Best worst day

20 Jan. 2017

I mark today as one of the best and worst days of my life.

It is a best day, because January 20 is and will always be my son’s birthday, a day that changed my life forever.

Before my son was born, parents would sometimes talk to me about how much they loved their kids. I thought I understood, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was prepared to love him, to love him a lot. But what I didn’t understand was how his arrival would affect my capacity to love. Like the Grinch, my heart grew at least 3 sizes that day…and it is filled anew, every time I see him. Every day that I get to share my life with this wonderful, exciting, loving, challenging boy. I love you, my son, with all of my heart.

Those who know my story understand that so much of what my life is about now began with this small boy…even those parts that, like my professional life, would seem separate from him. It was he that taught me to be the shelter, and the storm. It was he, and my desire to be the parent he deserved, that gave me the courage to confront my irritability and anger, which prompted my immersion into Buddhism, which taught me the power of compassion, which led me to Compassion Focused Therapy, which gradually became almost the whole of what my professional life is now about. Without him, I can say with certainty that I would have a comfortable, entirely different life. But there would be no books, no workshops, no TEDx talks, no Skype chats with wonderful mental health professionals from all corners of the globe. And there would be a whole lot less joy, and peace, and love, and passion, and resolve. So this day will always be one of my best days.

Which is why it is also one of my worst days. Before my son came along, what our country faces today would likely have been much easier for me. The cynical version of me has always suspected that the human race would sooner or later end up getting what we deserved, and that it wouldn’t be pretty. I sort of always assumed that we’d end up making the planet uninhabitable or some bringing some other sort of history-altering catastrophe upon ourselves. But I was sort of strangely okay with it. The concept of karma has always made sense to me…as a child, my atheist father – the most moral man I know – used to often say, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” We’ve been sowing poison for millennia now, sometimes purposefully, sometimes not.

But when my son came along, I suddenly had some real skin in the game. And not just in that “this is the world my son will live in” sort of way, although that piece of it is not small. Somehow, his arrival brought me the equanimity that I’d never come close to before – not because it had eluded me, but because I’d never sought it to begin with. After he came, it wasn’t just about loving him. Somehow, his arrival forced me to love everybody, because somehow it forced me to really see them for the first time. Having my own child, and watching him grow, helped me see the beautiful child inside of everyone else. And the toddler taking his first steps. The adolescent getting her heart broken for the first time. The adult trying to figure out how to make his way in the world. The elder reflecting upon her life, and closing her eyes for the last time. And when I see this in people, all of these versions of ourselves that each of us contains…well, when I see someone like that, it is almost impossible for me not to love them.

Almost. I am struggling to care about the present version of Donald Trump, and the present versions of his supporters. I mourn for the child he was, who was almost certainly miserable much of the time. I mourn for the adult, who seemed to never truly feel loved or to know how to love, no matter how many beautiful women he threw into the lonely pit at his core, no matter how many children he sired. And I mourn for Mr. Trump at the moment of his passing, when I suspect he may finally sense the hollowness of his life.

But the present version of Mr. Trump scares the hell out of me.  While some seem surprised by his consistent selection of relatively unqualified billionaires to his cabinet, it seems clear to me that this is the only sort of person that Trump can allow himself to admire – those who seem to embody his preoccupation with wealth and power…those whose own way of life seem to reflect, validate, or perhaps excuse his own.

This feels deeply important to me, because I don’t think it’s that Mr. Trump simply doesn’t care about the people of this country. I think that at some place deep within him, there may be the recognition that allowing himself to care about the people of America, and particularly those less fortunate than he, is akin to psychological self-immolation.   Because these are the people he’s spent his whole life exploiting for his own gain. These are the people he’s wantonly hurt, again and again and again, in pursuit of wealth and power. How can such a man begin to acknowledge or care about others’ pain without being overwhelmed by how much of it he has caused, without seeing that the golden god he imagines in the mirror is a shell of a man whose wealth is inseparable from the harm it was born of. It’s hard to feel compassion for someone so callous, but in the ways that matter most, Donald Trump may be one of the poorest souls we’ve ever witnessed.

And despite his every effort to dissuade us, we’ve elected him to the presidency. Not me. Probably not you. But we. We who voted for him, and we who tolerated and ignored the causes and conditions that, for just enough of us, made voting for someone like Donald Trump seem anything less than unthinkable.

Mr. Trump, as much as I hate to say it, this is your day as well. And since you share this day with my son, I will honor you by allowing your influence to shape and inform my commitment to him on the day of his birth:

I will do my best to help my son feel loved, to know that, whatever happens, he is deeply held in the hearts of people who wish only for his happiness.

I will do my best to teach my son to see the beauty and the vulnerability in himself others, and to be courageous in working to alleviate suffering – others, and his own.

I will do my best to teach and model for him a respect for women that recognizes them as equal to himself, to value their wisdom and listen to their voices rather than to simply strive to assert his own, and to use both his voice and his silence to support them.

I will do my best to teach him and model for him a reverence and willingness to learn from people whose culture, and experience, beliefs, and backgrounds are different from his own, to use his voice to advocate on their behalf, and to rest solidly in silent witness when it helps their voices to ring forth and be heard.

I will do my best to help him learn that cruelty is never acceptable, that the suffering of others is never something to rejoice in, and that harm to others or himself should never be a goal.

I will do my best to teach him that sometimes we must soften, and soothe, and that sometimes we must fight for what we know is right with every fiber of our being.

In short, Mr. Trump, I will do my best to give my son the things that, had you received them, would have made the current version of you impossible.

And finally, I will do my best to help my son learn to hope, and to dream.

And on this, your day and his, I will do my best to hope and dream for you, Mr. Trump. I will hope that I am wrong about you, and that you can find your way to wisdom, or at least to allow yourself to be guided by those who possess it. I will dream of a world in which you can find the courage to care about those less fortunate than yourself, and the fortitude to rise above your history.

And I will do my best not to hate you when you fail, because I do not want to be the one that teaches my son to hate.

5 Replies to “Best worst day”

  1. Beautiful stuff, Russsll. I will look forward to reading your blog as we all navigate the uncertain terrain that is our turbulent world. I think to survive and shape our world in positive ways it is essential that we carve out havens of peace, sanity and good will where kindness and compassion can be nurtured. Thanks for doing this.

  2. Dear Russell,
    I am concerned that making Donald Trump into an enemy is not the way to go. I think there be some things he is doing that actually is helping individuals and groups that otherwise feel alienated from modern society. I know that there are also things he is doing that will alienate others and this is part of the complexity that is reality. I do not think that emnifying Donald Trump is compassionate training.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Michelle. I can see where you’re coming from and really appreciate the way you’re really thinking about what a compassionate response to what’s happening in the world would look. Rather than try to justify what I’ve written in this particular blog, I’ve added the disclaimer (on the right side of the blog pages) to clarify what the blog is intended to be, and how it’s very possible that people will find things in my writings that may not always seem to be so compassionate. Thanks again for the comment, and for visiting the site…I hope the blog doesn’t negatively color the whole experience for you, and that there are other aspects of the site you may find useful.

  3. Hi Russell
    Thank you for putting into words how I feel! I have experienced the same growth in my capacity to love since having children.
    I am terrified by Trump and find it so hard to feel any compassion for him. But I love what you are doing here. We need to pull together as like minded people. What Brexit has made me realise is that I need to take action for what I believe in. Your site is going to help people like me, so thank you.

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