Hospice In a Fascist Time
I am a spiritual care provider in a hospice setting, and just as everything in life seems to be upended these days, given new urgency compelled by nausea, so is my thinking and feeling about my role. I get up and go to my Ashtanga yoga hour each morning, come home to oatmeal and coffee. I head off to work, where I will encounter seven to ten dying people per day, plus their family members, all the time thinking that I am living in an infamous period in American history. I can’t help but wonder what it might have been like, to be a spiritual care provider at a hospice in Mussolini’s Italy, had there been hospice back then. How to keep individual sane focus in the midst of madness? How to thrive and excel underneath a poisonous cloud?
Surely you are feeling the same question in your daily life. Yes, yes, work, and professionalism, and the pursuit of greatness in service to others, are values to be cherished. But this is a time of growing fascism. These are days of great, justified alarm. Are you with me? This is a time in which the American collective mind itself seems to be suffering from the same dementia as many of my patients. This could be the collapse of a civilization, and I am preoccupied by it even at work.
When tens of millions of people are supporting rampant sexism, cronyism and corruption…
The scapegoating, rather than celebration, of diversity…
Attacks against human rights and the thoughtful media AND an independent judiciary…
When they support using organized religion as a lapdog for the depraved State…
Have blatant antipathy to education, thought, and art…
When they are increasingly violent in language, gesture, and comportment…
I can’t just go to work and do my job without reassessing the entire project.
Change of thought and spirit and approach is thrust upon me. When the atmosphere has become so clogged with CO2 as to be threatening to humanity’s ongoing existence within a couple generations, and ragamuffins are STILL acting like it’s nothing more than Al Gore’s tax scam, I am close to apopleptic on a daily basis. My inner needle is duly moved.
I grew up in a time (born in 1957) when there were many, many faults in our society and culture, many appalling oppressions. But at LEAST there was a general sense that civility and some sort of public decorum, and appreciation for logic and historical perspective, was shared by a majority or plurality of citizens. There was a sense that progress would overcome those oppressions, and more and more people would come to savor equality and participation in a civilization. People had hope that the civil rights and feminist and environmentalist and gay rights and anti-poverty movements would actually make progress. I would have guessed that the Miss America and Miss Universe pageants would die from declining interest, as opposed to the owner of one of them being elected president.
With the Trumpian manifestation of an unbalanced and untethered mind in the electorate, hitherto viewed by most of us as “extremist” or “sociopathic, unhinged, and ignorant,” but now loud and proud and temporarily victorious, I am called upon to respond. It doesn’t seem, at the moment, at first glance, like sitting on my zafu, or contorting and breathing on my mat, is much better than quietism. It even seems that holding hands with dying people as they make that last exhalation, and then embracing their bereaved as the tears and words begin to flow in earnest, is beside the point . This activity seems to be like so much pissing into a volcano hoping to quell the surge of lava.
That is not the case, of course. Fascism is contended with, undermined, in a million gestures, large and small over time. I am merely in the midst of reassessing, recalibrating, what had apparently been a too complacent approach to participation in the collective. I love what Marco Morelli, in his great introductory video to the Cosmos Cooperative, called Collective Genius. He called upon us to merge our contributions into a brilliant force that makes a difference. Therefore, with the most fervent of heart, with a mind on fire, I form common cause with all of you, in manning the ramparts against the scourge of fascism, the social and cultural darkness (or, shall I say, whiteness), which is rising against us like a deadly, fecal tide.
Back in Baby Boomer heyday, an exquisite musician named Leo Kottke had a song called “Pamela Brown,” and I have thought of that many times since November 8th. Leo had loved Pamela, but she preferred a guy with a truck, and spurned Leo’s love. So instead of a life of domesticity, he had a life of music, travel, meeting hundreds of people, exploring. “I guess I owe it all to Pamela Brown,” he sang, and we knew he meant that losing out on her love was actually a blessing. It conferred upon him a lifestyle option, which he took.
