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A Reprieve From Trump

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A REPRIEVE FROM TRUMP

I remember this feeling. It’s mostly relief, but there’s a trace of guilt mixed in. My drunken father is out of the house and I have a reprieve from the constant watchfulness and dread. It’s just dread deferred, really, because he’ll be back. A “reprieve” always implies an end to itself.

The guilt comes from wondering what he’s doing out in the world. I don’t fear for him because I’m so angry I don’t care if he falls and breaks another bone or gets himself fired. But his sickness is out there wreaking God-knows-what havoc on innocent people. Is he going to cause a terrible accident? Is he embarrassing a waitress somewhere? Is he contacting friends to lend him money so he can gamble?

This is how I’m feeling during President Tweet’s world travels. It’s the exact same feeling. I am breathing a sigh of relief that even though his minions in D.C. are trying to do his bidding while he’s away lest he rage at them when he returns, they won’t do anything final without him.

Right now he is the world’s problem. My relief is doubly deep because I’ve escaped to my sweet retreat in the woods of New Hampshire where it’s easier to be in denial.

There’s no TV but I do have internet, so I’ve watched as the man-child shoved aside another country’s prime minister so he could be first in front of the camera, lectured world leaders about their responsibilities while they snickered and whispered to each other, repeatedly upped his bid to be the world’s most domineering hand-shaker, and rudely walked away from President Netanyahu’s outstretched hand. (To be fair, given his statement immediately following this snub, I think he was distracted and stewing over getting caught blabbing Israel’s classified info to the Russians — or it might have been deafness or dementia rather than simple boorishness.)

Yes, it’s embarrassing to have him filling the role of President of the United States and to have newspapers in other countries calling the U.S. a “laughingstock” and demanding his ouster. It’s appalling that he’s out there displaying his ignorance of basic economics and trade policy. And it’s probably more dangerous to have him interacting with important world leaders at the G-7 than to have him tweeting about petty grievances at 3 a.m.

But somehow I feel I can breathe better when he’s not on our shores.

 

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Ancestral Voices in My Head

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ANCESTRAL VOICES IN MY HEAD

I have these voices in my head. You know the ones I mean. Right?

(Please tell me that you do.)

Mine mostly entail shoulds and oughts and shames. Judgement. I’ve spent years in therapy, meditation, and prayer, and many hours in recovery programs for dysfunctional families, trying to rid myself of these voices.

Girl shouting with fingers in ears

Before that, I just drank and did drugs and overworked, trying to quiet the unacknowledged chattering. As long as I had a romantic partner, I could throw myself into the drama of trying to fix them and “us” instead of noticing the voices in my head. As long as I was an environmental lobbyist, I had a whole planet to save. Who has time for self-awareness?

I was oblivious to the submerged script that directed my life, causing me to make unwise choices and judge others and numb in any way I could.

I coped. I was OK. I didn’t always feel good about myself, but I was OK.

When I began my journey of spiritual and emotional healing, I finally started to hear the voices. I did not hear them in an auditory sense, but their words were clear and loud: “What is wrong with you?” “Why are you are so stupid?” “I can’t believe you did that!”

They were regular and insistent and alarming. Who talks to someone like that?

Well, as it turns out, everyone in my family did.

Digital Mouth

Family Voices

“Whose voice is that?” my therapist would ask. And I’d close my eyes and try to pinpoint it. It was often my mother, my sister, or my brother. They weren’t unloving people, they were just responding to the harsh and commanding voices in their own heads, I guess. It pains me now when I hear families talk to each other like this because I know it’s being internalized, especially by the youngest ones.

These are ancestral voices, passed on through generations. When I trace mine back as far as I’m able, they belong to my grandmother, born Zillah but called Beedie. Her judgmental voice haunted my mother, who passed it on to my older sister and brother.

It’s not Beedie’s fault. Someone talked to her that way. She grew up highly privileged, the daughter of a wealthy diamond mine magnate in South Africa, surrounded by servants and governesses and nannies. Of course she had a strong sense of the way things ought to be and the way people ought to act. They ought to act like wealthy British imperialists, better than everyone else.

And so when I don’t measure up to Beedie’s standards, the critical voices kick in. The underlying “truth” of all the negative voices is “You are not good enough.”

I imagine she felt the same way, or she would not have internalized the judgement and passed it on.

Placing the Blame

Of course when you find someone else’s voice in your head and it’s been hounding you as far back as you can recall, you get angry at them. You need to blame someone for your own brokenness. It’s my family’s fault! It’s that kindergarten teacher’s fault!

The problem with blaming someone else is that it disempowers you. You give away your power of recovery to someone else, and you get stuck. Might as well pour another Scotch, I can’t get these voices out of my head anyway.

The other day my therapist asked me what I would say to Beedie if she were here today. And I said without hesitation: “You are dead and I am still alive.”

She has lived her life with her voices. I still have a chance to heal and become more whole. In fact, that’s a good way to honor those who have come before us.

