I realized this week that I would have a mental health advantage if I were to merge with an octopus.
But before I develop this metaphor further, I need to share a (most likely incomplete) list of the concerns I’ve been carrying in my head:
- the repeal and non-existent replacement plan for the ACA
- the media blackout and suppression of information from the EPA and USDA
- reeling from the sheer bald-faced-fuckery of “alternative facts”
- denial of climate change
- everything connected with the Mexican wall
- seeing a collective shrug across the nation about the Russian hackers
- the negative environmental and cultural implications for the DAPL and Keystone pipelines
- Feeling sick at #45’s threat of (illegally) imposing martial law in Chicago
- Proposed funding cut-offs for NPR, PBS, arts-related programs
- Executive orders imposing a refugee freeze and encouraging anti-Muslim rhetoric
- bracing for the SCOTUS nominee announcement and the anticipated erosion of LGBTQ and female reproductive rights
- Stephen Bannon. Period.
And as I’m reviewing this list, I realize that I do not need to physically become an octopus. It’s more like I need enough room, enough compartments in my head, to process all of this. I need at least eight imaginary tentacles to scoop up each of these issues and then get to work on sifting through what our nation can do to help with each one. Bonus: if I was Mental Octopus Lady, I would somehow be able to spray ink on anyone that got on my nerves. The ink trick would be particularly satisfying.
(If this were a “typical” Dr. Miss blog post, I would now spend fifteen minutes scouring the internet for a funny meme about octopi or spraying ink on people. And it would be inserted right here. But a sense of urgency keeps my fingers typing tonight. My Google image playtime will have to resume another day.)
I keep seeing stuff online about how our protests of the executive orders must be treated like a marathon, not a sprint. In my book, that’s all well and good until children are specifically involved. Yesterday I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency when I read about #45’s anti-immigration, anti-Muslim order and saw the pictures of the protests in the airports. There were the folks holding up their "Not THIS Time Motherfucker!" signs, there was John Lewis in his brave and grim glory, there were the ACLU lawyers sitting on the floor and frantically typing on their laptops. There were reports of children being separated from their parents for questioning. There was constant speculation about the detainees’ fates.
Between errands, I sat at my kitchen table for most of the day yesterday, fretting and asking myself, “What in the holy hell can I do to help this travesty? This cannot happen. I will lose my mind if I see us repeat the sins of the Holocaust with the Muslims.”
It wasn’t until I was scrolling through the news in the evening that something positive caught my eye. A woman, whose name I unfortunately cannot recall, posted this question on a message board:
“Well, what if we all just started wearing hijab? Then what?”
I sat back and said to myself, “Holy shit. What if we did do that? What if we said that messing with the future Muslim registry was not enough and that we needed to do more to support our Muslim sisters and brothers? Can I do this? Would I really be able to sustain this? ”
And then I started typing and typing and typing. (And, incidentally, unintentionally ignored my family. Social justice earned me a D- in parenting last night. Gah.) In addition to my own page, I put my question on as many “secret” political boards as I could. Some of the site administrators ignored or denied my request to post, but I did get it out to several audiences. The responses began flying back like popcorn on a hot skillet. My phone blew up.
Interestingly, the *Christian* white ladies were the most concerned with this idea. Their overwhelming response was “Isn’t this disrespectful to Muslim women? Wouldn’t this be misconstrued as cultural appropriation? You can’t do this. Here, let me send you an article on why you absolutely cannot do this.” One woman even commented that I needed to be careful to not be perceived as KKK if I wore hijab. I also received the same damn four articles over and over from them. (Side note: I am putting a plea out to Google to mix it up from now on. Dig deeper, please, Mr. Google, when the Christian white ladies are trying to persuade me not to do something. Really now. Mix it up, brother. )
I am lucky to know several smart and fascinating women who also happen to be Muslim. They showed up on my page within half an hour of the post and were overwhelmingly supportive. It was astonishing. They pulled other ladies from their circle into the conversation and respectfully challenged the thinking of a male friend who was strongly opposed to my idea. My Muslim former students weighed in too. My Muslim high school friends who do not wear hijab expressed their support. I kept waiting for one of them to say, “No, you can’t because...” but it never happened.
I messaged one of my supervisors and said, “Hey, so.... I may take this social justice thing to another level. Would you be cool with me wearing hijab to work on Monday?” And in true ride-or-die fashion she said, “Yep, that’s amazing. Do it. No Wheaton BS here.” (I’ll insert a link explaining the Wheaton story later.)
Within a couple of hours, my friends Rahaf, a smart-and-awesome Muslim, and Kelly, an equally smart-and-awesome non-Muslim, agreed to stand with me in making this a “thing” at our workplace. We wanted the media to cover our effort to express solidarity with our Muslim communities, but we also wanted buy-in from our supervisors and colleagues. The biggest questions were “When will we start?” and “How do we want to sell this?” and “Who else would be able to help us?”
This Wednesday is World Hijab Day (www.worldhijabday.com) and it seemed to be the perfect day to begin with this expression of solidarity. However, in true, “oh crap, did I really just jump into this pool?” panic, I had this idea that maybe I should wait. Because: Fear. Closely followed by her bestie: Anxiety.
My brain was in a spin cycle of worry about this. The highlight reel included the usual mind-fuckery:
- Fear Fuckery #1: Would I be able to keep my head held high when the elderly bigots at the Jewel muttered about me as “another terrorist raghead?” Or when well-meaning acquaintances asked me why I wanted to be associated with “those people who caused 9/11?” What would I say? Or not say?
