Yesterday, I was in The Zone for just a few minutes. Maybe an hour. I was working on a project and for the first time since Trump got elected, I was chill.
I wasn’t worried.
I didn’t have anxiety.
I was just working, but in a place just slightly south of the border.
I have not been “chill” since November. And this is not a political statement. Not really. No. It’s an a-political statement about balance. It’s about the Tao of Enduring a Storm of Unknown Intensity and Duration.
It had been raining all day in Tijuana. Our apartment is right along the ocean and outside the window, the waves slapped aggressively at the shore. The wind blew hard against the giant floor-to-ceiling window in our vacation rental. The lights flickered. But I didn’t care. I was staring hard at my computer, deep in thought, when John went and put a little bowl under a leak in our bedroom. He came back out to the living room and took up a station near me on the couch to stare hard at his computer again. Lydi was quietly eating raisins in a corner chair and reading about the history of Russian cyber-surveillance.
We were all very Zen, which was notable since we haven’t been Zen in months.
Until the water started leaking from three, and then five, and then seven different places on our ceiling here in Tijuana, until the water started pooling an inch deep around the edges of the room, I refused to acknowledge the leaks as anything more than just a source of irritation. We put little bowls and trash cans under each new leak.
But then, very suddenly and without warning, the balance was tipped and John and I weren’t okay with the leaking anymore. Lydian wasn’t okay either. There was no tsunami. No tidal wave. No hurricane. But there was, buried deep in my subconscious mind, the true story of a woman who’d gone to Cancun for a vacation along the beach. She had been standing on her balcony when a glass window fell out of the room above hers, a glass window not unlike ours, chopping her head off. As I mopped the water toward the “low end” of our apartment, the deep, mysterious recesses of my brain played up footage of shoddily built Indian buildings collapsing in a heap during the monsoon season. Was this building shoddily built as well? My brain replayed the ruins left from a fluke landslide that happened down the street from us in Costa Rica. I wondered about the eroded bluffs upon which this complex was built. My anxiety swelled and rose like the tide.
So John, mulling privately over his own unique inner fears, ran up the stairs two at a time to the apartment above ours, hoping that the owner would be there and be able to enlighten us as to why our apartment was leaking so heavily. But the apartment owner wasn’t there. A window of his was open though. So John called the maintenance man and got permission to break into the man’s apartment through the window. The maintenance man was happy to have John crawl into our upstairs neighbor’s kitchen sink and onto his counter top and then into his living room because he was overcome by other needs from other apartment owners whose windows had broken in huge chunks and fallen out into the cement courtyard. Some men across the crags from us frantically swept water from on top of a newly built building. Other people down the street were tying down things that were flapping in the wind.
After going into the apartment to find nothing strange and nothing particularly wet, John left the apartment, fell, or rather, fell and then slid down the stairs, breaking his phone and cutting his ankle. He came back inside our apartment, a veritable pool of water by that time, wide-eyed and panting like a deer after a narrow miss with an oncoming train or a rabbit after being chased by a big dog.
“We have to leave NOW!” He said. It was like a replay of what we’ve been saying to each other for the past two months after Trump got elected.
There was a tense moment of silence except for the sound of water dripping into buckets and trickling down the walls.
“Wait.” I said. “Just wait.” I said it quietly. I’d been packing things up to go already, but I wasn’t ready yet. “I don’t think we need to leave.” I said, “We just need to put some things in the car and wait. Let’s see how bad things get.”
I’d been reading a book called Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia since I know very little about Russia and since the relationship between Russia and Trump worries me. An alternate title for this book could be: Tales of Disillusionment and Desperation. As I read, I’ve been relating to the Russians as they try to adjust to the drastic change from communism to democracy. We celebrated the disintegration of the Soviet Republic in the West, but the normal Russian folks who just wanted to live their little lives peacefully from day-to-day struggled to keep up with their government’s dramatic changes. When the ceiling is leaking in one place, you put a bucket under the wetness and wait for it to quit raining outside. When it looks like the whole building is going to collapse, you leave everything behind and just go. But what do you do in those moments after the ceiling starts leaking but before the building disintegrates in a heap?
Some people hold tight to denial, a powerful antidote to intuition. Others embrace whatever side of the disillusionment seems most comfortable to them. But none of us really knows what’s going to happen. Even the people in high places couldn’t possibly divine the future because humans are unpredictable. Anyone who’s ever spent time with a two-year-old knows the power of the human spirit to overcome even the most determined authority figures. I like to remember how people started communicating using a code crocheted into doilies during the French Revolution (or maybe that was merely a figment of Dicken’s imagination, but still). Whenever I feel like humanity might be doomed by some tyrannical leader somewhere in the world, I try to remind myself that good people are only doomed for as long as they allow themselves to be doomed. And further, that good things can come from the bad.
Our building didn’t collapse. There was no landslide. No tidal wave. And we didn’t leave. But we did brace ourselves for the worst and we were prepared to wake in the middle of the night and leave quickly. Because we didn’t know what was going to happen. And history tells us that weird, unthinkable things do take shape in uncertain times. And sometimes that’s okay and you can live with it, but sometimes it’s not. Everyone has to decide for themselves whether they’re comfortable with the water as it rises in their own homes and what they’re going to do to remedy the problem.
Later that night, after the rain stopped, John stood at the window looking out across the courtyard at our neighbors. “I feel sorry for the people with the broken windows.” He said. I went over and stood next to him and sighed. He said, “They have bigger problems than us.”
“That’s true.” I said. And we agreed that even in the same apartment complex, people may be suffering more than us, or less than us. They might be suffering equally, but in an entirely different way. That even in a place where we all look like we’re living the same lives, the same storm might affect people in vastly different ways. It’s easy to forget to be sympathetic when one’s socks are wet and the humidity in the apartment is making all the windows steam up, but it’s a wonderful escape to be able to wipe the fog away, look out, and take a moment to care about the neighbors next door.