Birthday Blessing

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She was born on February 15, 1889 in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. In honor of Beedie, I’ve decided to let go of the blame and negativity that I’ve held. I release her judgements and her critiques — I don’t need them. Instead, I choose to think of her with compassion and love. I want to remember her true, best self.

Happy birthday, dear Beedie. Thank you for your sense of humor and absurdity and fun. Thank you for your love of animals and flower gardens. Thank you for your small kindnesses (often involving chocolate) and for passing on your appreciation for “a proper cup of tea.” Thank you for holding to your values and always doing what you thought was right.

You were a strong woman, Beedie; you were courageous. Your best friend was murdered by Zulus when you were a child; you lost your own little boy; you lost your husband’s love to his philandering and then his young life to a ship fire; you lost your fortune and lived in poverty but kept your family together. Gangrene stole your ability to walk and dementia stole your ability to think.

Nevertheless, you persisted.

Thank you for being who you were, Beedie. Thank you for being an example. I treasure the day that you were born. I love you.

♥♥♥

Thanks for the WordPress prompt: sound

Before Forgiveness

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Today my church hosted a workshop on Crucial Conversations that was intended to help us have constructive conversations around racial issues over the upcoming holidays. Of course when the session was organized, nobody expected that Donald Trump would be moving into the White House, but there you have it — fortuitous timing in that racism is now front and center in the national conversation.

How can we, as followers of Christ who are hurting and angry after the election of a man whose words and behavior fly in the face of decency, curtail our emotions and interact in loving, constructive ways with friends and family who might have voted for that same man?

I won’t go in to all we talked about because it’s late and I have to get my houseplants inside before it freezes tonight, plus I’m tired because I haven’t been sleeping well since the Tuesday of Darkness.

I did want to share a few photos taken at a solidarity rally I attended last night that was meant to support Muslims and immigrants but which ended being a huge help to everyone. Four or five hundred of us sang and cried and listened to speakers and waved signs. America.

Waving signs is good for my soul

Waving signs is good for my soul

The next generation holds hope and love

The next generation holds hope and love

It does

It does

Use your first amendment rights while you've got 'em!

Use your first amendment rights while you’ve got ’em!

I also want to share a Desmond Tutu poem that was read at the end of our Crucial Racial Conversations workshop. It’s called the Prayer Before the Prayer and it’s perfect for this moment.

 

“I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive
In case you give it to me
And I am not yet ready
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes
Or that the one who hurt me may also have cried
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon . . .”

 

Reasons to Come to New Hampshire

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There are so many reasons to come to New Hampshire in the fall. The subtle rose pink of the hydrangea bush that presides over my grandmother’s flower bed, which is mostly golden rod at present with a few late purple phlox here and there. The smell of browning yellow leaves piled up beneath the towering maples as I rustle through them on the way to the barn. The faintly orange-blushed and scarlet-tipped trees at the bottom of the field, promising to take my breath away in a week or two.

Beedie’s maples. Beedie’s barn. Beedie’s flowerbeds and fields. Funny how I still think of this whole place as belonging to my grandmother, gone lo these thirty years. (Writing in this old house brings out words like lo and lest.)

black and white quiet hills

There are ghosts here, most certainly. Beedie had a friendship of sorts with the one who haunts the attic — our whole family called him Andy, one of the early residents of the house who is now buried in the town graveyard.

Andy’s father Temple Baker bought the farm in 1862 for fifteen hundred dollars and had lived here less than a decade when a cow kicked him in the leg and he died. Andy and his siblings (except Fred, who died as a child) grew up in the house and carried on farming until the mid-twenties. Beedie always swore she heard Andy at night when she was alone, and she spoke to him openly.

I only heard him once, playing one long mournful note on the ancient pipe organ in the attic late at night. I just about peed my pants. That was nearly fifty years ago, and I’m still not entirely at ease in the attic.

I sense family spirits here almost constantly. But I don’t think of them as ghosts in the building, rather as sprits living inside me who become more real when I’m up here, if that makes any sense. My brother’s passing is too recent for me to allow him in — he’s still painfully real to me most of the time — but Beedie, Mom, Aunt Val, Cousin Averil, the uncles — they all belong to this house out of time. I am not alone.

Granite State Voters

Another reason to come to New Hampshire in the fall, especially every four years, is the presidential election. I like volunteering, even though the beleaguered citizens of the Granite State can get pretty grumpy as election day nears, after their phones have been rung and their doors have been knocked and their TVs have been inundated with political ads for weeks and weeks and weeks. 

Tomorrow I am making massive amounts of macaroni salad and marinated zucchini to drop off at the Democratic headquarters in town, where busloads of volunteers will be arriving from Massachusetts for the first of four weekends of door-knocking. I love the energy of election season.

