What Can I Do?

What Can I Do?  I have been asking myself this question daily since the election…and over the last week, sometimes many times during a day.  And depending on the emotional state I’m in when I ask the question, it can be  an inquiry,  a cry of despair, a  determined and defiant act, a doubt of my ability to do anything at all, or a prayer.

Regardless of different opinions, I think we can all agree that we are living in uncertain times and this current political climate is creating a state of unrest for many people.  I also think it’s safe to say that I am not alone in asking the question, “What Can I Do?” and looking for opportunities to take action, even if there is uncertainty about what actions to take.

My mindset has always been progressive  but now, with what’s happening, this is bigger than politics for me and, I suspect for many others as well.  That’s the thing I would most like people to understand.  The outrage that many people feel is not because their candidate or party didn’t win an election.  At its core, in my observation and for myself; the outrage is towards  a mindset, behavior and rhetoric that is an affront to the basic morals and human values of compassion, kindness, empathy. And now actions and proposed policies that are a violation of human rights of anyone who appears “different”from those making the decisions.

I am at the point where I may need to unplug from the news media and even social media for a while.  It has become too counter productive and contributes to my anger, despair and hopeless. It’s  becoming a distraction close to becoming an addiction and impacting my psyche and nervous system negatively.  It’s an endless vicious cycle; and if I say in this state, then I’m no good to anyone, particularly to myself.

As a practice, to counteract the negativity, I continue to allow this question of What Can I do, mull around in my brain and consciousness on a daily basis. And sometimes, opportunities arise from keeping that question in my consciousness.

The other day, I was on my way to a meeting and decided go to the Starbucks in my neighborhood.  A friend, so generously gave me a $50.00 gift card for my birthday and I was happy to get to activate it.

As I crossed the street to the Starbucks, there was a homeless man standing in front of the store asking people to help him get something to eat.  While I am courteous and say hello to street people, it’s not been in my nature to give money to them.  And I have always had a sense of discomfort around the homeless. Part of it is the fear of the unpredictability of human behavior, part the discomfort of seeing human desperation and, part my own fear that what makes me think that I am any different… hard times can fall upon anyone.  I’ve certainly had my own share over the past few years.

Today was different though. I did not plan this,  but something inside of me disrupted my own patterning.  As the man asked me to help him get something to eat, I found myself saying yes, I will help you, what would you like.  I was surprised as he was by my response.  I invited him to join me in line at Starbucks, and, remembering that I had that $50.00 gift card from my generous friend, I couldn’t think of a better way to use it.

I asked him his name (Geronimo), told him mine, and asked him what he would like. He said he would like a large hot chocolate, and then asked if he may get a breakfast sandwich.  We stepped up to the counter to order, I ordering my coffee and inviting him to order what he wanted…he also asked if he might have a piece of coffee cake…I simply kept saying yes and invited him to place his own order.  He asked the guy taking his order, if he could eat his breakfast inside the store…and the Starbucks employee said yes too.  I was glad that someone joined me in saying yes, allowing this man some dignity and the simple experience of being able to sit inside a place of business and eat a meal.  These small things are part of my every day existence and in that moment, i realized how much  I take that for granted.

As we waited for our order, I kept observing myself being at the edge of my own comfort level.  I felt awkward, at a loss of how to engage with this man and wondering,  what to say. I found myself making silly small talk, asking him if he lived around the neighbourhood, which felt dumb, the minute it crossed my lips.  He said that he had slept the night outside of a nearby church, but needed to find a better inside place soon because of how cold it was getting.  I urged him to speak to the church to see if they might help him seek shelter at one of the area shelters.

I needed to catch the EL for my meeting, so I bid him goodbye. He thanked me again and I was on my way.  As I walked to the Red Line, reflecting on this experience, I started crying.  I felt sad, and I continued to cry on the train as I went to my meeting and I had no idea why. I did something in the moment, that felt like the right thing to do, not knowing or having any expectation of the impact.  I didn’t know if the tears I was crying were for me, for him or just an overwhelming sadness of how much over the last week, I’ve observed people in political power  in my own country seem to have little regard for the human condition.

While I don’t talk about this on social media and only with close friends, the last few years have challenging for me, beyond losing my Dad.  After a corporate layoff, I started consulting, as I wasn’t getting hired for full-time employment. I also took a lot of time off to be with family after my Dad passed, did only project work and left my friends and network in LA to basically start over again in Chicago. I’m still seeking to create a consistent flow of income from either full-time employment or consulting.   All of this has drastically decreased my income and benefits, and has drastically increased my debt and my fears.

Whenever I would feel sorry for myself for something not going my way, or for a challenge I was having, my Dad would always say to me, “Nina, be grateful for what you have, there is always someone worse off than you are.”  And he would share a personal example of how he came to have that mindset.  When I was younger, that would really annoy me, as I just wanted my “woe” or “plight” to be acknowledged or validated.  And as I grew older, I understood what he meant.

I continue to reflect on my experience with Geronimo and remember my Dad’s words.  I am grateful.  I have a home in a very nice neighborhood in Chicago, a roof over my head, a family who loves me and generous friends who care about me and give me things like gift cards for my birthday.   I have benefited from many acts of human kindness. And so, while  at the moment, my financial situation and resources may not be what it was, I did have enough to share something with someone who had less than I do and that felt good to be able to offer something.

There is always something we can contribute. No act or gesture is too small. And, being kind to another human being and relating to them as a fellow traveler, and not a stereotype, is free and costs nothing.

Maybe that’s a good place to start, as we as a collective ask the question What can I do?  Simple acts of everyday kindness to our fellow humans, and especially those  who fear being harmed, deported, and even killed for being labeled “different” can make a difference.  Stepping out of our own comfort zone, breaking an old pattern, taking a new action, that’s something we can all do. And I know those simple acts can change the energy of negativity and hatred and the fear mongering being thrown at us daily by our political leadership and reported on in the media.

Taking the time to learn about other people’s cultures, their race, their religion, the challenges facing their communities, that’s something we can do.  By  listening and learning we can be better equipped to know what issues we want to help support and if everyone did something, again no act being too small,  we can collectively come together to create change.

If we come together in our diversity and cross the isles to help each other, I truly belief that will not only have us be united, but also have us be able to push back on the polices that this administration and congress is trying to enforce on us.  Just as men came out to stand with women at the women’s march, if we stand together as one…there is much power we have to stand up for the human rights of all of us.  Mindsets, ideologies and  policies that discriminate, separate, divide and create fear are not the foundations of not what our county was founded upon or who we are as Americans.  And I will not let anyone tell me otherwise, nor will I tolerate, comply with or accept those beliefs, mindset or policies.

I support nothing that this current administration stands for, has tried to impose on us or has banned this first week in power.  That does not make America great.    We all have the power to do something…to take one action that will change everything.

People need to see that far from being an obstacle the world’s diversity of languages, religions and traditions is a great treasure affording us precious opportunities to recognize ourselves in others. – Youssou N’ Dour, Musician