Nov 20, 2016

Unmoored / Mooring

I don't think it will come as any surprise to you all that I've been totally unmoored by the results of the election on November 8. As I've joked on social media, I've cycled hourly through each stage of grief over the last twelve days; at times I break down in tears, at others I'm so angry that I could hit something, and, in rare moments that I hope become more frequent, I find myself overcome with a steely resolve to take action and be part of the change for the better.

But what does it mean now to be an activist for love and acceptance and tolerance? I'm convinced by every strategy I read, by the pleas to withhold judgement of Trump supporters in pursuit of empathy for those who felt they had no choice but to vote for him and then, in the next minute, by the insistance  that we not compromise our values to coddle those who turned their backs on their fellow (wo)man. Even if I had a game plan, though, I feel that I'm at a disadvantage because I don't know - I don't think I know - anyone who actually supports Trump. I know conservatives who voted Republican up and down the ticket but, as far as I'm aware, none of them were truly comfortable putting Trump in the White House. Changing the hearts and minds of people who don't understand why a Trump presidency is so dangerous means, for me, venturing onto social media, where the majority of people willing to engage just want to fight. They don't want a dialogue, they want me to give them an excuse to entrench themselves in the beliefs that led them to vote for Trump in the first place.

I probably would be that excuse without even saying anything, to be honest. Last night, while waiting for the talk to start, I looked around the room and laughed. We numbered nearly one thousand: liberals (predominantly if not exclusively) of all colors, ages, and faiths, gathered in a synagogue sanctuary to hear Cory Booker, a Black senator who went to Stanford and then Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and who is a rising star in the Democratic Party, in conversation with Trevor Noah, a mixed-race South African who replaced Jon Stewart as host of the Daily Show and who wrote an unflinchingly honest memoir about growing up under apartheid titled Born a Crime. (Under apartheid in South Africa, it was illegal for people of different races to have children together. For context, apartheid ended in in 1994; Loving v. Virginia, the case that struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriage, was decided by the Supreme Court in 1967 but, despite the percentage of multiracial children being born in the United State increasing rapidly, a majority of multiracial adults said in 2015 that they have been subject to racial slurs or jokes.) We all cheered when the staffer who introduced Cory and Trevor mentioned the Hamilton cast's message to Pence on Friday evening, and the applause when she referenced the senator's "I am the storm" tweet from a few days after the election was deafening. The people who consciously voted for Trump and for everything he openly supported - racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and the rest - would have seen that room as successful alt-right propaganda. We are why they voted for Trump.

At the moment, as unproductive as this might be, I can't help but feel that trying to make them understand the hurt they've caused and will continue to cause, if they're not already aware and unconcerned, isn't the best use of my energy, especially when I don't know who they are or how to talk to them. So it's on the people who unknowingly - however that's possible - voted for Trump or who didn't vote at all that I want to focus my efforts.

But how? I don't know yet. Like I said, in my post-result devastation I'm still so easily swayed by each strategy that's proposed. However, a few things from Trevor Noah's talk rang particularly relevant:

We tell our stories to help others who have been through similar challenges come out of hiding. 
Hurt people often hurt others. Ask yourself, "Who bullied him that he needed to bully me?" 
It's easier to heal if we acknowledge what the wounds are and how they were incurred and by whom. 
Be careful that you aren't governed by your anger; be careful that your anger doesn't turn to hate. 
It is the inches we give up that lead to the miles that are lost.
There are absolutely things I can do right now to shake off that paralysis. I can donate to organizations that will fight for those that Trump's administration want to oppress. (I love all the suggestions you left on this Instagram - thank you!) I can volunteer with groups that will protect those that Trump's administration want to assault. I can educate myself on my rights and the rights of my fellow Americans so that I will recognize injustice when it tries to invade the laws of our land.

And, on a smaller scale, I can support those who are or will be hurt by the hate that Trump's election endorsed. I can recognize marginalization, stand up for the harassed, be kind to the suffering. I can connect with my communities and I can love others who are different from me. No matter what stage of grief I'm in, I can do at least that.

It's a start. It's a mooring.

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Nov 6, 2016

An Afternoon at Millstone Cellars

As you know, dear readers, Jon and I love exploring the many vineyards within a two-hour drive of DC. When Martha Stewart Living featured a story on Millstone Cellars in Monkton, Maryland last fall, I tucked the name away for a fun twist on our local adventuring - neither of us had ever been to a cidery/meadery before! I thought autumn would be the best time to visit, and so back in September I emailed my friend Emily, who recently moved to Philadelphia with her boyfriend, and suggested we meet for a double-date halfway between our respective cities. (Full disclosure: Millstone Cellars is about 90 minutes away from Washington and 20 more from Philly. Thank you for going the extra 25 miles, Emily and Chuck!) November 5 was the earliest date that worked for all of us and I didn't dare hope for leaves to still be on the trees, but the weather's been so strange over the past couple of months that we hit peak foliage this weekend in the mid-Atlantic. It was absolutely gorgeous!

Pro tip: Millstone Cellars opens at noon on the weekends, so aim to arrive then. We four made up 50% of the first tour, which means we had a really intimate experience. (By 1pm the place was packed and at 3, when we left, there was a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot.) Half of the tour is about the building, which was a water-powered grist mill in the 19th century before being restored over the last decade by the family that now owns it and runs the cidery. The other half is about the cider-making process itself. The apples all come from within 50 miles of Monkton and Millstone doesn't add anything extra to their cider besides organics - my word, not theirs - like other fruit, honey, roots, and/or herbs. That means there's no extra sugar in their cider and all the fermentation occurs due to the wild yeast naturally present on the apple skins. Beyond their traditional ciders, which they offer annually, they make a lot of one-off small batches, which are the result of their experiments. You can tell that the people who work there and make the cider have such fun with their craft!