Life Goes On

But I won’t get serious about volunteering for a while. I need downtime, writing time, reading time. This is the best reason for coming to New Hampshire. Tonight I’m joining my neighbors for outdoor pizza night at an organic farm up the road, and tomorrow I’ll be going to a free cello concert at a lovely stone church in town. Sunday I’ll attend the Quaker meeting in Putney Vermont. It’s the first Sunday of the month, so there will be a potluck. And I’ll stop to buy apples and a pumpkin at the farmer’s market on the way home.

Life is simpler here, even during the swirling insanity of the 2016 election.

Day 3 of my attempt at a month of daily blogging

Carefree

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I’m sitting on the weathered wooden deck behind my cottage in rural New Hampshire watching an orange butterfly flit among orange day lilies and admiring my orange toenail polish. Presidential candidates not withstanding, orange can be a nice color. This deck is my “safe place,” the place I bring to mind when I’m working with my therapist and need to get centered and calm.

I’m supposed to be working on a sermon, but let’s be real. I am not. Instead I am in that sought-after but rarely found state of mind referred to as “mindfulness,” “being in the present moment,” or “abiding” in pastor-speak. A human being rather than a human doing. Care-free.

Usually the soundtrack in this safe place is the chiming of the grandfather clock through the open window, the chittering of goldfinch and chickadees at the feeder, and the ssshhhush of leaves being caressed by the wind. Today though, I also hear my nephew’s kids chatting over board games and reading each other comics — at least one is engaging in that fave teenage pastime of rifling through the fridge to see if there might be different snacks than there were five minutes ago.

Choosing to Be Childlike

This week marks the beginning of my annual month of hosting Jeff and his four kids here at Quiet Hills, just as my aunt hosted me all my growing-up years. Being with kids reminds me of how glorious it is to be a child, and I grow younger when I’m with them. I feel carefree.

Budding Archaeologist

Budding Archaeologist

 

Field trip to a local quartz-mica mine

Field trip to a local quartz-mica mine

Of course there are cares I could entertain, such as two un-done sermons, my cluttered home and overgrown yard at home, an upcoming meeting with my new financial planner who thinks I am insane for keeping this old house and would no doubt disapprove of the ice cream budget this month — or even the fact that a narcissistic orange megalomaniac might become president. But today right here, right now, I choose to set aside those grown-up cares and be carefree.

I’ll Save the World Next Month

I have yet to process or write much about the Wild Goose Festival that I attended just before coming here, filling my head and heart with the cares of the world: poverty and hunger, oppression and injustice, racism and white privilege, homophobia. I have pages of notes from workshops and dialogues, and the margins are full of scribbled ideas for next steps I can take to nourish my soul and save the world. There is no shortage of work for those of us trying to bring hope and healing to a hurting world — “plotting goodness” as my friend Brian calls life with Jesus.

But this month is about peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and maple walnut ice cream, day trips to the swimming hole and late-night story times, evening walks to the beaver pond and midnight-marathon board games.

Story Time

Story Time

Thanks for the carefree word prompt, WordPress Gods of the Blogosphere.

Digging Up and Looking Up

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I haven’t told you about the rosebush. Well, it’s more like a rose sprig at the moment, but it’s shooting up like a gangly adolescent, having grown almost a foot in the five weeks since I prayerfully dug up the three tiny leaves and as much root as I could get.

I had planned to dig up a number of Mom’s plants before I sold her house — three heritage roses, a quince, an azalea given to her by my late friend in honor of my father, a bleeding heart given to her by my best friend in honor of Mom’s sister, a hydrangea from her best friend, mounds of snowdrops and daffodils.

But the house sold fast, I had a broken arm, and it was too emotionally painful to go over there. Life happened, and when I next drove by, the garden had been done away with and nothing remained but a few trees and a smooth expanse of grass.

There!

I was invited to a party at the house in June, my first time back in a year. It was haunting and strange to walk through my childhood home, completely renovated and all but unrecognizable. Late in the afternoon, I wandered over to where the roses had been for sixty-plus years and ran my fingers through the young grass, hoping against hope.

At first I found nothing, but then . . . there! Three miniature rose leaves, so small they might have belonged to a fairy-gardener.

I asked the new owners if I could come by with a shovel and dig it up and they agreed. I hurried over the next morning, fearful that another lawn mowing would be the end of it. I talked to the tender sprout as I dug around it. Please live. I talked to my mom’s spirit and asked her help. Why not, right? She loved those roses.

I have never seen a plant respond the way this one has. Deciding it was too risky to plant it mid-summer, I put it in a pot and have been watering and spritzing it daily. I’ve even hauled the heavy container with me on a few road trips. Tomorrow we head back to New Hampshire.

Here’s the rose on its first trip to New Hampshire in June, just a week after I dug it up.

Life Force

Life Force

This week’s blogging photo challenge is Look Up. So I thought I’d share my rose’s resurrection story and a photo looking up into the glorious blooms of my mother’s magnolia tree, which, thank heavens, the new owners have seen fit to keep.

Glory

Glory

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?

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