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Make This History: “Do You Have Children?”

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Happy Women’s History Month.

Let me start by saying I’m extremely irritable right now, having just lost a dear friend to COVID a few days ago. I’m edging into the angry part of the grief cycle, which I know will come and go for a time. Meanwhile, people in Idaho are staging photo ops of their children burning life-saving masks. Innocent people are dying and others are acting like drunken teenagers careening down the road of life threatening all the rest of us. So there’s stuff to be truly angry about. But that’s not what I’m writing about.

I wouldn’t say I’m angry about today’s topic, just irritated. In recent days, I’ve had the opportunity to be in the (virtual) presence of a lot of lovely people I don’t know, praying and grieving and helping the family. As irrelevant as it seems to me in those situations, that perennial question still popped up: “Do you have children?”

As always, there was the awkward silence. Then I answered lightly, “No, I’m fancy free.” But then I added, “Why do you ask?” All of a sudden, the awkwardness was on her instead of me. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, “I just thought . . ., “ and trailed off. 

No, you did not think. That’s my point: please think before you ask a stranger that question. Some would say it’s not your business, but I won’t, because that sounds mean, and I know the question is not meant to hurt and is probably just your way of trying to connect, to make conversation, to know me. 

But you don’t know me, you don’t know my journey, you don’t know that I haven’t lost a child, that I didn’t try for decades to have a child, that I did not endure repeated miscarriages, that I did not pine my whole life for a husband who never came along. 

None of those things are true for me, blessedly. Your question is just a pinprick. But I know women in each of those categories and your mindless question is like a knife in the heart for many of them. Surely, you also know people for whom one or more of those things are true. So — please stop. If a woman has kids. you’re going to hear about them soon enough if she wants to talk about them. 

I’m not trying to be mean. Really. (If you want to see my mean face, start telling me why you choose not to wear a mask.) It’s just a matter of thinking about what you say. Nearly half of all women of childbearing age do not have children. In women beyond childbearing years like me, 1 in 7 don’t have kids. There are all different reasons for this, but none of them count as “small talk.” 

I Don’t Know What Happens When People Die

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My dear friend Bill stands at the threshold between this life and whatever lies beyond this life. A victim of COVID, his lungs are battered and his strength is all but gone. I am holding out for a miracle, because they do happen and my God, Bill deserves one. He is like a brother to me, and if you know my journey with my brother, you know I do not use those words lightly. 

I stand behind Bill, peeking over his shoulder at what’s beyond. I don’t know, though I had some profound insights in 2008 when I peeked over my mother’s shoulder at the Beyond. 

I was trying to explain all this to my cat Alice this morning, and I think I clarified it for her. 

“We never know for sure, Alice,” I said. “But I’m pretty sure I know for sure that later on, we will know for sure.” Alice seemed content with that.

Can’t Seem to Grasp It as Hard as I Try

Here’s the thing, though. I’m trying to grasp this with my mind, but this is not a mind thing. Oh, we don’t like to hear that, we like to believe that our noggins and our beloved “logic” rule supreme. But the greatest mysteries are in the realm of spirit, of energy, of heart. So, too, is the greatest meaning.

I suspect that our logic and critical thinking skills aren’t of much value in the by & by, but I truly hope that God humors us and allows our minds to grasp the big stuff, the real stuff, the whys, the WTFs, and how all the pieces fit together — to see the good that God doggedly brings forth in the midst of tragedy. 

If we are inclined towards gratitude, we can often see God’s good right now, right here in this life. Right alongside the grief and rage and despair of Bill’s situation is the overwhelming power of love and selflessness I am seeing in our community. I can’t describe it to you, I have never experienced or even heard of such an outpouring. It is the fruit of the loving lives that Bill and his wife Shobha have lived so far. It is what Jesus called the “Kingdom of God.” A glimpse of the Beyond.

Don’t Let the Uncertainty Turn You Around

When I was in my twenties, I was obsessed with singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. I spent many nights under the headphones with him, and many afternoons and evenings at his live shows. There was one song I always told my boyfriend I wanted played at my funeral, but in later years my spiritual understandings evolved and I found the song too existential for my taste.

