“You can build walls all the way to the sky and I will find a way to fly above them. You can try to pin me down with a hundred thousand arms, but I will find a way to resist. And there are many of us out there, more than you think. People who refuse to stop believing. People who refuse to come to earth. People who love in a world without walls, people who love into hate, into refusal, against hope, and without fear.
I love you. Remember. They cannot take it.” ― Lauren Oliver, Delirium
Emergency! We’re in a state of Emergency! Apparently we are still in a state of emergency over the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Still in a state of emergency over 9/11. According to yesterday’s NPR’s The Indicator on the Planet Money show, we’re currently in 32 national States of Emergency that just keep getting renewed year after year after year. They’ve become routine. It seems to be about how a president gets the money to go where she (yeah, yeah–or he, in this case and every previous case) wants it to go. So what to do about this Border Wall Emergency?
I don’t know what to think. It seems that perhaps the comparisons to Hitler’s declaration of a State of Emergency in Germany after the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 are pretty alarmist, but that comparing it to President Obama’s declaration of a State of Emergency regarding entry of citizens from Venezuela in 2015 is a little too mild. It seems to foretell, as the man said in his speech yesterday, a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of wrangling in Congress and the courts. Who knows where it will end?
It’s another step. Another petulant grab for attention and air time by a narcissist reality television president who creates drama in order to up his ratings. Another manipulation to get his way for a petulant leader whose unfounded scare tactics have failed to secure him his xenophobic legacy wall.
I’ll be the first to admit that it ramped up my anxiety to a higher level of shrill, that I jumped on the train to Anxietyville without looking at the other possible destinations. I posted a White Rose as my Facebook profile picture, a signal to myself to stay awake and ready to resist.
Still, I think it is perhaps wise to take this moment to consider our resistance, to consider what preparations we need to make and continue to make in order to create and maintain just systems and structures.
1. Clearly, this is part of the ongoing demonization of Mexican and Central American asylum seekers. When the anti-immigrant groups speak in strident tones about our problem with illegal immigration, it would behoove us to keep in mind that the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States has been steadily declining since 2007, not rising catastrophically as the president and his associates would have us believe. See this Pew Research poll for more information. Resistance Point One: Keep the facts in mind.
2. This current leader announced his candidacy for president by characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, and his calls for a wall have consistently characterized the people who are coming to our borders seeking asylum as drug traffickers and gang members. While some people do no doubt cross our borders for nefarious purposes, the president has used this stereotype to call upon racial anxieties. Resistance Point Two: Call out racism whenever and wherever you see it. It is not enough to be disgusted by someone’s racist public speech. If we do not speak out against it, we are complicit.
3. In response to this administration’s border obsessions, ICE appears to be overstepping its boundaries. Resistance Point Three: Be prepared to protect and harbor people targeted by ICE. Speak up for due process. Stand in the gap. Offer sanctuary.
4. Resistance Point Four: Use language which breaks barriers and tears down walls. Collaborative conversation opens people’s minds much more readily than shaming does. (Still, don’t be afraid to call out malice–see point 2.)
5. Resistance is also about building the just structures and systems that we want to see. We don’t have to wait until this fiasco of an administration is out of power. Resistance Point Five: Work for justice and equality in everything you do.
Every storyteller knows you have to find your pacing. You might fill that page with skin-of-their-teeth escapes, but eventually, you need to get your hero to Lothlorien, or back to the arms of her friends, or into the warm presence of Aslan.
Pace your story. Find your way through the nail biter, and then descend into the valley of your Rivendell: tea and silence, a quiet book, a walk beside the river, an evening in company with your best beloveds.
Last Sunday morning, two rabbits hopped companionably from northeast to southwest, and someone else trotted sort of purposefully from north to south. Probably this happened at significantly different times. Cat or fox seems to have been unaware of its potential prey-folk going the other direction.
This morning, a week later, most of the snow is gone. The sun is bright in the blue sky, and a murder has just passed through the hollow, a massive flock of crows, barking and yapping, making the very air tingle with their passing. I stood in the yard and watched them. I could swear one of them vocalized “Hello” from the lower limbs of the dying chestnut. In four or five of the trees in the lower part of the hollow, sentries had placed themselves, repeating five or six short quick yaps in a row, in succession: walnut tree sentry, then maple tree sentry, then locust tree, and so on. Changes are on the wing. Fly brightly, Wildfolk.
Gratitude List: 1. Thoughtful conversations with young people on topics of social media and race and personal accountability. 2. My school’s Lunar New Year celebrations. 3. Hundreds of crows flying through the hollow. 4. This sore throat doesn’t seem to be more than a little part of a cold (knock on wood). When I take a cough drop or drink tea, it feels so much better. 5. All the people working for a better world.
