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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

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.

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 . . .

New Year’s Reflections of an Extremely Eclectic Blogger

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Happy new year, friends! I especially want to greet all you readers who’ve just recently wandered into my little patch of the virtual world, which I call Writing With Spirit. My guess is that you newbies followed WWS because of my travel/photo entries from New Zealand, my weight loss posts, or my musings in the Twitter #WritingCommunity.

I’d love to give you an introduction or overview of some sort, but like any semi-spiritual endeavor, Writing With Spirit is not linear and it’s not easy to characterize. Let’s just call it eclectic.

Psychology, Politics, and the Planet

It won’t take you long to discern that focus is not my forte. I originally intended to write about the spiritual & psychological aspects of de-cluttering, but since I’ve done very little decluttering in the eight years since I started blogging, that kind of fell by the wayside. Plus, it was an election year, and I quickly fell into politics, which I’m addicted to, for better or worse. Mostly worse, since the traumatic events of November 2016.

Those traumatic events also transformed my peaceful poems about mother nature into rants about environmental policy and the evils of greed and corporate power. OK, I probably ranted about those before trump, but now it’s, it’s . . . I mean, what can I say? Everything I worked for in my thirty years as a Sierra Club lobbyist in D.C. is being decimated. Who knew how fast all that progress could be reversed? Oh, and incidentally, the survival of humankind and countless other species is now under serious question.

This is what climate change looks like; Australia 2020

Addiction, Grief, and Pretty Pictures

But let’s talk about something more pleasant, like addiction and mental health. My Dad was an alcoholic, and some of my friends struggle as well. I used to have quite a taste for cocaine, myself. I spent eight years in therapy, and even more in twelve-step groups for people who love people with addictions. So sometimes I write about addiction or recovery or mental and emotional health.

Then there’s death. I lost my Mom, my brother, and several good friends in recent years, so there’s a lot of grief processing in this blog (though praise God, less than there used to be). As far as edification and practicality go, I think those blog posts are some of my best. You might want to use the search function to explore my musings on grief if you are in a dark place.

On a lighter note, I’m a writer and I love words, so sometimes I’ll do an entire post about one word that captures my attention. I’m currently wrestling with my memoir, so I write about writing (or not writing). I also lost forty pounds in 2019 by using the Noom weight-loss plan, and I’ve started to share about that experience. I love traveling and taking pictures, so my followers journey along with me. Last year we went to Seattle, British Columbia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and New Zealand.

Shell Shadow on Himatangi Beach, New Zealand

 

Tree Art near Seattle, Washington

 

Rose, Hamilton Gardens New Zealand

 

Cat Greets the Dawn in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now

At my core, I’m a God-seeker and a Jesus follower, hence the name Writing With Spirit. That is my center, because like the French philoshper-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, I believe “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

I suppose you would call me a progressive Christian, though I don’t care for the tag Christian, since it’s generally come to mean judgmental, mean-spirited, exclusionary, and not particularly thoughtful. My faith moves me to care deeply about social justice and the poor and especially dismantling racism. So I write about that stuff, too.

Because all that I hold dear is under attack, I often take jabs at the current president. I can’t help it. I try to be nice, but let’s be real.

“Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

–Bob Dylan

So there you have it. An introduction and overview. Sort of. It’s not what I meant to write when I sat down. That was just supposed to be the first sentence or two. Anyway, various posts may or may not appeal to you, but I hope you’ll stick with me on this journey. And if you have any friends who might want to accompany us, please invite them. Cause check it out! I’m only two followers away from 5,000, and even though it’s only a number, and recognition and affirmation and all that rot isn’t important (and we’ve seen what happens when it reaches pathological levels), still — it’s kinda cool.

Thanks for your support for my ramblings in 2019!

Oh, have I mentioned I have Attention Deficit Disorder? Do I need to at this point? Sometimes I write about that, too.

Happy 2020!!

What September 11th Means To This American

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September 11th: we call it the “National Day of Service and Remembrance.” Honestly, I’d rather not remember that soul-shattering day in 2001, except for the surreal sense of oneness and belonging — the connection, concern for others, grief for the state of the world — dare I say universal love? I do want to remember that. There were beautiful tributes at American embassies worldwide, thousands of flowers and flags and candles and cards. And of course we remember those first responders, many of whom are still paying the cost of their sacrifice. No wonder this date is dedicated to unity and charitable service.

The world loved America that day, warts and all. Even this old hippie drove around with an American flag tied to her car antennae for months afterward. Remembering the unity and big-hearted patriotism that surrounded us in the weeks after 9/11 makes me feel homesick, wondering how we could have fallen so far so fast. The seeds of division and nationalism that plague us today were already planted and well-rooted in 2001, but they were easy to ignore if you were a privileged white person such as myself. I was busy.

