Picture this: A woman gets into her jewel-blue Hyundai in the parking lot of her child’s school, on a sunny fall morning in Washington, DC. She turns on the classical music station in a desperate bid for tranquility. She needs it to anchor herself, to ground herself, on this sunny fall morning, when her head is buzzing with out-of-control thoughts, her heart buzzing with feelings she hasn’t processed.
On the outside she looks so put-together. She seems calm, happy, well-rested. But she is never well-rested, no matter how much sleep she gets, these days. Still, to the outside world, to the casual on-looker, this is a well-dressed woman who just got her daughter to school on time and is getting into her car to speed off into her work day. Easy-peasy.
She starts the car, makes a calculation: Listen to a podcast? Too much trouble. Sit in silence? No way. Not now. So she turns on 90.9 WETA, the classical music station, for reassurance that all can be jolly and civilized in this world. She can allow herself a fiction for a while, can’t she? It’s only a 1.4-mile drive home.
And then, after a pleasant minute or two of golden sound, it’s time for the NPR news break, and at first, it’s smooth talk about Hillary testifying before Congress, easy to tune out, even interesting, sort of. She can buoy herself, reassured that she is an engaged citizen who follows the news, paying attention without really paying attention. This, she can handle.
But then, BAM, the reporter narrates in a steady voice that they stabbed someone in Israel, two people actually, and then there was a shooting in Eritrea, and then before the woman can help herself she is filled with outrage. Because really, you have two minutes to share the news of the world, and the most important news in the whole world are these two instances of violence? Really? It is an assault. She cannot process violence in two minutes; no one can. What are we to do with this information?, she wonders. How does it help us with our day? How does it even make us more informed, leaving so many questions unanswered about why, and in what context.
And this woman, anger churning, thinks, “You have two minutes to give me news, so tell me, how do I stop this stress?” Tell me about good people doing good work all over this world, she thinks; that would help me get outside myself.
But instead, you tell me of shootings, stabbings, as if listing items on a grocery list, and then on with your day. This is not a service. This is just one more thing to ward off, to manage, and don’t you know how much I already have to deal with?
I am weak, she confesses, at a stoplight, as she turns the radio off. Don’t you know? I cannot fight the good fight, all alone, if you will not help me.
This woman, she knows that vulnerability is true strength, but lately, she vacillates between feeling vulnerable-strong and just-plain-vulnerable… so open she might just slip outside herself. Yesterday in yoga class, she did poses meant to open up the heart, and they made her feel so vulnerable, she thought she might weep. Her friends post on Facebook about miscarriages and tell her by phone of financial struggle, family strife, illness, and it is too much. It is all too much.
The other morning at the gas station a man asked her for a dollar to buy a hotdog, and she became guarded, instantly — she put on that armor, you know the one I mean, but it was harder to muster than it usually is. It felt wrong, it felt like she should soften, should talk to him, because what separates us, other than armor? But if she lets in all the pain, she wonders, terrified, then how on earth will she have the strength to fight?
And she needs to fight, so she can connect to the real, so she can live the life she wants to live. She needs to get still, and getting still is still a fight, for her. A hard battle and she is trying to let other people help her but so often she ends up back in this lonely place, the lonely warrior, feeling like she’s fighting her fight, all alone.
Amidst all this, this struggle of humanity, she feels strongly that when she turns on the classical music station, they should just play music. The DJ should just speak in reassuring tones about the name of the composer and describe the sunny fall morning we’re having in Washington, DC, so she can just drive her blue Hyundai the 1.4 miles home from her daughter’s school, and things won’t fall apart — not just yet.