Getting Trumped

It was the morning after the election. And like most minorities, young people, or anyone else that wasn’t comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump having the nuclear codes, I woke up that day feeling like if I was in mourning. Trump spent the better part of eighteen months spewing xenophobia, misogyny and being an outright dick to anyone that dared to have an opinion opposite to his, yet America chose him to lead the country into right-leaning direction. As I walked out of my home to make my way to work, the middle class, multi-cultural neighborhood that I live in was quiet, with the only thing stirring being the torrent of dry leaves that danced and swirled through the air by the forceful breeze that shed them off all the surrounding tree branches. So although in my heart it felt to me that I had just phased over into the darkest timeline, the world around me, looked like any other day. The sun rose, the birds sang, people went about their business. Life moved on.  

I made my way north up from Berwyn, through the lower-middle-class neighborhoods of Forest Park, and Maywood, until I reached the shopping center sector of Hillside, where I exited the local roads and jumped on the 294 tollway.  From there it I traveled about 25 miles north until I reached the Willow exit, where I get reminded daily how folks on the other side of the track live.   After going 8 miles due east, I reached the uber-affluent town of Winnetka Illinois. The town itself is sixteen miles north of Downtown Chicago, and according to the 2010 census, is 94% caucasian. The median household income hovers somewhere around the low 200 G’s, and the average median value for homes is a smidge below two million dollars. I believe our current billionaire Governor; Bruce Rauner has a residence in Winnetka, and the house that Kevin, from Home Alone, transformed into a burglar death trap is just down the street from my job.

I parked my car across the street from a large, but aging mansion, that had a small work crew of Polish carpenters working away at improving its weathered facade. I summarized the home dated back to the 1920’s and was about four times the size of the quaint, two bedroom home I owned 32 miles south in Berwyn Illinois. Even in it’s less than pristine condition, this was the kind of house that barely middle-class folks like myself would gladly sacrifice their left testicle for. Its spacious yard and the capacious sunroom covered more ground than I would know what to do with and served to remind me every morning, how unlikely I or anyone I know would ever reach the heights of success necessary to afford such a home.    

As I cross the street, heading to the office, I kept my head down, but my mind gazed out into an unfamiliar horizon. My life, one that has only known what is like to survive, instead of thriving, was suddenly presented with a new fear. What would a Donald Trump presidency mean for my family and I, as well as all the other families in this country that are one lost paycheck away from being sent into depths of utter despair?   Some would argue that Trump would do precisely what he promised, that he would make America Great Again. But not once did I ever get the sense that he meant that all of America’s citizens would bask in America’s rediscovered glory. No Trump and many of his followers want to bring America back to simpler times.  To a time when dirty Commies, radicals, hippies, angry minorities, godless atheist, and bra burning feminist got their just deserts instead of getting a seat at the table. I also wondered what this would mean for my job.   

You see ironically I work as a Housing Intake Specialist for a nonprofit organization that protects tenant rights, tries to help families save their homes from foreclosure, as well as fight all housing-related discrimination. So in laymen terms, I work for an equal housing organization that promotes inclusion, which so happens to be located in the middle of the most exclusive, and least racially diverse town in probably the entire Chicagoland area.  Nearly half of our funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development also known as HUD. And if there are any major cuts in the grants that the organization receives from Hud, not only would we have to drastically scale back on the help we give hundreds of people a year, but it would also mean that I could receive a drastic reduction in pay, or simply be laid off;  two prospects that I seriously couldn’t afford.  

Two days later, tired of hearing all the pundits talking about what came next for America, and my kind hearted co-workers sense of despair, I took off during my lunch hour, for some much needed alone time.  I got into my car, and drove down the affluent streets of Sheridan Road, with its multitude of million dollar homes,  to take a breather in the quietest spot in all of the Chicagoland, the beautiful Baha’i Temple, located about 3 miles south in Wilmette. I parked my car and walked up the handicap accessible ramp that led up to the temple gardens. During the spring and summer months the garden is filled with an abundance of vibrant flowers, and beautiful reflective pools, but now that the fall had arrived in earnest, the garden was subdued with the sort of floral arrangements, that would seem appropriate for a funeral.  

I made my way around the brown brick path, the sound of flowing water coming from a fountain located somewhere on the grounds could be heard. A single white male, with designer shades and a $75 haircut took several seconds trying to take the perfect selfie. The temple grounds were serene and quiet.  From my elevated vantage point, I could see a pair of women jogging together on the quiet street that sat across from the Temple grounds. I could see the lake stretching itself out until it blended with the equally blue horizon. I was standing in a pocket of the universe where no matter what turmoil was affecting the outside world, it seemed that it just couldn’t penetrate the insulating bubble that has protected the well to do people of this town for decades. The good people of these affluent towns, with their generational wealth, didn’t need to concern themselves with the worries of the outside world.