The tour ends with a tasting, and our favorites were the cyser, which is actually a blend of cider and mead, and the cider that had been fermented in bourbon barrels. I loved the strawberry/rhubarb cider that I had with lunch, too, which they offered on draft but weren't selling by the bottle. Because there's no added sugar, the ciders are much drier than I'm used to, but it also means that you can easily taste a variety of flavors in the cider that I think would be lost in a sweeter drink. Every one we tasted was super complex and it was really interesting to try to identify different scents or flavors!

Millstone Cellars sells some snacks but no proper food, so do bring a picnic. Be warned that the cider is strong - about 8%, if I remember correctly - so you'll want bread and cheese at the very least to soak up the alcohol before you drive home!

Last but certainly not least, Millstone Cellars is very dog-friendly. Charlie was allowed on the whole tour, and lots of people stopped to say hello to him while we were at our table. The cidery is just a few minutes from an entrance to the Torrey C Brown Trail, one of the oldest rail-trails in America, which runs through Gunpowder Falls State Park, so you could go for a hike first if you wanted to tire your puppy out before settling in at Millstone!

We had a super fun afternoon out - I highly recommend a visit to Millstone Cellars if you're in DC, Maryland, or Pennsylvania!

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Nov 3, 2016

The Responsibility of Prayer

I don't think that God gets involved too much in what happens on Earth.

Don't get me wrong; the God I believe in loves us and is invested in us and wants the best for us, whatever that means. But, despite my Judaism, my understanding of God is essentially deist, and I prefer to see God as a sort of Divine Watchmaker who set everything up for the Big Bang and has maybe made a few tweaks in the millennia since then but otherwise pretty much just lets things unfold, trusting in us to do His work on Earth. It's the only explanation I have for all the evil and hate in the world. If God were actively intervening, things would be better for more people, don't you think?

Anyway, the point is, when my friend Ben was ill last summer and when Jon's dad was dying this past spring, I didn't pray for bodily healing because I don't think that's the kind of thing God does, biblical miracles notwithstanding. I did pray for both of them - for them to find peace, mostly, and comfort, and love. And I prayed to whoever I thought was around when I felt moved to pray. The Amidah, a central prayer in the Jewish tradition during which worshippers engage in a private conversation with God while surrounded by their fellow congregants, became an intimate space in which I could lose myself in words dedicated to Him. When my mom and I went to the Franciscan Monastery in NE DC back in April, I wrote a prayer to the Virgin in the notebook on the altar in her tomb, invoking Jon's Catholic grandmother who, I'm sure, is talking Mary's ear off in heaven. I've been to evensong at Washington National Cathedral more in the last year than I had in the twelve years combined after graduating from the choir there, and I've found new meaning in the collect for aid:
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord;
and by thy great mercy defend us
from all perils and dangers of this night,
for the love of thy only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
That prayer is for the community and, to be honest, mostly I prayed for the rest of us. I prayed for myself and I prayed for Jon and I prayed for his mother and his sister and his aunt and for his whole family and for Ben's family and friends, too. I prayed that we'd find peace. I prayed that we'd find comfort. I prayed that we'd find love. I prayed that we'd find them in each other, that we'd find God in each other as we grieved.

In Judaism, the Kaddish is recited at every service, and those in mourning stand and lead the congregation in responsorial prayer.  If you're mourning a parent, you're obliged to recite the mourner's kaddish for eleven months following the death and then annually on the anniversary of the death. Jon comes to services at Sixth & I with me occasionally but he doesn't participate, so I recite the Kaddish for both of us. It ends like this:

May He who makes peace in His heights,
may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel.
Now say: amen.
Last night, I went to the cathedral to hear the DuruflĂ© Requiem sung by the Choir of Men and Girls for the All Souls service. I was reading through the text in the leaflet and it reminded me of what my rabbi had said about the structure of the amidah, which contains three types of prayers. There's praising God, asking Him for things, and reminding Him of what he's promised us - you can see all of them in this one section:
Heal us, O Lord, and we will be healed; help us and we will be saved; for You are our praise. Grant complete cure and healing to all our wounds; for You, Almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer. Blessed are You, Lord, who heals the sick of His people Israel.
I think the idea of the last part, the reminding, is fascinating. Who are we to remind God of anything? Doesn't he know it all already? Shouldn't we trust that he's on top of it? But, in liturgy, it seems to overlap often with both the praising and the asking; "You, Almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer," for example, covers all three bases in just one sentence. And when you say the same words over and over again, the parts where you're beseeching God can be hard to discern from the parts where you're recalling the covenant He made with us. For instance, in the Agnus Dei, the choir sings,

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona eis requiem.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

Are we asking or reminding there? I think it's both at the same time. And I think that's what I've found most comforting about prayer over the last year. I think that, when praying, we both ask and remind not only God but also (and possibly more importantly) ourselves about our needs and what we can do to fulfill them and, hopefully, ultimately, we find peace and comfort and love in the answers that are born within us as we pray. For me, prayer removes the fallacy of active divine intervention and turns the responsibility back on me to ground myself in a more subtle relationship with God, one in which he trusts me - us - to find Him in my - His - community.

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