened.
Mid-afternoon, I went climbing at the gym to dissipate some nervous energy, and at 54 years old, I became a 5.11 climber.
On my second try, after resting for a bit, I climbed a 5.11a to the top without hanging. It was a first for me, and something I had always assumed was impossible. My reaction was interesting. I was happy, and even surprised, but more important, I felt a shift in my identity — who I believe I am, and what I am capable of. I felt a deep sense of competency, and with all the hormones of achievement running through my body, I felt ready to quietly and firmly take on whatever was coming.
Last night something else impossible happened. Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States in a surprise upset. Though my household opted to not watch the election, we peeked into the New York Times around 8:00 at night and saw the writing on the wall. Trump was winning.
At 1:00 in the morning, I could not sleep. I checked again online and my worst fears were confirmed . . . something I had assumed was impossible had indeed happened. An old, white male billionaire with a love for glitz, attention, money and women-as-objects, a man without any political experience or much emotional maturity would be running the country for the next four years. Markets were plummeting, as did my heart. For a couple of hours, I sat in the dark, looking out the window at the city lights, with a blankness in my soul, my heart trapped under a two-ton weight.
When Barak Obama won the White House eight years ago, that also seemed impossible to me. An impossible leap forward into a more enlightened, progressive society. Perhaps it was a leap too far.
Last night in the dark, I asked myself, “How will I choose to respond to what appears to be the most tragic and regressive turn in American history? What perspective, what response is the most mature and wise I can possibly muster?”
For me, this always means flying up high for the biggest, broadest perspective — for the cosmic viewpoint.
The Buddhist parable of the wise old farmer came to mind. In this ancient tale from Eastern culture, the farmer suffers what appears to be tragedies, and then what appears to be good fortune, and when the villagers wring their hands and cry “How awful!” or clap their hands and exclaim “How lucky!,” the wise old man simply replies “Who knows? We shall see.” And then circumstances shift each time so that the tragedy becomes good fortune, and good fortune becomes tragedy. It is a teaching that points to the interwoven nature of what we perceive as ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ illustrating how fortune sows the seeds of misfortune and visa versa. The cycles of up and down that are intrinsic to this human experience are understood and expected by the wise person. Wisdom does not react with drama, but waits and takes things as they come.
My parents’ divorce in 1986 also came to mind. I was out of the nest, living in California at the time, when my mother told me the news. I was shocked and saddened at first. But the foundation-shaking turn of events created cracks in the veneer of our upstanding, perfect family image that allowed something new to enter — a kind of realness, a grittiness and authenticity that felt like a huge relief.
My new capacity to climb at a grade I thought was impossible has a backstory. It did not happen out of thin air. A key factor in my newfound ability was born out of illness. At the beginning of the summer, I had an overgrowth of yeast break out in my body that I could not get on top of. I suffered a loss of energy, feeling the effects of my immune system constantly on alert, a low level sore throat that got worse after I ate, and constant urinary tract infections. Over the past six months, I employed herbal and other natural methods to kill it and took two courses of antibiotics. I got scared because I didn’t know why nothing seemed to be working. I stopped drinking alcohol, eating cheese or anything remotely sweet, and cut way back on carbohydrates — something I would never have done if eating those things did not make me feel really crappy. Half a year later, I am feeling better, but what happened in the process is that I lost about 8-10 pounds.
When you’re lighter, climbing is much easier.
Today, I am choosing my response to this historic moment in American history. Yes, for me it is heartbreaking — but I choose to sit with the chaos and fear it stirs in me, and watch. Who knows what kind of waking up and leaps forward we shall see down the road as a result? If nothing else, I no longer think anything is impossible.