Now, though, there’s no denying it.

America is desperately ill, and the seeds of evil have grown into gnarled trees of corruption and greed and white nationalism. Our president and his cronies are intentionally feeding and watering those trees. Evil is flourishing right out in the open: we have a mentally unbalanced, strongman authoritarian seeking dictatorial power with the complete compliance of the once “Grand Old Party.” There may be violence if he loses, he warns, as he stokes the fires of anger and fear at his hate-fueled rallies.

I barely recognize America anymore. She never really was “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” but at least we all wanted her to be. Now the strongman tells elected officials of color to “go back where you came from.”

But here’s the thing: I still love America, even more than I did when I tied that flag to my antennae on September 12, 2001. Her founding ideals may have become a mockery, corporate money may have damaged democracy beyond repair, and greed-driven climate denial may spell the beginning of the end for our species. But that “liberty and justice for all” thing? That’s still worth pursuing and defending with all we’ve got. Good-hearted women and men have fought for those ideals for hundreds of years, some in uniform, some in courtrooms, some protesting in the streets, some being martyred. Their spirits live on.

So on this “Day of Remembrance and Service,” let’s remember what this country stands for. Let’s commit to speaking up when we see racism and injustice in our daily lives. Let’s commit to educating ourselves fully, to admitting and learning from our mistakes, to voting, and to teaching our children to vote. Let’s march in the streets to protect one another, and let’s get involved in the upcoming election.

“Don’t mourn, organize!”

Joe Hill, songwriter and union organizer executed by the state of Utah in 1815.

In Remembrance

 

 

Memories of September 11, 2001

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MEMORIES OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

If you were alive and old enough to comprehend what was going on, you have your memories. Here are mine:

Hearing about the first plane strike on NPR as I got ready to leave for my office on Capitol Hill and thinking, “That wasn’t an accident.”

Arriving at work, turning on the TV, seeing the Pentagon in flames and thinking, “We are being attacked. This is a war.”

Huddling around the TV with a dozen others as we watched the tower fall, and saying over and over, uncomprehendingly, “Are there people in there? Are there people in that building?”

Standing on the deck outside our office and seeing a plume of smoke rise into the air beyond the Capitol building — the Pentagon burning.

Frantically trying to get my coworkers to move away from the windows, fearing that the Capitol would be next. They laughed at me, none of us realizing that at that moment, the heroes of Flight 93 were taking down the plane that was aimed at the beautiful dome just a few blocks away.

The weight of making the decision to send everyone home, even though we weren’t sure it was safe. Walking to my car and passing hundreds of congressional aides milling around dialing their useless cell phones. All systems were down.

Battling evacuating traffic and finally reaching my neighborhood just as the NPR reporter signed off his long and painful shift.  His voice was cracking and wavering with emotion.

Pulling over to the side of the road and wailing like a bereft child.

Stopping at the sub shop because I didn’t want to go home alone. Nobody speaking. An older woman looking at me and shaking her head, over and over, as if trying to expel the images.

A friend came over that night. I don’t remember much of what we said as we tried to process the day, but I remember telling her that I felt like I’d lost an innocence I hadn’t even known existed, and that I would never feel safe again.

In Memoriam

The Loss of a Beloved Companion

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I am writing this for myself, but maybe also for you in case you need it someday. I am in that dreadful netherworld that you may have visited if you’ve ever been owned by a pet: The death watch.

It is nearing the time when my sweet Eliza Bean will move on to somewhere else. I don’t know where my kitty is going, but I know she won’t be here with me. All I will have is my memories and her ashes, which I will store on the closet shelf with the ashes of two other cats and my dog. (I know, I know. I have a hard time letting go. But I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one with a collection of ashes in the closet.)

In this netherworld, we make the gut-wrenching decisions of when and how our beloved companion will die. We wrestle with impossible questions like, “I’m going on vacation and I know my pet is not long for this world. Should I put him down now or stress him out in a kennel? Or not go on vacation?”

I met a woman and her daughter at the vet the other day with a cancer-kitty like mine. The mother wanted to put the cat to sleep because it had become incontinent and was soiling the carpets. Her teen-aged daughter was scandalized that her mother would be so cruel and heartless. I don’t know how that one turned out, and I sure didn’t know that just a few days later I would be facing the same dilemma.

