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The Deathly Stench of trump’s Refugee Ban

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Scent is seriously evocative, isn’t it? It intertwines with all the other senses and with memory and emotion. As if the brain chemicals released by odors have a scent of their own that fills your brain and touches every neurotransmitter.

Take this picture of Omran from Syria, for example.

Omran

Omran

The visual image brings on a strong sense of smell when you think about it. The primary odor for me is the acrid smell of burning sulfur, like spent sparklers on the Fourth of July. Then there’s that dreadful smell of burning hair that we all know from some mishap or another — perhaps also related to fireworks, or to the unexpected whoosh of a gas stove when you are making pizza from Italy or potatoes from Ireland or sauerkraut from Germany or hummus from the Middle East or coffee from Yemen or black eyed peas from Africa.

I am blessed never to have smelled burning human flesh. As a vegetarian, just the smell of meat cooking can make me gag. I imagine Omran smelled burning flesh the day the bomb went off. He, too, may gag his whole life when he smells meat cooking, but he probably won’t know why. He clearly has top-rung PTSD.

He’s smelling blood, obviously. And smoke. He has just been pulled out of the rubble of his home, so he’s covered with not just ashes, but fine concrete dust, adding that cold earthy smell to his experience.

I don’t know what Omran was doing before the bomb hit. Probably not playing with Play Dough or Legos or crayons like an American child.

Maybe he was hugging his dog and had a musty doggie smell on his shirt. I hope he did not witness his dog getting blown to bits.

Maybe he was helping his mother cook, and now the warm smell of baking flat bread will forever make him gag, too.

That dreadful orange color surrounding Omran smells to me like hot plastic, a Howard Johnson’s booth sticky with maple syrup and hot fudge sauce, baking in harsh sunshine streaming through a streaky window. I don’t know whether Omran will ever taste maple syrup or hot fudge sauce. I know his ten year-old brother Ali won’t. He died of his injuries a few days after this picture was taken.

The smell of coffee gets us up and out of bed in the morning. The smell of microwave popcorn gets us up and out of our cubicle at work. The smell of dinner gets us up, off the couch and into the kitchen.

Will the smells of Omran get us up off our butts and into our Senator’s offices and into the streets and into the airports? Will we remember who we are as Americans before we’ve lost our souls?

At the White House this weekend #MuslimBanProtest

At the White House this weekend #MuslimBanProtest

The trump™ supporters who respond to my Tweets on the #MuslimBan call me Snowflake and moron and loser. They say the ban is only for three months and we need to protect ourselves and besides it’s not meant as a Muslim ban, not really.

But I say that the children of Syria are choking on the smell of hate and violence and death. They do not have three months.

 

 

 

 

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Finding the Beauty in Grief and Loss

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In light of yesterday’s mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando, I am republishing this 2014 post on finding the beauty in grief and loss. Perhaps it can lighten your load today.

RAINBOW US FLAG

It’s amazing what happens when you invite people to talk about grief and loss. It’s as if everybody walks around with a lid on their pain until somebody gives them permission to take it off.

I led a spiritual support group discussion last week and suggested the topic, which won’t surprise you, dear reader, since I’ve offered you virtually nothing else since my brother passed away ten weeks ago.

biff among the cards

But I’m not just talking about death. I’m talking about losing a job and not being able to find another one. I know several people who have been in that ego-crushing situation, and it can lead to serious depression and anxiety issues if the loss is not given its due.

I’m talking about having an intimate relationship slowly fizzle out until you find yourself attached to someone you barely recognize. There’s no “crisis,” yet all your dreams of how life could be with this person are lost. You’re left with a gaping hole that you may try to fill with alcohol, drugs, busyness, shopping, porn – anything to numb the loss that you don’t want to confront.

I’m talking about lost friendships that fade out when one of you moves or leaves a job, or a broken friendship that can’t be mended even if you both try because essential pieces have been lost, most often trust.

Grieving over lost health was a common theme in our support group. One minute you’re an employee, a parent, a sibling and you’re cleaning, fixing, planning, and generally living life, and the next you are a patient being cut open or pumped full of poisons that are supposed to cure you.  You lose who you thought you were.

And of course there’s death. One person in our group lost her father to suicide at sixteen. By the time she was twenty-one, she had also lost her brother in a helicopter crash and her sister and mother to cancer. Although we all knew her at least superficially, none of us in the group had ever heard this before. She had a lid on it.

What resonated most with me at that meeting was a woman who said, “I know it’s weird, but I love grief. I live grief.” She said she couldn’t really explain what she meant, but I think I have a clue.

