• Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Imagine Us Talking...and Listening



Lately, I’ve been thinking about John Lennon’s song Imagine, which came out nearly 50 years ago, and doing some imagining of my own. Imagine Trump wins the election. Imagine Biden wins the election. Imagine if the court becomes so conservative it’s as if the last 50 years never happened. Imagine if Mick and I leave the country. Imagine if we have a chance to change this country for the better. Imagine if we fail. Imagine if we succeed.

I have days upon days of wondering, tension increasing the closer we get to November. The newspaper feels unreadable, the television news unwatchable. So much anger. So much fear.


So much division.


I worry about my children.


——-


Last week, one of my Facebook friends put out a thought or two about the Supreme Court vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. He is an old high school friend, quite conservative. He posts comments designed to invite conversation rather than stop it; he does not limit himself to those who think like he does. He tagged me in his post with a tongue-in-cheek comment that he knew his grammar had better be correct or I’d call him out. But he also wanted to engage in conversation with me and others like me: people on the left side of the political spectrum who don’t waste a lot of breath condemning everyone who ever voted for a Republican candidate. People who miss thoughtful dialogue that furthers understanding on all sides.


I responded. I told him that it’s hard to forget what the Republicans did to Obama when he had the opportunity to nominate a Supreme Court justice during an election year and that I would rather someone other than Trump nominate a judge to replace Ginsburg. I expressed sadness that so many people fail to use critical thinking to assess the current state of things, that fear and other primordial responses dominate too many reactions as people retreat to their respective corners to hunker down. If only we could use cool intellect combined with some much-needed compassion to make decisions for this country. I do believe cool intellect and compassion can co-exist. And then I expressed my wish that Mitch McConnell not be such a damn hypocrite.


It didn’t take long before someone wrote a comment that veered away from the issue we were discussing and into spiritual warfare, calling women who support abortion access “Jezebels”. I decided not to stay quiet, but limited my response to, “Last time I checked, separation of church and state was still the law in this country.”


My old friend chimed in, scolding the “Jezebel” commenter for trying to shut down the conversation. I was once more surprised by him, and delighted to see someone with whom I disagree on politics and religion defend an open channel for discussion.


And then I did what I tend to do when I need to think some more: walked into my kitchen and cooked.


————————-


Mark Bittman’s pound cake recipe uses five eggs. I can’t remember when I’ve ever made anything that wasn’t a frittata or strata that uses so many eggs. We buy eggs at the farmers market; it feels so much better to shop there in the open air and buy eggs, cheese, produce, and meat directly from the farmers that grow and make such things. We can ask the best ways to store and cook this food, learn from people we wouldn't come into much contact with any other way. One of my greatest sadnesses during the pandemic is the loss of safely meandering through grocery stores while dreaming up a meal for later that same day. The farmers market eases that loss, makes me reconsider what I buy to put in my own body. Before the farmers market opened up for the season, I stretched grocery store trips to once every two to three weeks. I anticipate doing the same this winter as the pandemic drags on.


As I cracked those five lovely brown eggs into a glass bowl before adding them each to the cake batter, I thought about that morning’s farmers market trip. The harvest now in full swing, the colors and textures of autumn vegetables made me swoon. So much variety in the offering. Shiny purple eggplants. Bright red peppers. Warty pumpkins that begged to come home with me. Bushels of firm red tomatoes. Crisp apples freshly plucked from their trees, something my partner Mick adores. Reddish-purple beets with dirt still embedded in their skins. The farmer from whom we buy eggs was there offering pumpkins, kohlrabi, zucchini, beef, pork, and chicken. We returned some empty egg cartons to her. I’ll miss her once the local market closes for the winter.


As I gave the pound cake batter its final mixing, I thought about whether my friend Marie would like this treat. She was coming for backyard morning coffee the next day; we’ve been meeting outdoors like this all summer. We talk about all kinds of things, but especially gardening and writing. It occurred to me that I did not know Marie’s favorite foods. Before the pandemic, we seldom cooked for each other; we met at our favorite coffee houses and ordered our own food. But who doesn’t like cake?


The next day, I set the pound cake and some freshly-brewed coffee on an old card table in the garden behind our garage. Marie, upon seeing the cake, exclaimed, “I love pound cake!”


Now I know. How is it we never talked about our favorite foods? What else have we missed?


——————————


Over cake, Marie and I talked about our fears that this country is at risk for civil war. We know we aren’t alone in that thought. Neither of us feels like there’s anything substantial we can do beyond voting to correct the runaway train that is the Trump administration. Our mutual sadness runs deep.


I told Marie about my rare conservative Christian Facebook friend who invites reasonable conversations. She was happy to hear that story. I wondered if, as Trump gets more defensive, those reasonable conversations between people from opposing political sides might become less rare. We talked about whether to mail our ballots or drop them into a drop box; we really don’t want to stand in a long line during a pandemic. But we are concerned about which ballots will be challenged in the event Trump loses. I want to say WHEN he loses. But this is like predicting the weather: a 30% chance of rain doesn’t mean no rain. It’s still a gamble.

In this real-life version of The Handmaid’s Tale, the stakes are so very high. The one-issue voters (and, yes, I mean those who think abortion should be illegal) strike me as entirely unreasonable in their lack of acknowledgement of all the other policies that kill people who are already here. Their unwavering support for a man with fascist ideas gives me nightmares. Marie and I agree that it often feels hopeless, but I’m unwilling to let that be where my thoughts stay. There must be something we can hold on to.


Later, I remembered Marie mentioning Ghandi. I did a little searching and found this quote:


A small body of determined spirits

fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission

can alter the course of history.


There. That was what I needed. Determination. Faith in what I believe to be true.


—————————————


What is it that I believe?

  • That we are equals on this earth.

  • That we should not cause harm to one another.

  • That greed is a cause of harm.

Willful ignorance of the law exhibited by our elected leaders - as in Trump’s lack of constitutional knowledge, and in deliberate skirting of safety regulations, financial regulations, and anti-discriminatory laws to further economic gain - must be stopped. The far right’s attempt to return women and people of color to 1950s status is a sickening thing; here I am referring to efforts to tighten birth control and abortion access, childcare access, as well as general failure to even acknowledge systemic policies that keep people of color from opportunities to better their lives. I also believe we harm ourselves as a nation by our continued love affair with guns and gas-powered engines, with our policies that put corporations before people, with our strong support for the rights of some individuals over the community as a whole. We have to be able to talk to each other without fear of vindictive reactions. We must use our critical thinking skills, combine logic and compassion, realize that people are happier when their communities are strong and everyone is taken care of. We have to see that human beings all want to be safe and happy no matter who they are.


_______________


My Facebook friend continues to post both thoughtful, conversation-inviting comments, ask questions, and implore his liberal friends to talk to him. I admire that. My energy feels too spread over too many things to engage in these conversations very often; I suspect that my fatigue will ease if I practice this kind of engagement a little more. But I wonder how our senators and representatives keep up with the constant all-or-nothing dialogue that defines our current government. How do they not just throw up their hands and go home?


Because everything is at stake, that’s how. Everything. Our health. Our children. This planet. We need to think about the big picture, the one that matters far more than whether we can choose to shut off our television because today’s news feels like too much.


We have to have faith that we can repair some of the damage from the Trump train wreck and the foresight to replace what is permanently broken. It is possible to alter the course of history for the better.


And we have to talk about it - all of us, maybe over cake. Imagine that.




Images courtesy of Pixabay.com.

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