When I worked on the AIDS ward at San Francisco General in the mid-80s I was asked to go up to the locked unit on the seventh floor, where patients with mental health issues were admitted. As I approached the patient’s room, I saw a sitter outside, which meant the patient had recently tried to hurt himself.
When I entered the room, I met Roy. He had a cast on his arm and he immediately started telling me his story, how he’d been kicked out by his Texas family for being gay and had taken a bus all the way to San Francisco, how he couldn’t find a place to live once he got here, how there was no one to help him, how he had a terrible cough that wouldn’t go away, how he’d come to the hospital, was told he had AIDS, how he knew that meant his life was over, how he took another bus out to the Golden Gate Bridge, walked out to the middle and jumped off.
He told me that you don’t pass out before you hit the water, that you know all the way down what you’ve done, that as the water got closer and closer he wished he hadn’t jumped, and then he landed and passed out.
When he opened his eyes, his arm hurt really bad, he was laying on the deck of a boat and four men wearing uniforms were looking down on him. They were the Coast Guard and they told him he was really lucky that they were nearby when he hit the water, that he was only the sixth person they knew of that had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and lived.
He told me he knew that this was a sign, a message to him from somewhere that no matter what happens, no matter how difficult and challenging our lives and our world becomes, being alive was the most important thing.
It’s been two weeks now. We’ve been asked to sign petitions, make phone calls, read this, read that, stay hopeful, let go, engage with the enemy, stop calling them enemy, organize, sympathize, realize, mobilize, neutralize, reorganize, criticize. It’s exhausting, knowing what to do. I’m reading everything I can find to help clarify and suggest ways to protest that make sense. Here’s some great strategies from author Tina Rosenberg:
“Protests can change policies, however — and often have. In other countries and throughout American history, ordinary citizens banding together have triumphed over governments, even when a single party holds sweeping control. Many of those protests used resources that the opposition to President-elect Trump enjoys today. They can learn from how those victories were won.”
And here are the talking points:
Dear Mr. Trump,
Thank you for helping me achieve something I’ve wanted for many many years: a daily writing practice.
A concerned citizen,
p.s. You won’t like what I write.
“'Black Friday' is the name that the Philadelphia Police Department gave to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment for them. 'Black Friday' officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing." The Chicago Tribune
I’m not much of a shopper and I’m finding it challenging to be out in crowds anyway. I want everything to stop because of the election, but of course it all keeps coming. We went to the beach yesterday with our friend Jasper who is three years old. He pointed to a helicopter on the sand where a team of medics were trying to revive a father and his daughter who’d gotten swept into the surf. We walked further down the beach and came across a large family having a picnic; they weren’t aware of the life and death drama occurring just 100 yards away.
Further on were two lovers taking photographs of themselves in the brilliant sunshine. Jasper suddenly got very tired and laid down in the sand. Sometimes it’s just all too much; you gotta know when to lay your burden down.
Donald’s cabinet picks, the attacks at Standing Rock, the water in Flint Michigan (it’s still brown 30 months later!); as I move through the world these days, I want to see the people around me being as troubled as I am by what is happening but life, it seems, just moves on.
When I worked on the AIDS ward long ago I would walk to my apartment in Bernal Heights, a neighborhood near the hospital. At the end of every shift, no matter what terrible death I had just witnessed, what grief stricken boyfriend I had hugged, no matter what awfulness I’d experienced at the hospital, I could almost always find comfort walking through Precita Park. I would leave the concrete and step onto the grass and often there would be a shift, even if only slight, that would help me get home. “The miracle,” Nhat Han says, “is not to walk on water; the miracle is to walk on earth.”