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.
Lucy Lange read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” one chapter a day to her third-grade class back in the 1970s. Mrs. Lange had a brunette flip, the tiniest remnant of a childhood lisp, and an endless supply of kindness. She brought Soma puzzles to her classroom and let us work them for rewards of Sweet-Tarts from a bowl on her desk.
And she read “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” aloud to us every day until it was done. Did I mention that? As soon as it was over, I wanted her to start again. This was my first experience of book nostalgia. Mrs. Lange was the reason.
In seventh grade, Shelly Buckholz and I spent a week in Old Quebec with our French class. A snowstorm extended our stay an extra couple of days. Cars parked in the shadows of Le Chateau Frontenac were windshield-high in drifts. We wandered the city practicing our Ohio-girl French, which had been taught to us by our gangly duck-footed teacher, who also led us in “Frere Jacques” and other ditties, and who was quietly mocked by some of the boys for being presumed gay. Like Mrs. Lange, he was good-natured and generous, and passed along a sticky appreciation for words and how they morph across cultures.
In high school, Carol Bush told me I could write, and encouraged me to study journalism.
An eccentric old English teacher (he probably wasn’t that old at the time) nudged us through readings so dramatic that we actually understood some of the Shakespeare plays.
A prissy home ec teacher taught us a slick way to measure shortening in a cup of water and pressed the point about the value of a seam-ripper. I will never again make an A-line skirt or a halter top, but because of her I can thread the needle on a sewing machine, and I made Raggedy Ann dolls for my kids for Christmas when they were little.
The Vietnam vet who taught 10th grade business is literally the only reason I know debit from credit.
And in 12th grade, my Spanish teacher did palm readings and promised me I was a “late bloomer.” I sure wasn’t blooming in high school, so I clung to that reading like the last canteen of water on a trek across the Sahara.
I could go on and I’m not even to college yet. But then again, you have your own list of influential teachers, too, right?
Last week, one of the sons of the Republican Party’s presidential nominee played upon that old canard about failing schools and lazy teachers. Applause all around, I imagine — I just read about it after the fact. Even third-hand, the message boils my blood.
My own school career has been in the rearview mirror for a long time now, although I went back to college again in 2009. Still, I know that just as they did in the 70s, teachers work harder than many people making two or three times their salary. They leave imprints on lives for decades. Tap on the skull of someone who has succeeded in some field, and a story springs forth of a teacher who exerted life-changing influence at a critical moment. It’s so common as to be cliché.
Not every teacher is stellar. True then, true now. But the ones who take on education as a calling stay with us forever.
Pretty magical, when you think of it.Read More