Grief Makes Us One

For one thing, grief is universal. It is something we all share, and it can bring us together. Not always, of course – I’ve heard countless stories of siblings whose relationships imploded on the death of their parents. But in general, we nod, we empathize, we hug each other. We know.

The Bible says that the “God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That’s why it’s important to take time alone to process your grief, to take the lid off and let God in, because there’s cosmic comfort there if you ask for it. And it’s a universal spirit of comfort that we can all share with each other. Depending on the day, God’s comfort can knock you off your feet or set you back on your feet.

Grief Makes Us Real

Similarly, grief elicits authenticity. After September 11th, I had a strange feeling of not wanting to leave that cocoon of grief, that sacred time of national mourning: it was a rare time of authentic community for our nation.

We often feel we don’t know what to say to a bereaved person, but that’s because we’re called upon to be totally real. Everyday words don’t seem adequate. Most of the sympathy cards atop my piano start off with, “I don’t know what to say” and then go on to say something lovely. And real.

Real Words

Real Words

Grief Leads Us Towards Our Truth

Grief is deep – it leads us into our true humanity. It drowns out the TV, the advertisements, the ringing phone, and the beeping computer. If we are courageous enough to take the lid off our pain and share it, we can reach our true self – and go there with others.

We all “live grief,” as my friend said. It’s very much a part of being human, and it teaches us to search for meaning and a larger perspective on our little human lives. It teaches us to open up to God and to love one another.

What have you learned from grief and loss?

Mr. Zinsser’s Wisdom

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When I decided to “become a writer” a few years ago, the first person I accosted was my brother Biff, who —although he didn’t publish much after his big splash in the eighties — remained a writer until 2013, when he joined our bookish parents in the Great Library Upstairs. (He left boxfuls of scribblings when he died, including an entire book manuscript.)

Biff and I were on the phone one evening, and I was rattling off the titles of the twelve books I’d chosen from the approximately 24,813 tomes on writing available through Amazon, when he interrupted me.

“Don’t waste your money,” he said. “You only need one: William Zinsser, On Writing Well.” On further thought, he suggested I get a Strunk and White, too, because a real writer must have that iconic grammar volume on her shelf.

Otherwise, just Zinsser.

This conversation came back to me this week when I heard that Mr. Zinsser had also gone to the Great Library Upstairs. I imagine he is enjoying a glass of tawny port and a jolly good laugh with my brother right about now. They are wearing writerly tweed jackets with leather elbow patches.

William Zinsser Rest in Peace

William Zinsser
Rest in Peace

Here in the present, though, I’m pondering William Zinsser’s timeless wisdom. He was a prolific guy, though I’ve only read a small percentage of his work. He often wrote for the American Scholar, which I enjoy when I’m in the occasional tweedy, portish mood.

One of my favorite pieces appeared in the Scholar in the spring of 2006. With his usual direct style, Zinsser entitled it “How to Write a Memoir.” His recommendations? Be yourself, speak freely, and think small.

It strikes me that this is more than good writing advice: it is wise counsel for living a genuine, happy, and satisfying life.

  • Don’t try to be anything you are not — authenticity is a rare gift of great value. You are the only you.
  • Don’t worry about what others think — say what you need to say, say it just once, and say it kindly.
  • Avoid grandiosity — keep your britches right-sized. You’ll have more friends that way.

So here’s a toast to Mr. Zinsser. He will be missed for his wisdom, scholarly aptitude, and compelling storytelling, and also for his dry-as-tweed humor. I leave you with a few quotes:

  • “There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.”
  • “I think a sentence is a fine thing to put a preposition at the end of.”
  • “Most writers sow adjectives almost unconsciously into the soil of their prose to make it more lush and pretty, and the sentences become longer and longer as they fill up with stately elms and frisky kittens and hard-bitten detectives and sleepy lagoons.”
  • And my personal favorite: “Not every oak has to be gnarled.”

Further reading: The Writer Who Taught

Leaving Home and Legacy

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I’ve been thinking a lot about dying lately. Maybe not so much dying as just not being here anymore.

This week I will be signing the papers that will detach me from the house I grew up in, the homey, red brick colonial that my family has owned since 1958. It is more than the end of an era; it is the end of *all* my eras so far. Although I’ve lived in my current home for twenty-seven years — way longer than I lived in my family home — somehow that house has always been “home.” Where’s home now?

Home

Home

At the same time, I am preparing to turn sixty years old in a few short weeks. This preparation mostly entails drinking more than is good for me more often than is good for me (perhaps trying to feel like I’m in my twenties again?) and frequently shaking my head and saying “I can’t believe this,” or “How did this happen?”

