Countering tantrums with sacred attention

Someone sketched the word TRUMP on the back of a manatee. 

I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t stop feeling about it. If we thought the violent tantrum of last week—invading our nation’s seat of democratic decision-making and romping around as if it were a frat party prank—was offensive, this is something else entirely. This is depraved. 

I remember reading, in a sleep-starved haze as a new mother, that all tantrums were essentially a kid begging for significance or belonging. Toddlers famously want control, given that they have so little. It made so much sense to me. 

This makes so little sense to me, but this lens is helping. Racist, anti-semetic patriarchy is experiencing what we might understand as an extinction burst—a last flailing attempt at asserting their need for significance and belonging. They are doing anything and everything they can, including desecrating a slow, sweet mammal of the sea minding its own damn business, to get attention. 

And it’s working. As their leader is sent to his proverbial room by the reluctant babysitters of democracy (looking at you Mark and Jack), we are glued to our televisions, listening to our beltway podcasts, following each and every piece of news. I mean, they even shit and pissed on the floor of the capitol you guys. If that isn’t the sign of a pre-verbal, id-unleashed tantrum, I don’t know what is. 

So what do we do in the face of this depravity? What do we do in the face of shit and piss and incoherent screaming? 

Any momma or auntie can tell you: We pay the behavior as little attention as possible and model the opposite. 

We continue to build the country of our dreams, the one worthy of our children. We counter tantrums with tenderness towards those all around us. People are grieving. People are tired. The vast majority of Americans have spent almost a year largely inside of our homes, trying to keep one another safe, our lives turned inside out in an attempt to protect ourselves from life-threatening disease, but also life-threatening leadership. This is no small thing.  

We need to see each other. We need to look with ten times the magnification with which we are looking at this tantrum. We need to celebrate each other’s steadfastness and resilience, our neighborliness and creativity. We have shown up for one another in quiet, slow, manatee-like ways for so many months. So many have died—of covid, yes, but also cancer and heart attacks and a thousand other things probably exacerbated by stress and loneliness.

So much has been lost. Beautiful things—like banter with strangers and bellying up to a bar to laugh and cry with a friend. But toxic things, too—so many delusions about this country shed. We are not as far along on our moral arc as we may have thought. We are not as in control, either. Control being, as we are being reminded now, an addiction of wounded, unwise souls.

The tantrum has a central message: there is nothing sacred. Not the nation’s capitol. But also—and this is far more offensive to my spirit—nature. Put your feet up on a desk; I register it as disrespectful, but I find it sort of pathetic more than anything. Carve that man’s name into the back of an innocent animal and I hear you loud and clear. You are screaming: there is nothing sacred! 

You are wrong. 

Sacred is all around us. Sacred is the steadfast sheltering in. Sacred is the children writing barely legible messages to their grandparents about how excited they are to see them when it is safe.

Sacred is the rising bread and the people’s peaceful footfalls during marches that filled these streets this summer. Sacred is the church that shaped MLK delivering a prophetic voice right in time. Sacred is the murmurations and the raging waves and the swaying Redwoods, ancient enough to withstand any man’s silly machinations. Sacred is the stupid zooms and the inside jokes and the living room forts that have gotten us through. Sacred is the soul searching of so many White Americans, the earnest attempts to find different ways of being with others, of being with ourselves. Sacred are the caregivers, who make our country less lonely, the organizers, who make our country more democratic, and the teachers, who aren’t giving up on our kids no matter what. 

This is where my attention is going this week, this month, this year. While they flail, I will focus. While they desecrate, I will nurture. While they grasp for control, I will release—delusions, power, money, whatever will help this place heal. There is a version of this country that exists within and beyond this moment. I’ll meet you there.