The girl’s horrified face is in my mind as I clean Eliza Bean’s mess off the floor. This just started yesterday. I’ve been googling feline diapers — that’s a thing, you know. Not a thing I would buy, but a thing. Regardless, my twenty-year-old “little girl” will be gone before Amazon Prime could deliver those diapers.

I don’t see that she has more than a few days left.

And so now I have to decide. I’d like to let her go on her own time. “Let nature take its course,” as they say. But is that cruel? At what point am I keeping her alive for me, rather than for her? That’s the only question I need to be asking.

The. Only. Question.

She has no chance of recovery and not even of a small bounce-back. It’s lung cancer, and it’s constricting her organs. I won’t go into details. I don’t know if she is in a lot of pain, but I do know she is really, really miserable. And her comfort is my responsibility.

So I guess I’ve made my decision. Thank you for listening.

I will likely be re-visiting this netherworld again soon, as Eliza’s sister Mayasika has mammary cancer that has metastasized. So if you have words of wisdom that have helped you through, I could use them.

Blessings.

Eliza Bean, a.k.a. Loopy Bean, Liza Loo, Loo Loo, Beaner Reaner, Beanie, Little Bean, Lucy Bean.

Insanity in Sutherland Springs

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INSANITY IN SUTHERLAND SPRINGS

Insanity. I’m not talking about the mentally ill mass shooter who has just murdered some twenty-seven people inside a church in Texas. (I assume he was mentally unwell.)

I’m talking about the Attorney General of Texas who warns that the shootings will continue and that all businesses, schools, and churches should have plans for when the shooting starts.

 

“I wish some law would fix all of this,” he says.

 

Gee, you mean like one banning assault weapons or one requiring stricter background checks or one banning high-capacity magazines meant to ensure more bloodshed, quicker? Or maybe just the simple one introduced in the Senate after the Las Vegas slaughter which bans devices that turn a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic one?

 

No, I guess he’s not talking about any of those. Here’s his take:

 

“All I can say is in Texas at least we have the opportunity to have conceal carry … there’s always the opportunity that a gunman will be taken out before he has the opportunity to kill very many people.”

So much opportunity for the people of Texas!

 

If that isn’t insane, I don’t know what is.

 

Am I “politicizing” a tragedy? You bet your sweet behind I am. The GOP told us bleeding heart liberals not to politicize the Las Vegas shooting and now it’s too late for the people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. And it’s too late for all three hundred and seven people who have died in mass shootings so far in 2017.

 

As the gun-totin’ Texas Attorney General says, better get your plans ready. Because your government sure as hell isn’t going to do anything about the carnage.

I Want To Write About Charlottesville

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I want to write about Charlottesville. About watching my Twitter feed in horror as scene after scene scrolled by — swastikas, confederate flags, t-shirts emblazoned with Hitler slogans, torches of hate surrounding a church full of peaceful praying people, a black boy being beaten with poles, and finally the car — the car crashing into living, breathing, beautiful human beings.

I want to say Heather Heyer’s name.

But I can’t seem to gather the words.

I want to write about how I wonder if even just a few trump voters are thinking, “Oops.”

If they might see the teensiest connection between the largest gathering of white supremacists in modern history and the election of a man who encouraged his supporters to commit violence and pledged to pay their legal bills, expressed regret that he couldn’t punch a protester in the face, yearned for the good old days when people were carried out on stretchers, and just the other day advised the police to rough up people in their custody.

But there simply aren’t words.

I want to write about the nameless fear and deep sickness and vast emptiness that must be devouring those raging white men who chant “We will not be replaced.” What is that? Whatever happens with healthcare, can we at least get these people some therapy?

I want to write about how I smirked at the images of the little boys with their tiki-torches and the fact that the Tiki-Torch company actually had to disavow nazism — I mean, it’s all so ridiculous — but then I remembered how much evil a bunch of “boys” with a simple loop of rope can do.

There aren’t words.

I want to write about the feeling of solidarity at the rally yesterday, thousands and thousands of us marching purposefully, signs aloft, our chants booming off the hulking federal buildings that line the roads in the nation’s capitol and then rising to a thunderous crescendo of “SHAME, SHAME, SHAME, SHAME” as we passed the trump hotel.

And my further feelings of love and gratitude when I got home and found dozens of Twitter photos of demonstrations and vigils in Philly, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Orlando, Atlanta, Durham, Vancouver . . . and virtually all of my Facebook friends expressing grief, determination, love, and commitment to fighting for justice in whatever ways they can.

My friends didn’t post pictures of their cats and appetizers this weekend.

But all of these feelings are too much. There aren’t the words.

So although I want to write about Charlottesville but am unable, I will instead leave you with a quote from Anne Frank, which I must believe or I would perish.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

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