I’m crying a lot, missing my brother and my mom and even my father, who died forty years ago this May. It’s letting go of the house that’s stirring up the memories.

At any rate, these happenstances have brought to my attention the likelihood that I will die at some point. I knew this, of course, I think I just know it more now. What will be left when I am no more?

What Lasts?

A few weeks ago, we had a Lenten Quiet Day at my church where we spent time in prayer and reflection and meditation. One of the Hebrew scriptures that we used for meditation was Psalm 139, which reads in part, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

I got to thinking about that word “everlasting.” What is everlasting? For someone like me with no kids, no DNA spread about, what of me is everlasting?

I used to think that my legacy was wrapped up in the National Parks and forests and rivers that I helped protect for posterity when I was Public Lands Director at Sierra Club. But those aren’t everlasting. Even if they survive America’s insatiable need to drill, mine, and chop down every last cotton-pickin’ acre of wildlands, they will still be dust eventually.

So no everlasting legacy there. Nope.

I also used to see a trace of legacy in my role as chair of the pastor search process that released my friend Brian McLaren from pastoring the church he founded, so that he could be a full-time author and international speaker spreading a gospel of love and justice — at least a small flickering candle against the darkness of the judgmental, hate-preaching juggernaut that many people think of as “Christianity” and from which they understandably flee.

But Jesus didn’t come to establish a “religion,” and he doesn’t need Brian McLaren to save him, and Brian didn’t need me to save him either. Ten years has put this in perspective. I’m glad to have helped Brian and our church out, but God is God, and is likely by turns divinely amused and annoyed by the way humans represent Her/Him/Is/I AM.

True Home

So what truly is everlasting? Only love. Only the Spirit of Love that passes from one to another to another for all time and into eternity. And I believe what Jesus’s friend John wrote two thousand years ago: God is love. That’s where “home” is, always was, and always will be.

So let me not waste time, God. Let me not waste time clinging to brick and mortar or searching for meaning or significance in things that don’t last. Let me dwell only on the love in my past, and let me love well in the time I have left. 

Related post: https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/hope-or-hostility-in-a-multi-faith-world/

How Not to Write a Sermon

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How Not to Write a Sermon:

I have no holy credentials. Well, I have a certificate from Cathedral College declaring that I’m an official Spiritual Companion, but aren’t we all spiritual companions in our own ways? And a few years ago I took seminary classes on spiritual formation, but never finished the certificate because I got chicken pox. A sign that I was not meant to pastor?

Anyway, only an unaffiliated rag-tag group of Jesus followers like the ones at my church would allow me to preach a sermon. It didn’t start out as a sermon, it was supposed to be a “story,” one in a series about hope. Initially our pastor (who also did not graduate from seminary, by the way) asked me to talk for ten or fifteen minutes about finding hope in grief and loss. No problem, I thought, I’ve blogged about that. Then I was told that it was to be an entire thirty-five to forty minute sermon.

So that’s where my head’s been the past few weeks, and why I haven’t been blogging. Sorry about that. I hope you’ve been managing OK without my brilliant insights. I’m afraid I have none for you today, either, but I’m trying to avoid writing this sermon, so here I am.

Attention Deficit, Depression, and a Drum

In typical ADD fashion, I began in hyper-focus mode, completely re-living my mother’s death, my brother’s death, and even my dear friend’s head-on with a tractor trailer that resulted in a nine-month coma and then death. I sat at the computer from 9 a.m. till the sun went down two days in a row, writing about hospitals and death.

Then, of course, I plunged into depression and stopped writing completely.

I became terrified by the whole project. How am I stuck writing a sermon about a trifling matter like finding hope in death? I’m not even a pastor. But maybe that’s a good thing, because a pastor might be tempted to rely on Bible verses about angels and resurrection and the afterlife, and I don’t even know how to find those verses. (I love the Bible, I just never remember chapter and verse.)

Heaven and eternal life are good, but I want to help the people sitting in chairs on Sunday morning to cope with the very real, very present, very today challenge of grieving life’s losses. “Everything will be OK once you’re dead, and not before,” is not comforting to me, and I don’t believe it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is here, now, among us, at hand. But how does that help us grieve? Where does one find hope?

I’ve now pulled out of “the sads,” and my ADD has flipped from fierce focus to bouncing puppy mode. I sit surrounded by dozens of pages of unconnected scrawls and phrases like: Mom-Beth-orange slices; Willie, Uncle Rolphe, winged creatures; MVA letter, gym, miracle; and, I bought a drum. They meant something when I scribbled them.