 The temple itself is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. It is surrounded by nine fountains, which then lead up to a set of stairs that surround the entire dome complex. At the top of the stairs, there are nine entrances, separated evenly allowing people entry into the temple from virtually all directions. Above the entrance, there are another nine sides, adorned with elaborate designs and elongated windows that stretch upward until you get to the bottom of the dome. The dome itself is round, but have nine protruding concrete slabs that curve near the top giving the structure a look from above of a king kong sized orange squeezer.  I made my way into the dome, where about five people were seated quietly, disperse through the room, on faded red chairs. A young black man sat quietly wearing a black turtleneck. He sat there in silence, never once seeming to look in any direction but straight ahead. He also happens to be only the 3rd black face I had seen up in these neck of the woods since I started working up there almost two months ago.   

Above each entrance, there are several religious proverbs, written in gold letters. Nearly all of the proverbs were partially obscured from the angle that I was viewing them, due to the way the nine-sided temple is shaped inside. The only one that was fully visible to me said “All the prophets of God proclaim the same faith.  But as I stared directly at the dome ceiling, and the interlocking nine circles that made the dome look to me very much like the tunnel of light that people that had suffered near death experiences have described, I felt no divine presence. No sense of inner peace or tranquility. And absolutely no renewal of faith. All that I could feel was the persistent, and overwhelming sense of uncertainty that has been constant since election night. Perhaps, my overly anxious mind is just getting the better of me, as it often does, and all my current worries will be all for not. But unfortunately for me, unlike the residents of Winnetka, and Wilmette, I can’t afford not to worry.

Oh God!: Part II – The Truce

Oh God!: Part II – The Truce
God the Father 21
God the Father 21 (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

There have been times in the past when I have flirted with the idea of being an atheist. Hell,I even have gone as far as calling myself one. I thought that I was wasting my time placing my faith in someone that was a figment of mankind’s imagination. I tried to convince myself that at best, God was nothing more than some beneficial evolutionary adaptation. We created the gods to explain the incomprehensible vastness that made up the known universe. Those that believed in the concept of a higher power, for one reason or another, were able to cope with living in a brutal environment, where we were not the apex predator. Plus the belief in gods made it easier for our ancestors to deal with the awareness of our eventual demise. At worse, the gods and off course God after them, was nothing more than a man made invention created by those who wanted an easy method of controlling the masses.

I yearned to do away with God. I wanted to be grounded in the real world, to only deal with that that I could see with my own eyes, and touch with my own hands. God belonged in the realm of make believe and I was much too old for such childish things. But I couldn’t do it. There more I tried to deny him, the more God became ingrained in my head. I could be mad with him for allowing so much shit in my life. I could resent him for letting me down. I could hate him, for permitting so much self hatred to seep into my heart. But I could not erase him. God was and remains an all too real figure in my mind. I also came to another stark realization. The real reason that I wanted to erase him from my reality, was that I knew how good it once felt to be in his presence so to speak. Or at least how good I imagined it. There was a time when my world seemed to be collapsing into itself, and the only thing that kept me from falling through was my belief that God would somehow manage to get me by. I secretly wished to feel God’s comforting presence. But I had completely forgotten how.

As I had mentioned previously, the day I learned that all my loved ones would some day die, was the day I had made it my mission to find out all there was to know about the invisible man in the sky. At first my goal as a 6 year old was clear; find a way to convince God to spare my family and I from having to experience death. We did not belong in the kingdom of heaven. My family and I belonged here on earth where we already had all our stuff stored.

I would ask my mother and father questions about God. But that didn’t really get me anywhere. My mom, at the time, was what I consider a traditional Catholic. You know, the one that went to mass on Easter, Christmas, and maybe Palm Sunday. That was it. She had a bible, but I never saw her read it. And I never heard her really talk about or mention God and the saints, except when something bad had happened (which was quite often) and would look up to the heavens and plead for God’s good grace. My father was born Catholic as well, but by the time he was in his 30’s he was pretty much secular. He was the kind of fella that would openly mock the church and all the saint. Often times when he got real upset he would say “Me cago en la hostia!” Which translates to I shit on the holy sacrament. My mom would turn red faced with embarrassment and would beg my father not to say such things; especially in front of my siblings and I. My mother feared that my father’s open disdain for the church might incur God’s wrath. But my dad had a bone to pick with God for some reason. It reminded me a bit of the way lieutenant Dan openly challenged God to sink the ship during the storm scene in Forrest Gump. I think my father wanted to get a reaction from the all-mighty. It might have served as proof to him of God’s existence. Which would have have meant to him that there was a reason to feel hopeful. When I look back and take into account all the bad shit that happened to my father during the last decade of his life, I openly wonder if my father ever took it as a sign that God was hitting back for all the times he openly defied him. All I know is that I never got a sense that my father ever made peace with God. If anything he might have just given up on the idea of God all together.