May we walk in Beauty!
“Whether through prayer, ritual, poetry, or song, gratitude solidifies our relationship with the living mystery. It rejoins us to the intangible wholeness from which we feel disconnected. As we remember ourselves to the holy in nature, we are forging our own belonging.” —Toko-pa Turner
“If you want to do the work of God, pay attention to people. Notice them. . .especially the people nobody else notices.” —John Ortberg
“There is no reality but Oneness. Open into that.” —Bahauddin
“Take a deep breath. Find the place inside you that remembers how truth feels; remember that there are kinds of anger that are more effective than blind outrage.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (to remind myself)
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Remember: truth and justice ultimately always win.
“The goal of any true resistance is to affect outcomes, not just to vent. And the only way to affect outcomes and thrive in our lives, is to find the eye in the hurricane, and act from that place of inner strength.” —Arianna Huffington
“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” —All of us, now, continuing to take the words away from that senator
One of my recent obsessions is taking photographs of light reflected in windows, so that it falls on the landscape outside, or seems to hover between realities, like a doorway or window between worlds. Mirrors, reflections, shadows: light and shadow create images that show us another version of reality, enable us to see things from a different perspective.
At the beginning of the year, instead of choosing a single word for my meditations throughout the year, I felt a nudging on Epiphany day just to keep the three that had risen to the top of my list: Bird, Bridge, Boundary. They’ve been weaving and reweaving themselves through my contemplations in the past month. And a week later, I felt the compulsion to add a fourth: mirror.
The season of Brigid calls us to consider mirrors and reflections and shadows, those otherworldly, deeper layers that offer us images of who we really are in the world. Look. Then look deeper. See, then See again. Open your eyes, and then open your eyes, and then open your eyes. The Groundhog takes on a priestly role, reminding us to examine what reflections we are making in the world, what shape is the shadow that we cast behind and around us.
Two nights ago, I dreamed about going on an adventure with one of my beloveds. I wrote and told her of the dream the next morning. During our conversation, she offered me the gift of mirroring, of showing me the shape she sees me casting into the world. It was a different image than my own perceptions offered me, and gentler. My own sense of inadequacy, my fierce judgement of myself, has cast another layer of shadow into my own perceptions, and made me see myself with too critical an eye. It took the gaze of a friend, the tending perception of another, to shift the view for me.
Light is funny that way. Send it through water, and the image is distorted, shifted slightly. The kingfisher knows this, and automatically corrects for refraction, aiming straight for the minnows despite the tricks of the light. I’ve let myself be seduced by the critical angle of the light, viewing myself with a distorted lens. It helps to have a beloved willing to gently mirror a different perception back to me. My contemplative lens will be clearer now, and perhaps my work will blossom as I view it through another’s eyes.
I’m intentionally mixing the images here: mirror, light, shadow, image, refraction, reflection. Their meanings are like different layers of light viewed in the reflections on a window, each with its own truth to offer, but all part of the layered image.
May your reflections in this season bring you insight into your truest self. May your beloveds be tender mirrors to guide you to images which help you blossom. May your inner gaze be kind, offering yourself space to grow and change.
Postscript: This image of the back pages of my grandmother’s copy of The Mennonite Community Cookbook is also a reflection of sorts, a mirror that shows me my reflection in the past, in my own ancestors, or perhaps their reflection/refraction into the image of me. When I am searching for a recipe, fanning the pages with my thumb, there’s a moment when I feel this little arc in the paper, this spot worn away by the years of my grandmother’s own thumb flipping the pages of her cookbook, and I can almost feel her reflected into the moment, into me.
Do you feel how the world comes alive?
How even underneath its coat of snow,
inside the bright crystals of the ice,
something in the Earth is stirring?
Within your own eyes I see it rising–
in this breath,
and now this one–
the Dreamer is awakening.
The dawn has come,
spreading its golden road before you,
asking, “Will you step upon the pathway?”
As you move out onto the road, Brigid’s sun upon your face will trace your outline full behind you, defining you in the Shadow which will be your soul’s companion into spring.
Brigid’s Day has dawned bright and sparkling. The groundhog and her rodent kin have seen their shadows. The crone can merrily wander through the woods edge and hedgerows to gather firewood for the next six weeks of winter.
And here’s one of the sacred truths of the moment: If I’m willing to look deeply into the reality of my own shadows, if I’m willing to know them, to understand how they reflect me and show my inner realities, then I have nothing to fear from the shadows. I have nothing to fear from the coming weeks of winter.
Yesterday after I got home, I went out to shovel the drive so it would be easier for Jon to get up the slope. My neighbor came out to help me. She loves to shovel snow, she said. She loves winter, especially when it’s cold and snowy. And for those moments with her, shoveling and talking together, I too loved the cold and the snow. For the beauty, for the exercise, but mostly for the neighborliness.