So that’s where I’ve been and that’s where I am. My deadline looms. Today is the day I must pull  it together or be in serious trouble. Which is why I decided to write a blog post instead. Please pray for me!

winter 2012-13 continued 009

Musing on Dead Leaves and a Dead Cat

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I spread a pocketful of cheerful autumn leaves across the dark mahogany tabletop, smoothing the curling edges flat, admiring the precise indentations of the maples, and examining the green stripes and purply spots on the rust-colored beech. I’ve brought in a leathery brown oak leaf, too, and I place it in the middle of the reds and oranges and yellows.

I’m thinking about burying the cat. First I think, at least it’s not the dead of winter, so I won’t have too much trouble digging a deep hole. Then I think of all the critters here in the woods of New Hampshire, and how they might dig her up. I think how unfair: that I would be burdened with another loss so soon after my brother’s passing. Of all the cats I’ve had, this one’s my favorite.

Mayasika

Mayasika

Then she comes downstairs.

She’s not dead, I just thought she might be because she didn’t appear as soon as I came in from my walk. So my mind wandered into worry and then decided to embark on a full expedition. This is how my mind works since my brother died. There’s a low-level anxiety lurking amongst the dendrites and ganglia in my brain, keeping me ever vigilant and ready for the next crisis or tragedy.

Sometimes the bump on my nose must be cancer. Sometimes I know someone is angry with me, but I don’t know who or why; I just know I’m in trouble. Sometimes, my familiar to-do list will bring on a near panic. Sometimes my cat is dead.

Thing is, the worst has happened. And it happened almost ten months ago. But I’ve only just stopped keeping the cell phone by my bed, finally realizing there will be no more nighttime emergencies. I will not be called into action. I no longer have primary responsible for any person’s health or well-being except my own. My mother is dead; my brother is dead.

Given those parameters, everything is fine. I am still alive. My cats are still alive. I’m doing pretty well, really.

I guess it will take time for my tired reptilian brain to come back to center, to stop anticipating disaster. In the meantime, I go for walks in the woods and collect pretty leaves. And I write.

I Don’t Believe in God Anymore

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I no longer believe in God. I know it’s cowardly to announce this on my blog, not having talked to any of my God-people, but there you have it. Further conversations with people who believe in fairy tales are not going to change my mind.

Two simultaneous straws broke the back of the camel from Nazareth.

On Death

First, I’ve been asked to give a sermon at church on finding hope in the midst of death and grief, and you know what? I can’t. I’m done trying. It’s silly to pretend that there’s a happy ending, that the people I miss are OK now, and that there is a spiritual realm in which they thrive. What factual evidence is there? We either end up underground, dressed in our finest, or we are burned up in an oven and our ashes thrown around. There are no wings involved.

On Prayer

The other precipitating event that led to my conversion was an exchange on Facebook. One person said “prayer changes things” with regard to some dreadful world event or another, and an atheist responded, “Money changes things more. They give the money to the rich and encourage everybody else to pray. I say get political and take the money back.” Basically quit being fooled into praying instead of actually doing something.

At first I thought I could understand why she felt that way — I have a lot of respect for this particular atheist, and I think that some Christians do ignore the Biblical warning, “faith without works is dead” — but then I decided that my atheist friend is dead right. Prayer is just a chimera.

Prayer is a farce. There’s nobody listening. Nobody home. No “creator” that cares, no spiritual force working for good in the world, no power stronger than ourselves. The meaning I used to find through prayer was all coincidence, my brain’s neurological transmitters trying to form randomness into patterns.

I have been duped.

On Toast

This world is not getting better; people are not getting better — there is no hope. The human mind is the highest power there is, and history and politics and Rush Limbaugh prove that it is incapable of rising above itself to envision or pursue any higher state of being.

We’re toast.

Now that I understand there’s no God, I can abandon the silly notion that I have power beyond human comprehension to change the world for the better, or to love people I don’t like, or to overcome character flaws I would like to be rid of. I no longer have to carry around this false gratitude for beautiful vistas or cute babies or the belly laughs of my friends. Nope, it’s all just random chemicals and minerals and electrical fields born of primordial soup to no end. 

I’m free!

A bunch of chemicals and minerals playing in primordial ooze

A bunch of chemicals and minerals playing in primordial ooze

Author’s Note

This post was written in response to the WordPress Writing Challenge, The Unreliable Narrator. A time-honored literary device, the term was first coined in 1961 by Wayne C. Booth. He wrote: ”I have called a narrator reliable when he speaks for or acts in accordance with the norms of the work (which is to say the implied author’s norms), unreliable when he does not.”

So . . .  consider this post unreliable and expect a return to your fairy tale-laden blogger friend in the next post.

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