The drive from east to west across the Interstate 480 Bridge in Valley View flicks a switch in my phobic mind. My heart freezes at the sensation of the land falling away in my peripheral vision while cars around me zoom across too many lanes.
For years, I tried to vanquish this anxiety with logic, to no avail. There was a time that I couldn’t bring myself to drive that span at all, or, ironically, only if I had a friend on the phone to talk me over the bridge. These days I can do it alone, thanks to a trick I play on myself.
On the approach to the bridge, I imagine I'm an eagle, soaring above the highway, confident in my flying expertise. It’s lovely, being an eagle, what with the power in my wings and the pink light shimmering on the horizon.
Once across the bridge, I’m back in my Scion, tail feathers tucked neatly against the seat. There may be no cure-all for fear—I have researched for decades to ease my discomfort in airplanes, elevators, and overcrowded rooms—but there’s one thing I know. Problems that prove impervious to logic can sometimes be trounced by imagination.
Beginning in November 2016, fear gave way to rage in my psyche. It would be wrong to blame this affliction solely on politics. I’m probably genetically inclined to be annoyed. My mother was one of the most good-natured human beings on the planet, but Dad—well, he suffered mightily from demons of judgment and anger. When I was 17, he became red-faced with rage upon learning that I hadn’t saved any of the money I had earned at a part-time job. “Calm down, Bill,” my mother whispered. “You’ll have a heart attack.”
The family rage gene is weaker in me, but it has come alive in the era of 45. Sure, I have known hours of happiness and joy and love, but anger is always flickering in the corner.
Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps not.
The following is a partial list of things I allow to chronically offend me in regard to the state of our nation: the unfairness of the wealthy making the rules for everyone else; churchgoers supporting a serial pussy-grabbing womanizer; the trashing of our educational system; the trashing of environmental protections; the trashing of scientists and journalists; the trashing of basic human consideration.
I worry these grievances as if they were teeth rotting beneath my tongue. I tell myself stories about my wicked fellow citizens who see things so differently than I do. Some of the stories are true. Some are false.
It has taken a while to understand that there are actual differences in how we perceive our shared world. My conservative friend Ted and I are like two people looking at the striped dress on the Web. I see blue and black. He actually sees white and gold; he isn’t just saying so to be obstinate.
One of the narratives on repeat in my head says Republican voters are mean, insular, under-educated tightwads. Inconveniently for my logic, Ted is kind, curious, well read and generous. Neither, for that matter, were my aforementioned parents, both of whom died when Donald Trump was just a garish millionaire stiffing contractors on his bills.
This is not to discount the importance of facts, or to create false equivalencies. If there were a way to objectively measure the ill deeds of, say, the Clintons against those of the Don, there would be an actual winner and loser. I also believe I know which would be which. Until that metric is found, any one of us brings only our singular and flawed vision to the assessment.
The other day, in the wake of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings with Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s voice droned through the speakers on the TV at my house, and I became a hydrant of profanity. My husband asked me calmly, “Are you all right?”
Carlo shares my politics but not the self-torture.
No, I said. I do not feel all right. I’m not just furious; I’m exhausted by my own rage. I’m tired of my brain’s homing instinct. Over and over it marches to the ugliest vistas, the ones littered with the detritus of Americans’ most destructive actions.
I think and think and think, trying to figure out what to do with myself. Where is the logic that will persuade the other side? Where is the reason that will save me from the noise between my ears? Better yet, where is the crucible that can melt my fury into something useful?
Then it hits me: There is none. In the face of all that offends me, I can only act and direct my attention with purpose. Read, vote, turn toward beauty. Commit kindness. Notice kindness. Listen to the poem. Despite my nature, there is no obsessing my way to a better disposition. This doesn't mean not getting angry. It just means getting up to leave after I've done all the anger I can do.
So if you see me, feel free to remind me to walk away from Facebook for a while to read a novel or to wrestle with my dog. Or to imagine the beating of my wings long enough to get me over the bridge.