A few days ago, I tried to sweat out this cold that seems to be creeping into my sinuses and lungs. In the sauna, I have a pretty standard routine:
1. Read until I get too sweaty.
2. Remove my magazine or book and glasses from the sauna.
3. Steam it up by putting eucalyptus water on the hot rocks.
4. Breathe in the steam as much as I can stand.
5. Lay supine on the top shelf.
7. Just lay there.
8. Open up the vent.
9. Get out.
10. I wish there was a tenth step. It would look better. Shower?
In the sauna I was reading an article on the therapeutic use of psychedelics in Outside Magazine. Those of you who know me, know that I have never used anything other than alcohol, caffeine or exercise induce any mind-alterating state. But, the concept of psychedelics for depression and end-of-life experience is something that I find interesting and I hope it gets studied more.
The author of the magazine article was receiving instructions in how to anticipate the experience he was going to embark upon:
“Keep looking at your hands,” she said. “When it looks like they’re somebody else’s hands, they're working.”
At this point, the dripping started and I knew it was time to take the magazine and my reading glasses out of the sauna and proceed with Step 3.
As I lay baking in the 180 degree heat, I held my hand up. It was my hand. No matter how close my cedar sweat lodge would take me to another dimension, there would be no denying my hands. Which is good, I think. Coal miner hands. That’s what I have. troglodyte hands. I bet my ancestors in the Welsh coal mines were prized - big ass shovel hands. Good for swimming too I suppose.
Then I started thinking about what my hands have been up to. Oh, the adventures they have had over the years! On a balance sheet, were they hands for good? Probably a draw. As I lay on the bench - a shelf for sweating - I thought about all the jobs I have had - all pretty hand-centric. Some were involved in doing good things for people and some were involved in doing bad things to people. All jobs were “honorable professions.” They put food on the table for my family and provided me with a sense of self worth. But really, was this an intrinsically good thing? I mean, working for a living is certainly a good thing, but it’s also an expected thing, a responsible thing, a normal thing. Although the idea of “normal” is certainly one that fluctuates from generation to generation.
As usual, my sweaty thoughts turned to politics. How many of you remember when Republican Senator Rob Portman reversed his stand on gay marriage after his son came out? I guess that is a certain kind of courage. I would suspect that even his most Conservative constituents “forgave” him for this transgression because, after all, I mean his son… What’s a loving parent to do?
Likewise, our own congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rogers became a real advocate for kids with disabilities and voted against her own party for funding when, you guessed it, her child was born with Down’s Syndrome. I don’t think she would have that kind of empathy had she not been directly affected by her relationship with her newborn child. Or maybe she has empathy but knows her base would only allow an "understandable" empathy.
Which brings me to the questions - Is it really empathy when you act on behalf of those you love? Does it really require any courage to take a stand for others that are the same as you? Could I really say that, because I love my family,and I put my hands to work that this is a “good” thing other than a necessary, required, expected thing to do what you have to do for the ones you love? I mean, it certainly is not a bad thing, but it’s not heroic. It’s just digging coal.
But, anymore it would look like heroism, just like McMorris-Rodgers or Rob Portman being empathetic to their own family members. To be sure there is a courage involved to stand up to your core constituents, your supporters, knowing that they don’t have much empathy for anyone but their immediate family and friends. And most of them “get” that others have that too. They just might not understand why anyone else has empathy for others who they don’t even know.
Like I mentioned, “normal” is something that varies from generation to generation. All the northern abolitionists who struggled hard to free black people in the south, when they didn’t even personally know any African-Americans, might be considered abnormal today. Their efforts would be certainly heroic by any standard. Although, in my opinion, this empathy would be considered more abnormal by Conservatives than Liberals. And I guess that’s why I like associating more with Liberal causes than Conservative.
Recently in the paper, there was an article about a friend of mine's daughter. After the election, she was told by her “friends” at school that she should be shipped back to Mexico now that Trump will take office. Seems like this happened a lot around Spokane. Kids gleefully telling classmates that President Trump was going to ship them back to Africa, Mexico, maybe even CHYYYYNAH. No doubt this was a reflection of what they heard from home. A household, perhaps, with no empathy except for themselves. Is that empathy?
I grew up in a very diverse place. My best friend was a black kid. His parents took a part in raising me too. Our households were very different. I would say they were better educated than my parents and their parenting style was a little more conventional. Jimmy’s folks would take me on vacation with them. My dad would take me and Jimmy fishing just about every weekend. My dad was a believer in the upcoming race wars, that “The Blacks” wanted to destroy “The Whites.” But he would always add, “Not Jimmy’s family. They’re good people.”
My Dad would be celebrating the Trump victory today, especially after eight years of listening to his AM radio mullahs instructing him on how to hate Barrack Obama. White kids were in the minority in my school district. Lots of Chicano and Chicana classmates. But, there was never any child who would have said or felt the things that were said to my friend’s daughter. It would have been inconceivable. Not that kids back then weren’t cruel. Probably more so than today. Bullying was an expected thing and I was a frequent recipient. Thank you very much. But, to bring race, nationality, or religion into the bullying was unheard of. Not today. This is the new normal and it’s out in the open.
I look at my hands and realize I haven’t done enough. That’s going to change. Empathy means something when you take a stand for people you don’t know, people who are different than you. Maybe the only thing you have in common with another is that they are a fellow resident of this planet, this dimension. Well, that’s good enough.
These were all the ravings of my hyperthermic mind that morning. Who needs psychedelics?