But these days, the song is in my head again, day and night, and I sing it to Alice as I dance with her around the living room in our cloud of uncertainty: 

For a Dancer

Keep a fire burning in your eye

Pay attention to the open sky

You never know what will be coming down

I don’t remember losing track of you

You were always dancing in and out of view

I must have thought you’d always be around

Always keeping things real by playing the clown

Now you’re nowhere to be found//

I don’t know what happens when people die

I can’t seem to grasp it as hard as I try

It’s like a song I can hear playing right in my ear

That I can’t sing

I can’t help listening//

And I can’t help feeling stupid standing ’round

Crying as they ease you down

‘Cause I know that you’d rather we were dancing

Dancing our sorrow away

Right on dancing

No matter what fate chooses to play

(There’s nothing you can do about it anyway)//

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown

By everyone you’ve ever known

Until the dance becomes your very own

No matter how close to yours

Another’s steps have grown

In the end, there is one dance you’ll do alone//

Keep a fire for the human race

Let your prayers go drifting into space

You never know what will be coming down

Perhaps a better world is drawing near

Just as easily, it could all disappear

Along with whatever meaning you might have found

Don’t let the uncertainty turn you around

(The world keeps turning around and around)

Go on and make a joyful sound//

Into a dancer you have grown

From a seed somebody else has thrown

Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own

And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go

May lie a reason you were alive, but you’ll never know

{Jackson Browne, For a Dancer, 1974}

Praying for a Miracle

An Ash Wednesday Confession

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. It’s really a Catholic thing, but lots of Jesus followers participate in the Lenten season leading up to Easter, usually by giving up something for forty days. Chocolate, sugar, coffee, cursing, whatever. 

I try to refrain from an activity that I feel separates me from God or distracts me from my efforts to more fully become who I’m meant to be, i.e., my spiritual journey. Once I gave up alcohol (thinking it dulled my God-given senses and feelings), once saturated fat (to honor the body God gave me), and once driving over the speed limit (busyness and hurry being antithetical to mindfulness). There was really no question what I needed to release this year, but I fought it.

What the Hell is Happening?

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m somewhat addicted to Twitter. Facebook can give my brain tiny shots of dopamine, but it’s nothing compared to Twitter. I blame donald trump, as I do for most things. But seriously, the heightened sense of anxiety I’ve been drowning in for four-plus years, exacerbated by the COVID stress, made me feel that I HAD TO KNOW WHAT WAS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME. DAY AND NIGHT. To feel safe, I had to be on top of the news minute-by-minute. Twitter also made sure I knew what thousands of people thought about that news minute-by-minute. There’s no downtime on Twitter. When east-coasters go to bed, I’m happy to stay up and either chat with or debate with strangers in California. 

I don’t like Twitter. It brings out the absolute worst in me, aggressive behavior and negative energy. Because I’m afraid. I believe that the people who enable trump — even after January 6th — threaten our democracy. I mean, they are pretending the election was illegitimate, hence so is President Biden. They now have us exactly where Putin wants us. His money was well spent on trump. That’s not an excuse for my unhealthy behavior, it’s just the reason: hyper-vigilance and fear. 

Trying to Be Nicer

Once I deactivated my Twitter account for a month because I didn’t like who I was in that world. I gave up all my followers and started over. I followed other writers, other climate activists, other progressive Christians, and — slowly at first, then more and more — news sources and other “resisters” of trump. Before I knew it, I was back in the political fray. 

What Twitter really is, is a giant gossip echo chamber. Fortunately, I know very few Hollywood types, TV shows, sports figures, and the like. So I ignore that gossip. But the politics is just gossip, too. Mean gossip. And I get right down in the mud. 

This is all my doing. There are lovely people on Twitter, delightful things happening. Book lovers sharing treasures, kind people comforting bereaved strangers, writers encouraging each other. (Though it seems most of the writers are just trying to get others to follow them and/or buy their e-books.) I like a lot of the people. But I too often wander into the dark alleys looking for another dopamine hit. And so beginning today, Ash Wednesday, I’m giving it up for Lent. 

I just heard Rush Limbaugh died. I could have spent a lot of my day opining and arguing with strangers about his legacy. I might have been very clever. I would have got some “likes” and maybe a few follows. But instead I was silent because I wasn’t there. 

I expect I will be anxious with all the free brain-time over the next forty days. So maybe, just maybe, I’ll take a bit of time to think about God and how I can make this world more kind and beautiful.