These days, I have been thinking “I guess I owe it all to Donald Trump,” in a certain penetrating sense.
Because of that scoundrel’s election, and the presence of so many supporters of him, I go to the yoga mat with a sense of mission. I am now doing yoga to create a world that repels fascism. This means I am concentrating more deeply, as well as showing up more often.
I send money to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Mercy Corps, Amnesty International, Project Drawdown, Rodale Institute, and the Muslim Legal Fund as if my pennies mattered.
I make three political phone calls to my elected Federal government representatives each week, and craft a barbed, trenchant email to the Republican senator among them each Monday.
I will soon be sending money to my progressive female Senator for her reelection campaign next year.
My very significant other and I have joined our local Audubon Society and go on nature walks more than we ever used to.
I have started a home garden for the first time since the 1990s (when I decided I’d rather stay inside during warm weather, listening to Muddy Waters, than be out there in the dirt.) Now, I am embracing the soil with fervor and joy.
I am buying a copy of Paul Hawken et al’s “Project Drawdown” book and sending it to my progressive female Senator.
I have started a meditation radio show at an independent radio station (WXRW, Milwaukee, and called “A Million Candles Burning”) in which I speak out for an integrally informed way of being in the world, and guide my five listeners in deepening practices.
I have called myself a feminist for nearly 40 years, and have earned my stripes in that way, but I am doubling down on it, devoting more time listening closely to women and their thoughts and feelings. Responding, challenging my own shadow sexism.
I am reaching out with more mindful intention to African American people in my workplace, being more thoughtful about cultivation of reciprocal communication with them, forging an alliance in reality which can withstand our awful shared milieu.
I have spent much more time in consideration of what legacy I want to leave my grandchildren, especially my granddaughter, so that, as much as it is up to me, they can live lives of joy and purpose and robust confidence, unfettered by the current stupidity.
I relax deeply into joyful communion with non-dual Spirit and smile at what I see. (Even as I sit here at the computer writing, I look up and see leaves across the street, dancing in sunshine and breeze, and I know that this is a revelation).
And I am doing my hospice spiritual care work as if each encounter, with each dying Milwaukeean, contributes to the bulwark of a newly emergent civilization.
Fear and despair are all around me and within me. I am responding, on a day by day, minute by minute, patient by patient basis, with the most resilience I can muster. I read the great writings of “death and dying sages” like Joan Halifax, Stephen Jenkinson, and Frank Ostaseski. Read my Gita and New Testament and Yoga Sutras. I spend time listening closely to the nuances of female songwriters, and then walk into those hospice rooms and, to the best of my ability, fight fascism as a spiritual care provider. It’s what I can do. It may not be much, but I am going to do it.
I don’t know what a hospice worker might have done under Mussolini, or Hitler, or Stalin, but under Donald Trump I open up my beginner’s mind as I listen to patients. I drop judgement of patient’s feelings and ideas. I seek empathy as if it were the hidden nectar that can heal our world. And express affection and affirmation towards those under my care like Johnny Appleseed sowing seeds of hope. I summon the daily courage to, in Joan Halifax’s words, “dwell in the still reality of how things are, rather than how we think things should be.”
I stock each room with Kleenex boxes, make sure lights are at optimal volume, shades are drawn how people want them. TV is at desired volume and channel. I check room temperatures, and fetch ice water and coffee for the thirsty. And I take to heart, as my ultimate job litmus test, the statement that if I’m speaking more than half the time, I am failing at what I do. Then I draw people out. And what they share is the human drama, writ large, heartbreaking on a daily basis. Sometimes funny, and almost always gorgeous in its own way.
We are in this together. Fascism is here. It apparently has always been here, in a lurking mode, crouching out of view, and has sprung onto the stage like a thug actor with no intelligent lines but instead live ammunition for the audience. How do we respond?
Wholeheartedly, with collective genius, in every aspect of our lives. I’ll quit writing now, because, as I said, if I’m speaking more than half the time, I am failing at what I do. It is time for me to listen to YOU.