Over Easy: America needs a hug

  • Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

For the Valley News
Published: 11/27/2020 9:35:35 PM
Modified: 11/27/2020 9:35:26 PM

With the election over except for the shouting — and four more years of that, perhaps — pundits are turning to America’s “need to heal.”

That’s a tall order at this moment in time, so blow a bugle to gather the U.S. Mental Health Brigade. Calling all counselors, shamans, wise women and men. Text Miss Congeniality and Mr. Nice Guy. Alert the Go-Along-to-Get-Along League.

Uncle Sam wants you — and he needs a hug.

The American political and cultural divide right now is broad. I could list specifics, but it’s too distressing. Basically it comes down to this: Liberals and conservatives hate each other’s guts.

No, you say. It’s not us. It’s them. They despise us and the American way of life. In the ultimate irony, the other side feels exactly the same.

The only thing the two Americas agree on is Dolly Parton, who’s a little bit country, a little bit feminist, and a whole lot iconic.

She transcends all ideological and musical differences and probably should rule the Earth. Until that can be arranged she should be the Senate president while Willie Nelson brings good vibes to the House.

But here in the real world, I trace our current woes to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who might as well take the fall for this. For Gingrich, politics was a scorched-earth business. The opposition is your enemy, kneecap the government, starve public television even if Big Bird must die.

The battle has only accelerated, one side one-upping the other, while social media and propaganda outlets enlist average citizens in a War on Everything. Upper Valley communities have been free of the worst of it, since local officials mostly stick to practical matters such as road paving and buying school books. If you think a change in dump hours is an act of socialism or fascism, there’s no hope for you.

I’m proposing a three-month outrage lockdown. I will wean myself from MSNBC and the Trump-bashing Morning Joe program, and advise conservatives to break from Fox News, talk radio and extreme websites. Let’s agree they all aim to hold readers and viewers hostage by keeping them in a near-hysterical state, like TV weathermen when the snow flies.

I may turn to pure escapism. I could nostalgically check out The Waltons, Andy of Mayberry, Father Knows Best. (For me, Hallmark Christmas movies are a bridge too far.) People made mistakes on those shows, but none went viral. They felt sheepish later and learned their lesson. When I was a kid I didn’t have a personal attorney, so I know what that’s like.

These times may call for comfort food. Let the National Guard deliver casseroles like mom used to make: chicken a la king, tuna casserole, something we called goulash though it had all foreign influences cooked out.

Sure, the foodie fare of today is better, but devotees make such a big deal about the “experience” of dining. In my youth it was dinner, and we left it at that. The classic recipes held America together, like a white sauce that looked like wallpaper paste and kept chicken, noodles and peas united — E Pluribus Unum — from sea to shining sea.

But maybe getting to a better place is something we can do on our own, without mediators, without the intervention of government. First, we need to just calm the (expletive) down. A couple quick ideas:

A recent book, Breath, by James Nestor, says we all need to take one, and keep at it. He says rhythmic, slow-ish breathing through your nose with long exhalations is healthy and calming. Dr. Andrew Weil, the celebrity wellness specialist, and others say breathing in for four seconds, holding it for seven, and exhaling for eight for a few cycles nudges you toward bliss, or sleep, whichever you need most. (Don’t try this while operating heavy machinery.)

A Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard, has been called the happiest man on Earth after participating in a 12-year brain study on compassion and meditation. His brain waves float like butterflies while most of ours slither like slugs. He spent 50 years training his mind to be upbeat and benevolent. Do it for 15 minutes a day, he advises. Google him for more details.

As part of my personal lockdown plan, I pledge not to write about national politics in December, January and February. My beat returns to big doings at the bird feeder, slippery sidewalk adventures and exciting ideas for remote Town Meeting. Now that our neighbors to the west can’t visit Grafton County, I might kick off an Adopt-a-Vermonter campaign.

“There’s no place like home,” said the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, who had to get through quite a whirlwind to get there. Right now I feel I know exactly how she felt.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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