To dust we shall return

The trump Riot: Grief and Gratitude

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I’m still processing yesterday, as are we all. January 6th will undoubtedly go down as one of the darkest days in American history. Whoever thought we would live to see an armed insurrection incited by the President of the United States??

My emotions are a complete jumble, from deep grief to fear to gladness that our election process has held up under enormous pressure. And of course there’s intense relief that January 20th is near. 

There are so many aspects to this tragedy, a glaring one being that — if we are honest — we all know how different the day would have looked if black and brown people had stormed the Capitol. Night sticks would be bloodied and broken, jails would be filled to capacity, and the death toll would have been far greater.

I don’t have many words today, though my mind is so full of them I barely slept. I am hoping against hope that Vice President Pence will honor his oath of office by removing the clear and present danger from the Oval Office. It’s past time for the 25th Amendment.

My main feeling today is gratitude, most especially to the journalists — print, TV, radio, camera operators — who put their lives in danger yesterday to bring us the stark truth of what has happened.

 An outstanding piece of journalism from British reporter Robert Moore puts into words what we all know in our hearts:

“America’s long journey as a stable democracy appears to be in doubt.” 

December 21, 1946: Don’t You Know Me, Bert? Ernie?

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Watching this Jimmy Stewart treasure has always been one of the high points of my Christmas season. I look forward to it all year, and I cry at the end every single time, even though I know most of the dialogue by heart. I’ll pick up eggnog and popcorn this week and settle in after my Zoom Christmas Eve service.
If you’re also sharing quality time with Jimmy & Donna, perhaps this bit of history from my fellow blogger Richard Daybell will enrich your experience. Merry Christmas week!

 

Wretched Richard's Almanac

Frank Capra said that it was his favorite of the many movies he made throughout a phenomenal career. He screened it for his family every Christmas season. Yet it’s initial 1946 release at the Globe Theater in New York did not bring about yuletide euphoria and visions of sugar plums. It’s a Wonderful Life premiered to mixed and sometimes dismissive reviews, but it went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made, garnering a permanent spot in every list of the top films of the last century.

From its very beginning, it did not inspire great expectations. It was based on an original story “The Greatest Gift”written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1939. After being unsuccessful in getting the story published, Stern made it into a Christmas card, and mailed 200 copies to family and friends in 1943. In 1944, RKO Pictures ran across the…

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Choosing Joy at Christmas

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I woke w/ Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in my head – not a bad way to start the day! I’m playing it now and remembering my Mom’s dancing giddiness whenever she heard it. I can only imagine her joy, being a young lead soprano w/ the Boston Orchestra and singing her heart out as the organ swelled to a crescendo.

“Forever and ever! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

It’s transporting just to think about. I am glad she had such joy!

Christmas is often sad-sweet, especially once you’ve lost close loved ones. Those ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future dart through your head and heart unannounced, sometimes bringing tears, sometimes laughter.

The season has been especially tough since I lost my beloved brother at Christmas in 2013. This year I lost two dear friends, and I’m hurting for their families. But surprisingly, I’m on a fairly even keel so far. Perhaps I was prepared for a difficult time between COVID, trump trauma, and the prospect of a particularly solitary Christmas.

At any rate, I’m decorating more than I have in years, listening to carols, watching Christmas movies, and reading Advent books of art and poetry. I am fortunate that while I sometimes edge into depression, I am mostly prone to grief — simple sadness. So I can choose what I will pay attention to, what energy I will feed.

Christmas, like all of life, is both/and — sadness and joy, loss and abundance. After all, the season celebrates the birth of a tiny baby who offered peace to everyone on earth for all time, but who was also destined to experience deep grief, betrayal, and a violent death. History has it that he was a poor handyman who became the most influential person who ever lived. The ultimate both/and.

As author Anne Lamott says, “Hallelujah anyway!”

I wish you great, transporting joy this Christmas, if you celebrate the season.

Trouble with the Trump Transition? You’re Not the Only One

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The guy occupying the Oval Office isn’t the only one having trouble with the transition to a post-trump world. 

When I asked my Facebook friends whether anyone else was feeling unspeakably tired, the response was a resounding “Yes, yes, and yes.” People spoke of migraines, tension, and a sense of unreality, but mostly exhaustion. How else could we feel after being anxious, grieved, and/or outraged for such a long, long time? 

