Befriending your enemy.

Did you see the news about Ellen Degeneres and G.W. Bush hanging out together?

Did you also see the hate and rage on social media in response to that news?

Did you wonder to yourself, wow. Society is made up of a lot of fickle, furious people? Folks seem to really be struggling with Love right now.

No? I did. I’m pretty amazed but not surprised about it, actually. This recent incident inspired me to write this post that I’ve been saving in my draft folder for a while, since I wasn’t really sure how or when or why to share it.

Now feels like a good time.

I mean, here you have this woman Ellen who is beloved and adored one minute and the next, she’s a social pariah. All the good she has done for people is washed away with a few angry tweets that shame and criticize her. That really tells you something about the changing nature of people and why you shouldn’t worry too much what people think of you.

But it also tells us something about why we’re sort of damned if we do and damned if we don’t. You might as well DO and do your damn best and follow your own heart because not everyone will like it or agree with you no matter what you do

But what do you think about doing what Ellen did and befriending your enemy? Practicing radical Love for someone who isn’t anything like you or has different values or belief systems? Sort of like it seems Ellen did or is doing with her political opposite? Lots of folks seems to have this opinion that she’s selling out or not being a good advocate (wow, how much more advocacy would ONE DO?! Ellen does a lot) because she’s sitting beside someone who stood against a lot of what Ellen is for, as far as political rights for LGBTQ folks are concerned.

But here she was, sitting cozy and smiling beside a “political rival”! What nerve, people are saying. That’s privilege, others say. Privilege? Seriously? I tweeted back, “privilege is defining privilege for vastly different humans.”

I knew what this gay guy meant about privilege. I’m well-versed on the activist jargon. Don’t know if you saw my most recent post about my angry activist past.

But here’s what’s interesting to me and maybe you, too. Ellen constantly tells people to be kind. It’s her who motto and MO. And here she was living that out loud in integrity by being kind to someone who others would not. I think she’s doing this for a number of reasons. What do you think?

I just know I’ve been posting about this concept of loving what feels or seems unlovable ever since this President was elected and people started freaking out.

I saw how much anger and resentment people had and no amount of #resistance was going to bring about peace and relief. How did I know that? Well, from walking in the darkness of my own anger and grief and from also practicing Buddhism for over 20 years. I know a lot about forgiveness. Have you ever tried forgiving your parents for disowning you? And your mother for overcoming her decision but never apologizing? I have.

Forgiveness is what sets us free. Acceptance is what heals us. Love is the only thing that’s real and lasting. We don’t arrive there by loving people who are easy to love. We feel that when we practice radical Love.

It’s easy to be spiteful. It’s easy to be vindictive. It’s easy to JUSTIFY this behavior when lots and lots of other people do it.

And it’s really immature, that’s what I came to see about my own reaction and behavior. It isn’t Love. It is the exact opposite.

Hating just makes more hate. It’s that simple.

A lot of my posts on social media the past several years were trying to name this over. People thought I was a sellout. They thought I “just didn’t understand”. I did understand and realized I was ahead of the curve. But maybe, just maybe, my intention and the space I held helped us all collectively.

Because here we are now. Being asked to see two adults with radically different value systems and respect their decision to be friends, despite.

It IS possible. It ISN’T popular right now among so-called progressives.

And isn’t that interesting?

It IS interesting. And hopefully an opportunity for some real change.

I know this is true because of my experience “befriending the enemy” since moving back to New Jersey two years ago. I’ve been very surprised by who voted for who in 2016 and how they lived that out in the world. Who said they believed in certain things and who, when given the opportunity, truly help when it’s needed.

It’s been certainly very popular to rant and rage for the welfare of strangers and have a collective “enemy” to blame and judge and criticize. It’s been popular to post selfies from protest marches. It’s been popular to say, “I CAN’T BELIEVE…” fill in the blank, every day.

And from where I sat, watching it every day, the people who had the hardest time believing were the ones who possessed the very power to make it better—but weren’t. They were using all their energy to be part of the problem, but not part of the solution.

Want to hear something interesting? The people who have helped me most in the past two years have been people who voted for the current President. That’s right. Trump voters have been some of the kindest and most generous people, especially when they found out my identity.

And ready for this one? People who claim to be liberal or progressive and maybe voted for Trump’s campaign rivals—-they have been responsible for some of the most disrespectful and unkind behavior I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I'm not kidding you. It’s been so stunning to me, actually, that it took me some time to process it. And once it became a pattern, it really affected my own political views.