- Fear Fuckery #2: My volunteer work with Boy Scouts of America is a very important part of my life. I’m not a scorekeeper by any means, but I know that several ladies from that circle have quietly unfriended me on social media. It’s interesting. Without comment, they unfriend me and then smile with way too many teeth showing when they see me at the meetings. Their husbands are weird and jumpy and overly reassuring with me. “I think that this plan for the campout sounds really, really good! Wow! Thank you for everything you do!” and everyone knows there is this “political thing” under the surface: “Because we exercised our right to vote for Trump, Lori thinks we have sentenced our country to four years of chaos. How dare she judge us? Who does she think she is? She’s so awful and self-righteous. Somebody needs to make her sit down. Ugh.”
- Fear Fuckery #2.5: I was also visualizing a few of these *good Christian* Scouting folks and wondering, “If I show up for a meeting in hijab, should I explain my position? Can they kick me and the boys out of the Troop for doing this? I hear them say horrible things about other people for far less. I think they would try to edge me out. This might be very rough. Am I willing to risk the boys’ Scouting experiences for this? And if not, why not? Like I always say, Jesus would not be down with this. Holy crap, I need to get Jesus on the phone here.”
- Fear Fuckery #3: I am the awful oxymoron of being an introverted leader. I have a strong vision for how things should go and I am not afraid to step forward to lead an effort. But then. THEN. There are the conversations. Dealing with people who will just never STFU. Listening to *that* guy again. Thinking to myself, “Interacting with all of you people is completely fucking exhausting. Can’t I just write you an email and you will all promise to never-ever-ever-ever hit reply to all?” As a hijabi, I knew was going to have to talk to a lot of folks. I needed a nap just thinking about it.
- Fear Fuckery #4: And then I somehow thought that maybe I should get business cards printed to express my position. And that I should have them in hand before I wore hijab. After all, I didn’t want to be the white lady in hijab, whitesplaining and Christian-and-Muslim-splaining and just generally pissing off folks all over the place. I *needed* to get beautiful, crisp business cards printed up that said, “If European Christians had worn a Star of David in 1937, the world would be a very different place today.” My cards would be elegant and classy. There would be some interesting websites on them. I would have them in a pretty red case. And maybe it would take a week to get them printed. Yep, a whole week. Because that would give me some time to mentally prepare for this hurricane I was about to step into.
But Rahaf and Kelly agreed that it was showtime and that was that. I saw the Universe guiding their hands as they lovingly pushed me off the cliff. I committed to them, nodded a grim acknowledgement to my fears, and started mentally composing a proposal to our school district for World Hijab Day. It was on, and I was leading the charge.
In a related tangent, the Universe continued to poke and remind me that my fears were conquerable. Prior to the Muslim Ladies of Support sprinkling their Valentines all over my page on Saturday evening, I received the most astonishing message from my uncle.
While standing outside with my shivering students during an interminable fire alarm on Friday, I checked my phone and saw that he had messaged me and my sister and praised us for participating in the Women’s March on Washington and Chicago’s version of the march. To be clear, I am pretty sure this is the first “real” message (ie, not a party rsvp) that we have ever received from our uncle. As in, ever-ever-ever. I stood on a grimy parkway across from my school, literally shoulder-to-shoulder with our country’s future, and my eyes filled with tears when I read the message. And then I had to tell the girls who were standing with me - each having borrowed my hat, scarf or gloves - that I wasn’t crying, that snowflakes were getting in my eyes. (Inside thoughts: FFS. Get it together, Lori. FFS. And wipe your nose already. Your girls look a little concerned.)
Another unexpected gesture of support came from one of Steven’s cousins this morning. We are diametrically opposed politically and have a silent, tacit agreement that we will (usually) avoid commenting on each other’s posts. I won’t speak for her, but I know that I get exasperated and snotty when we do start up. It’s not good. But there she was, PMing me a beautiful article about what a true Christian’s response should be to the current refugee crisis. She wrote, “I applaud your heart for justice....I believe this article gets to the heart of the matter – love never fails.” And, yes, there was some sniffing and crying – gah! – on my part when I opened and read it. (FFS again, Lori!)
I knew that attending the DC march was going to be life-changing, but I didn’t think the thunderbolt would hit a mere week later. But here I am, trying not to hyperventilate when the fear fuckeries start up in my head and I see so much that needs to be done. I worry that I will never do enough for social justice. I am trying to focus on the gestures of solidarity that have appeared from the most unexpected of places. I know that if I keep pushing, the support will continue to come. It will. I have faith.
I have never found a church-home and, quite a few years ago, I finally gave up on that particular endeavor. I am not meant to sit on a hard bench and look up at a man on a stage telling me how to live my life. This experience has never sat well with me and I’m guessing that it never will. (Surprise!) My churches are libraries and anywhere with trees. I feel reverence in places devoted to knowledge. My mind is most at peace when I am out in nature.
And as I walked underneath the snowy tree branches along 93rd Street this afternoon, I kept my heart open and waited. I knew I needed to be mentally clear on this issue before Monday.
Sure enough, my answer appeared: “Your silence would define you. How can you even think of turning back?”
And, so it begins: I will continue to make phone calls and write letters for every cause that makes my heart hurt, but I am also going to stand in physical support of our Muslim sisters and brothers. One way or another, I am going to wear hijab. I am going to protest. My protest will be a silent symbol of solidarity, and it will be conveyed with as much respect as possible.