Even if we were engaged in “normal life,” we knew that all was not well. Not by a long shot. The president is a walking diagnostic manual of multiple mental disorders. Still, many also spoke of feeling “ecstatic” and “liberated” and being able to breathe deeply and sleep soundly for the first time in four years. So it’s both/and. Ecstatic and exhausted. Still grieving, but profoundly relieved.

#Irrelevant

This transition period is fraught in its own special way. The president is mostly quiet — golfing, watching TV, occasionally rage tweeting: “FRAUD!!!…THEY CHEAT!!!….RIGGED ELECTION!!” But you can tell  his heart’s not in it anymore. He is like a caged, wounded beast. His suffering is palpable — it feels pathological, like everything about him. He mostly hulks in the corner and sulks, occasionally lashing out ineffectually from behind his bars. (Won’t it be a fine day when Biden removes all the barricades trump has erected around our White House?)

I know trump is still the president, he still has the nuclear codes, he is still firing every effective and ethical civil servant who comes to his attention in these last days. Yet I feel he is increasingly becoming background noise. Irrelevant. And so my mind and body are relaxing in stages, little by little. I think this explains my daily mood swings. My brain chemicals are sloshing side-to-side so much that it’s dizzying. 

One day, I fear that trump is encouraging violence between Proud Boys and Antifa so that he can declare marshall law and at long last have his beloved military parade in the streets. The next day, I meet my neighbors at the local farmer’s market, buy some kale, cabbage, and sweet potatoes, and also some flowers and a stupidly expensive bottle of local Cabernet Franc. (The orchardist told me that Franc grapes are the “daddy” of both Cabernet and Merlot, so it’s got to be good.)

Getting outside, laughing with other people, and spoiling myself brings me back to our new reality. 

Yes, COVID. Yes, rampant racism. Yes, our democracy is shockingly fragile. But donald trump is done. The voters have spoken, and spoken loudly. Even though he continually tweets that he is “just getting ready” to reveal “massive fraud,” he is history. 

And speaking of history, hidden in his twenty morning tweets today is a plea for “historians” (in quotes because I guess he doesn’t believe in historians) to recognize that COVID vaccines were discovered under his watch. Perhaps he’s thinking about his legacy? Is reality getting through? More shall be revealed. 

New Head Space

For now, please take of yourself. Drink lots of water. Drink good wine, if you partake. Sleep late. Go outside and move your body. Eat chocolate. Treat yourself to flowers or books or whatever makes you happy. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Because amidst the darkness that is COVID and the national security risks caused by the man-child’s refusal to allow a peaceful transition, there is also room for happiness and joy and relaxation. As his yammering fades, there’s a lot more space in our heads for peace and goodness. We deserve that. 

And may we use our new-found head space to engage with the January 5th Georgia run-off election so that those same voters who rejected trump will continue to reject ugliness and division by denying trump’s enablers a majority in the Senate. Make a difference, here.

Just imagine if the Congress could once again do the people’s work! 

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5

The Eternal Election Night

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The last four years have been interminable. The year 2020 itself has lasted four long years. And now we have entered the Election Night that would not end. Several people have requested that I write a blog post in response to what is going on, even a friend in New Zealand. I’ve never had such requests before, so I’m trying to comply.

I find I’m up against some challenges, one being that I’ve just returned to Maryland after four months of hiding from COVID up at my place in New Hampshire. I drove on Election Day because I hoped there might be a pause in the wilding trump supporters who have been harassing people, stopping traffic, and trying to run Biden buses off the road. My car is plastered with liberal bumper stickers, plus it’s a communist hybrid. Thankfully, it was a quiet drive. But I’m all discombobulated and can’t find anything in the wreckage I’ve unloaded from my car.

Also, as I mentioned in my last post, WordPress has instituted a “new and improved” blog platform that everyone seems to hate, and I haven’t had the time or inclination to learn how to use it. Blogging is not the simple act it once was. I can revert to the old platform, which worked perfectly well, but it would cost me $300. So there’s that. 

And finally, I don’t much feel like writing. My head is jangling, filled with all kinds of brain chemicals I’m not used to. I don’t have a TV, so usually don’t see commercials or hear the stress-inducing manic music most of America lives with. But the networks are graciously allowing even plebeians like me to livestream this week’s mayhem, so here I am, hooked. I’ve been glued to my computer screen since I arrived home at 8 p.m. election night. I watch the red & blue vote tallies not move, as I flip back and forth between MSNBC and CNN and FOX (my first time ever watching the latter — it’s kind of fascinating).

