My mother was ultra conservative and grew even more so as she aged. She was prejudiced against liberals, black people, latinos, muslims, and gays. “Queers,” she would say. Oh, and fat people. She hated fat. Not necessarily fat people, she claimed, but fat. (It’s hard to separate “fat” from “people” when you believe that being fat is a bad thing, as she did.)
She also voted Republican. She believed the birther stories about Obama and thought he was evil. She grew increasingly concerned about immigrants and foreigners. After breaking her pelvis, in 2014, she was sent to rehab and taken care of by Muslim women who wore hijabs, skinny Filipino and Vietnamese women whom she couldn’t understand, super friendly gay men who gracefully sauntered into her room as if they were coming into a party, and several African American women with kind hearts in big, beautiful bodies. Two years later, she voted for Trump. In her mind, he promised to rid her world of all the people she felt threatened by – including all of these compassionate beings who bathed her, wiped her butt, tended to whatever need she had at the time, even though she would have said, “Oh, I have nothing against them.” A month after the election, she died. (But not before being cared for everyday by a sweet, chubby Latina mother of five – whose husband was also a hospice caregiver. The irony of it did not escape me.)
My father was also prejudiced and paranoid about “others” – though less so than my mother. My brother, an alcoholic who lived with them, shared their fears. He owned guns and slept with a loaded 45 under his pillow, Rush Limbaugh blaring on the radio. He said he would use the guns if or when “they” came to take his guns away. Both men were also under hospice care, and would actually say, “I have nothing against them” – meaning these same non-white, mostly liberal people who tended to them. (They were actually quite enamored with most of their caregivers.)
It became increasingly clear to me as my mother grew older and colder, that she wasn’t going to change. I watched her die never having known the ease of feeling at one with another. And I was pretty sure that my Dad – though he was a very sweet man – and my brother, were both unlikely to think any differently than they did, no matter what I might say to them or how kind their caregivers were. They were, it seemed to me, brainwashed.
During my time as a caregiver for my family, and actually for decades before it, my body was in a kind of constant turmoil, my gut clenched almost all day and night. I didn’t know that I was embodying the mantra most of us repeat constantly, in some form or another: “This should not be!”
Eventually I came to realize that my family’s judgments broke my heart. I was filled with heartbreak for those “others” whom my mother so loathed, and I felt shame and guilt for my entire family’s rejection of “them.” After the election, the more I read about the division in this country, and witnessed it on my own FB page as ‘friends’ went to war with each other about Trump and all that he brought to the table, the more heartbreak I felt. I wrote my own share of “This should not be!” posts about the current state of the world. In so doing I could not deny the many judgments that I was leveling about those “others.” And about all those “others” who were so judgmental of other “others.”
I finally had to ask myself, “How is my judgment any different than the judgment I am being so judgmental of?”
My conditioning, like others’, runs very deep (whether we buy into it or rebel against it). It’s embedded in our cells and it powerfully influences our thoughts, behaviors and deeds. We’re not at fault; we’re just unaware of this mechanism, and the trauma that it inflicts on us, until we are. And then we might realize that it’s been like a poison coursing through our veins, polluting our minds and bodies.
I started asking myself some hard questions. How can I possibly cease being afraid of “others” as long as I believe that “they” are different, and separate, from me? Are there really any “others,” and do I really know the things I claim to know about “others” (or even myself)? What scares me? What makes me feel angry, guilty, filled with shame or remorse? What motivates me to want to help “others” – or, yes, maybe even harm them? Do I really know better than the “other” that I am judging? Am I, somehow, superior? Is it possible that the things that I believe to be true about all these “others” are just made up stories?
Thank goodness my heart can bear it all, including the difficulty of this kind of self-exploration, and the sometimes painful excavation that is required to look at all of this within. It isn’t easy to dig down through layer upon layer of lies, and to feel deeply what believing them has done to this innocent body. This body, that feels so deeply, is being held – embraced by – a vast Beingness that knows itself in and as the paradoxical multiplicity of “others.”