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June is a balm for these trying times

After the 2020 election, I took a much-needed break from the news. But only a few months later, it once again dominated my daily brain diet. From the local to the global, there’s been a lot to consider.

During the school year, I can hear I Promise School students at recess from my house. It was on those same playgrounds that a Firestone High School student was beaten to death on the evening of June 2. 

My three oldest sons grew up in this neighborhood and graduated from Firestone. As a neighbor told me the next day, we see crime in our city neighborhood all the time, particularly sex workers and drug houses, but a kid getting beaten to death? 

I’ve spent most of my life in Ohio and for much of that time, it’s been a swing state with robust politics. But for a number of reasons, not least of which is gerrymandering, that is no longer the case. 

Republicans have controlled the Ohio legislature for over two decades. This year, the Republican majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission played a game all too familiar to most parents: If you don’t get permission from Mom, slink off and try Dad. 

When Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, also a Republican, along with the three Democratic justices on the court, rightfully refused to accept the unconstitutional legislative district maps the commission submitted, Republican associates filed a lawsuit in federal court. Astonishingly and wrongfully, the two federal judges ordered one of the unconstitutional maps to be used in the next election cycle. 

Elected officials intentionally circumventing the Ohio Constitution, which they swore to uphold, is a cancer on our democracy. Every citizen should be concerned about it metastasizing. 

Rampant mass shootings make America a country in which going to school, religious services, grocery stores, hospitals, concerts and more a life-and-death gamble that was inconceivable in my childhood.  

The satirical online magazine The Onion runs a headline after each school shooting that best describes America’s ludicrous political coma on its gun problem: “No Way to Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. 

Meanwhile, 2022 is poised to be a banner year for rolling back constitutional rights, starting with Roe v. Wade, and quite likely thereafter many other so-called cultural issues. We need a better term than “cultural issues,” which implies that the legal recognition of equal rights for people who are women, Black or Brown, LGBTQ or non-Christian is as optional as going to a museum or listening to classical music. 

Globally, I feel like I’ve gone into a time machine to World War I and II. Reports from Europe of atrocities and war crimes perpetuated on civilians, often accompanied by graphic photos, pour in every day. Yes, we have not been as moved when other countries are war-torn, including when our nation, like Russia, was the unprovoked aggressor. But that does not justify apathy in the case of Ukraine. 

And then there are the more abstract concerns of climate change and inflation, which seem to have smashed into each other at the gas pump. Might sky-high gas prices spur a conversion to less driving and more electric vehicles? We’ll see. 

It’s a lot, but teaching university freshmen has taught me that not everyone reels from these paradigm-shifting times. In fact, many are blithefully unaware of the state of any affairs. 

Nearly half my freshmen this past semester could not tell me what country Vladimir Putin leads. And almost to a person, the same students did not know what country Adolf Hitler led. “Why should we know that?” asked one. 

Is there somewhere between the blissfulness of ignorance and the existential dread that accompanies an obsessive attention to dystopian headlines to find balance, and therefore sanity? 

Buddhism teaches that control is an illusion. As I’ve grown older, I take in the news more dispassionately, which is not to say I don’t care, I care deeply. But if I am constantly angry, how effective am I? 

A goal of meditation is to remain present in the moment, to keep your mind from galloping like an untrained stallion miles away from where you are sitting and breathing. 

There are other ways to cultivate mindfulness, including the month of June. For as poet James Russell Lowell wrote, “And what is so rare as a day in June?/Then, if ever, come perfect days.” 

Indeed. 

The past few weeks, I’ve planted several flats of vivacious flowers, two dogwoods, two azaleas, two rose bushes and several herbs. The floor of my front porch, which I had rebuilt last summer, has a fresh coat of paint and new rugs. I sit out there with coffee most mornings and wine most evenings, listening to classic jazz and reading. 

Holly Christensen relaxes on her porch with her dog Otto.
Porch reading with my German shepherd, Otto.

On my porch loveseat, the beauty of summer flora surrounds me. Plants grow without worry of crime, legal rights and wars. I gauge the wind by looking at the leaves high up in the tall trees surrounding my house. I howdy-do my neighbors who sometimes join me on the porch for a visit. 

Before the Buddha attained enlightenment, he was tempted and tormented by the demon Mara, who represents death, rebirth and desire. Mara sent beautiful women and aggressive armies in an effort to thwart the Buddha’s imminent nirvana. In response, the Buddha touched the earth with his right hand and called on it as witness to his transformation. 

Spend as much of June outside as possible. Get your hands into the earth either by planting or weeding. Take in all that fills the natural world and will continue to do so when this time, as with all others, passes. 

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on June 12, 2022.

2 thoughts on “June is a balm for these trying times

  1. Interesting post, but as an instructor at a university, it might be very appropriate to inquire about exactly what is being taught in the primary and secondary schools these day. I have grandchildren in a couple of very prestigious, very private schools along the East Coast. One just finished the sophomore year, and the other just completed 8th grade in a neighboring school. Neither child knows one thing about ANY war this country has fought, except for a 2 page summary of the Revolutionary war. Two pages!?! The Civil, the World, Korea, Vietnam ….. Iraq, Afghanistan! NOPE, nope and nope. But, by God they know all about “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto”. The “Constitution” is some paper that some “old dudes” wrote. Yet, they both wrote papers on the Ukraine/Russia “thing” as “news on TV”. And, yes, we should fly the Ukrainian flag in support. I asked them, in support of what? They couldn’t answer. Sad state of affairs!

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