The Narrow Path

Last night I wisely unplugged and went to a prayer practice circle held on the grounds of my church. We used the Welcoming Prayer, which I’ve blogged about before. I recognized and welcomed my fear and anxiety and anger, and then I released them to God. 

It was harder to let go of the grief that I’ve discovered underlies it all — grief for my country, for humanity, for the planet. Grief feels good and right, even holy. No matter who wins the election, the fact remains that nearly half of America thinks it’s OK to have a president who cannot tell the truth, who promotes violence and racism, gasses peaceful protesters, denies science, and gleefully puts the profits of coal companies ahead of human survival. Grief is appropriate.

Biden’s path to electoral victory is narrow, and trump’s is narrower. But the narrowest path is the path back to basic sanity and civility for our nation. If Biden becomes president, it’ll be a steep and dangerous climb. If he doesn’t? Well, you see why I can’t write about this.

What we know so far . . .

Book Review: On the Brink of Everything, by Parker Palmer

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There’s a lot to love in this little book. Parker Palmer is one of my favorite spiritual authors, and I’ve been fortunate to see him speak a few times. His humility and wisdom are so refreshing and needed these days, and as he ages, his readers just get more of both. This book speaks to my time of life and the subtitle says it all: grace, gravity, and getting old.


Parker says we need to reframe aging as “a passage of discovery and engagement, not decline and inaction.” Then he goes on to tell us what that looks like for him through essays, poems, and stories, plus a good sprinkling of quotes from other wise people. Lots of Thomas Merton. This is a relaxed and friendly read, and his take on spirituality is the same: “an endless effort to penetrate illusion and touch reality.”


No matter your age or spiritual background (or lack thereof), this book could do you good — especially if you have an activist’s heart.

*** Let me apologize for WordPress. Apparently the powers that be decided to completely change the way this site works, and I can’t figure it out, nor have I the inclination to at present. Figures that the only technology I had even a tenuous grip on is now no more. It really was the only user-friendly blog platform I’d found, and now — not so much. So I am unable to categorize or label my blogs, but I’m sending this out anyway. ***

I Will Not Enable trump’s Psychological Warfare

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I have experienced some psychological trauma in my life — not nearly what some people have survived, but enough to know what it feels like. What happens to your brain and body. I felt the nausea, pounding heart, headache and disassociation from reality last night, as I watched the so-called “presidential” debate.

When I woke this morning, it was all still there, plus a sense of panic because my cat had escaped and spent the night outside with the wild animals in the pouring rain. Perhaps she felt safer out there than trapped inside with the abuse and vitriol emanating from my computer.

I read a quote this morning that put our national nightmare in perspective for me:

“The president is engaging in psychological warfare against the American people — as tin-pot dictators do.”

— Tom Nichols, international affairs expert

(Tin-pot dictator: An autocratic ruler with little political credibility, typically having delusions of grandeur.)

No Trespassing, trump

So today I choose not to further expose myself to his abuse. He will not be in my head or my heart today. I’m staying away from screens, except perhaps to post pictures of colorful leaves or my cat (who came in for breakfast). There’s a part of me that wants to stay engaged, to watch the war on Twitter, the disbelief from the pundits, the rage on Facebook. It feels like therapy, in a warped way. Only it’s not — it’s enabling. I won’t listen to him, I won’t allow him to disturb my peace.

I’m making pancakes from scratch for brunch. I might build a fire even though it’s sixty degrees. I’m going to read my Bible and my Mary Pipher book, “Writing to Change the World,” because we each have to use the gifts we’ve been given. And I’m going to write — perhaps make progress on my unlikely essay about what trump can teach us about spirituality. Maybe I’ll edit some poetry I’m working on, or plaster my dining room walls with easel-sized Post-Its and start mapping out my memoir in bold colors. I’m stalled in my early thirties.

I’ll light scented candles and drink copious amounts of tea. I’ll cuddle up in a blanket and treat myself as if I’m having a sick day. Because I kind of am. But I know the cure. I’m with Joe Biden on this one:

 

“Will you shut up, man?!”

Choosing Peace

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