I’m now seeing how many, if not most, so-called “supporters” as total fakes, phonies and performative allies. What’s a performative ally? Someone who makes a lot of noise on Facebook to look like they have the back of marginalized groups of people. Someone who wants everyone to know they are “woke” but don’t really come through on that behavior IN REAL LIFE with ACTUAL MARGINALIZED PEOPLE.

I am not going to shame people here. That’s not what this is for. I’m not even complaining, really. I’m telling you this because it shocked the hell out of me that people who voted for Trump have been the kindest and most authentic acquaintances to me. And way more people who voted for Clinton or Sanders or whoever else have been raging monsters when they came face to face with an actual marginalized person.

So I’ve learned that befriending my “enemy” is one of the smartest and best decisions I made. I was vulnerable and needed help. I needed a place to live. I needed work to start my business over or get settled and established. I needed friends who could listen as I worked through my grief and PTSD from losing my therapist so suddenly or my fear of coming back Home after being gone for so long.

These are things all people need in their lives. I needed them desperately because I was so alone in the world. I needed them because they’re harder to come by later in life and also because I face discrimination as a transgender person. I don’t let it stop me (as you can well see) but it HAPPENS. I needed resources and support and the people who provided it voted for the current administration. They would have been my enemies years ago when I was an arrogant and really annoying liberal ranting fiend.

The people who actively deprived me of support and resources spend a lot of time complaining about the administration in the name of the pain and suffering of marginalized individuals.

Go figure.

And we’re back to the people who are incredulous about Ellen’s behavior and rather than stepping back and learning from her leadership, they’re taking her down left and right. I laugh the hardest when cisgender heterosexual white women do this. Men, too. It’s almost become cool to have entitled rage about issues that don’t even affect them in their everyday lives.

I want to ask them, “have you walked Ellen’s path? Do you have any idea how she does this? Aren’t you curious and maybe humbled by her motives and behavior?"

I am. I think she’s absolutely right. Because I’ve come to the same conclusion.

Befriending my enemy now means learning to Love the liberals who are most responsible for the rage and hate and lack of kindness happening right now.

What does it mean for you?

Even bodhisattvas have breakdowns.

While I claim the identity of a bodhisattva, someone who takes on suffering in life as a choice to help others find freedom, but there are days when even I have breakdowns.

Like many people, sometimes I just can’t even.

I can’t be perfectly patient.

I can’t be in ten places at once.

I can’t be fully prepared.

I can’t be supremely compassionate and calm.

I can’t be all things to all people every moment of my life.

And even though my soul chose the bodhisattva identity, there are times where I’d like to opt out. I’d like to feel less responsible for people waking up to make things better in the world. I’d like to feel less struggle with a simultaneous responsibility to do something with it for the benefit of others. I’d like to have been born into the world with more resources and a better head-start in life. I’d like to feel more brave and bold like I used to be, before my own trauma when my eyes were really opened to the tremendous state of human suffering and how we are all struggling to find some air and room for ourselves.

I’d like to just be a human being and not a superhuman bodhisattva. And whether you choose that identity for yourself, Buddhist or not, maybe you can relate to that feeling of breakdown. When you put your face in your hands and shake your head. When you take a knee. When you want to give the burden on your shoulders to another person for a minute, even if it’s one you’ve chosen for yourself.

The beauty of breakdowns is that they lead to breakthroughs, if we can find a wider perspective.

So I do that. I give myself permission to take a moment and find that perspective. When we make space for ourselves, we allow the breakdown to be what is it for the moment. When we allow the breakdown, we generate the process of the breakthrough.

So for the moment, I just decide that I’m tired or overwhelmed or just don’t have it in me that day. I decide to give myself permission for taking on a big task and doing it to the best of my ability on any given day. I choose to say, “this is what I’ve got to give” instead of trying to pour from an empty cup. The moment of self-compassion and reality check leads to more clarity to move forward. That’s the breakthrough to the next moment of being more fully human, imperfectly.

I just hung up from coaching some new health coach students and we all talked about surrender. And surrender feels like freedom, they said. It’s not about pushing but it’s about allowing.

So we can apply the word surrender to this process. Surrendering to the stuff on our shoulders and giving ourselves a chance to rest. Seeing what we’ve taken on and whether it’s serving us. Selectively choosing what we keep for the next part of our path.

Bodhisattvas are often activists. And activism can kill or cure the very purpose or people we’re trying to serve. If we’ve reached the place where it’s the former more than the latter, choosing to have a breakdown helps us break through to our real, actual intentions to make the world a better place.

As this time of year rolls around and the pressure mounts to be in a million places and buy a million things, we can lose sight of the meaning of the holiday season.

A momentary breakdown may lead you back to why it’s meaningful for you.

Happy Holidays!

My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.

For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 

My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.