As I grew older, I went looking for answers. We used to live right across the town square and the main Catholic church in Moca, Puerto Rico. Unfortunately for my father,  we were living on the 3rd floor of an apartment building, which meant that the church bells and speakers were in a direct line of site to our place. And in the morning the bells would ring loudly and the pastor would call the parishioners to mass through the giant bullhorn that sat at the top of the church. The announcements always managed to wake my father, who would then start his day by cursing out the priest and all the legion of angels in the heavens. This would then serve as my wake up call. So I would get dressed, and with my mom’s blessing I would head down stairs, cut across the town square and make my way up to the very first pew.

York Minster- Catholic Mass
York Minster- Catholic Mass (Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales))

I would sit there and hear the priest sermon. I would patiently read along with the day’s lesson. But no matter how much I tried to understand what the priest was talking about, none of it would really sink in. Mass usually turned into a biblical history lesson. I didn’t care to know who Shammash or Hepzibah where. It didn’t matter to me why Sodom and Gomorrah were wiped out of existence. All I wanted to know was how God fit in practical terms in my life. How I could get closer to him. I wanted to know why, if he had so much power, did he let bad things still happen to so many good people. So I just stopped going to church.

Then one day when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old. I managed to sucker my mom into talking about God with me. I brought up all these points about God that made no sense to me. And my mom looked at me and said something along the lines of “I honestly don’t know son. I don’t know why God does things the way he does. It often doesn’t make sense to me either. But I will tell you this. That maybe you will feel a bit better, if you just ask him yourself”. I told my mom I didn’t know any prayers. I tried to remember them but my brain refused to record them to memory. And my mom simply advised me to “Pray to him like you are talking to him.”

I never had thought about just having a simple conversation to God. It seemed too strange to me. I always had figured that in order to seek an audience with the head honcho, you had to speak in his lingo, or he wouldn’t bother to address you. But I followed my mom’s advice. I started conversing with him. I would start my day with a short conversation with God, and I would end my day the same way.

Muslim prayer beads
Muslim prayer beads (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t really put into words what I felt after I started having my conversations with God. I will say that our talks were always one sided. I never heard him speak to me or felt the wind blow across my face or anything that would could serve as a sign that he was listening. And yet I had a sense that he was listening. It didn’t feel like I was wasting my time. As the years wore on and my parents marriage deteriorated I could swear that he was there right beside me, keeping me safe from all the chaos that was around me. I didn’t escape unscathed, but I did credit him with just getting me through it. I confess that if it wasn’t for the secret faith and relationship that I shared with God between the age of 9 and 15, I don’t think I would have been able to be where I am today; because my faith was the only thing that kept me on the straight and narrow during that very sensitive period in my life.

This is going to sound a little silly, but bare in mind that I came up with this little prayer when I was 9 years old. So cut me some slack. But I would usually start my conversation like this:

Hey God, it’s me again. I just wanted to ask you to please make sure that Mom, Dad, Paul and Jennifer (my siblings) Grandma, Grandma, and Grandpa (one of my grandfathers had passed away by then), Falcore (my dog) y yo (and me) live forever and ever. With our brain working, hearts working, and lungs working. And please keep us safe from all aliens spirits, and all evil. Thank you.”

I was convinced that my prayer was iron clad. I had covered all the basis of what could go wrong. And as long as I prayed that little prayer, God would not allow any harm to come to my loved ones. To his credit, God did not allow any harm to come to them, except on the few nights that I had fallen asleep before saying the prayer. Once I broke the ice, I would then talk to God about how I hoped the new day would go for me or how it all had went. What pretty girl I had a crush on. Or how sad all the fighting that my parent were doing made me feel. I would express my frustration to him about my poor grades, and for being fat. My conversations with God became almost like a daily therapy session. They would last anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes. Depending on how good or bad the day had been. And the conversations brought so much comfort. I even expressed embarrassment and asked God for forgiveness for questioning his methods when I was younger. God was my friend, my confidant. He was there for me, like no one else I had in my life at the time. He wasn’t the angry vengeful god of the Old Testament. He wasn’t the hippy all loving God of the new. He was something else. Something kinder, gentler. God was more of a force. And one that kept me safe, and loved me, no questions asked.

Then one day, just like that, he was gone. And I’ve been searching for God ever since.

To Be Continued…

Oh God!: Part III – Paradise Lost