Questions to Contemplate in the Season of Brigid This is the season of sunlight and shadow: What is the shape of my shadow? How does it hamper me? How does it hold me? How does it tell me the shape of my soul?
Brigid is the Smith, she who works the forges: What within me is being tempered this season? What is being shaped and shifted? What sacred patterns are being traced along my edges? What useful tool am I being forged to become?
Brigid is the Healer. The waters of her well bring wholeness. What spaces within me need the touch of her waters? What dis-ease drains my vitality? How can I offer the waters of healing to others?
Brigid is Patroness of Poets. How do words shape my reality, like iron is shaped in the forge? How do my words bring healing, like water from the well? How can I speak poetry into the cold and the shadows of the season which is upon us? Can I offer my daily words with the care and the artfulness of the poet?
Some of the things I have learned, or internalized more deeply, this week, in the wake of the clashing of worlds at the Lincoln Memorial last week:
* I am quick to jump into the dogpile, to join the mob. We think of mobs as being misguided bigots destroying the objects of their hatred, but there are also vigilante mobs that take justice into their own hands, destroying those who are rightly deserving of justice before reasoning justice itself can take place. And this makes the original crime scene so very messy. I think the internet this week has been a little like a vigilante mob, tearing into those boys before reasoning justice had a chance to take place. I might never be the one in the mob who yells death threats or speaks of punching and hitting rude children, but my own energy was certainly part of that mob, and I feel a little sullied by my egging on of the ones at the center.
* I am not ashamed of my rage at the obvious racism, only at my part in the dogpile.
* I think one of the reasons vigilante mobs form IRL and in the virtual world is because we don’t trust reasoning justice to intervene. In the current political climate, with our awareness of the terrible injustices committed by our government toward families trying to enter our country, with our own knowledge of the moral rot at the center of our administration, it is only natural that the mob feel like we are the only justice available when boys seem to be taking cues from our bigoted president to disrespect an elder with a drum.
* I think perceptions are at the center of this story. Those who watched the first video and saw (like myself) aggressive, chanting, jeering boys were not wrong, exactly, but we were not privy to the whole story. Those who watched the longer video and saw a slight difference in how the scene played out were not wrong, exactly, but we were not privy to the whole story. And mostly, I think it’s really important to look at Mr. Phillips’ perceptions. Viewing the second video caused people to question his veracity, but if you were to come upon a large group of mostly white boys wearing MAGA gear chanting and dancing to their sports chants in the direction of a small group of black men, what assumptions would you make? Who would you see as the aggressor?
* The Red Hat and Hatred: We’re that divided. If you support this president, please understand that it’s no longer as simple as us having a disagreement about how this country should be run. We who question his competency as president don’t just think he makes bad policy. We see a dangerous bigot who is not only racist and misogynist himself, but who brings out those things in his supporters. To us, MAGA hats are declarations of one’s own racism and misogyny. Red hat has come to signify hatred. Yes, we’re triggered, but we have reasons to be, and we need you to try to understand why, or we begin to question your intentions as well.
* Sports chants. I am not a sports fan, so perhaps I am not the person to discuss this. Or maybe that makes me the perfect outsider to explain what I see. Sports chanting is aggressive. Sports are rivalries and competitions, and while good sporting behavior is often taught and learned in the context of sporting competitions, the chanting and dancing often moves past simple support for one’s team into primal aggression. Whatever adult said yes to those boys responding to taunting by doing their sports chants was irresponsible and thoughtless. And watching the videos of past sports events at Covington Catholic, it becomes pretty clear that these boys took their chants to a fever pitch of aggression, and aggression which included clear racist markers. I struggle to believe their claims of innocence of the knowledge of the implications of wearing blackface.
* More on perceptions: Did the boys perceive themselves to be acting out of racism there by the Lincoln Memorial? I’m not sure we can say. But I do think, either way, that we can say it was a racist incident. Yes, they were provoked. Yes, they were unprepared. Yes, they were woefully and unconscionably un-chaperoned. But they were acting with all the signs and markers of completely unquestioned white privilege. I might be working to eradicate the racist biases in my own soul, but when I act unconsciously out of my racial biases, then I am being racist.
* Even when (especially when) stories are more complex than they appear on the surface, there are no two sides to racism, no two sides to disrespect for elders.
* Where were the chaperones? I think if we bring a reasoning sense of justice to this situation, the boys certainly need to be held accountable for their actions, but if they’re the only ones who receive opprobrium in this situation, then injustice has been done to them as well, and the real culprits are left to continue ignoring their culpability: the teachers and parents, the school administration, and the chaperones on this adventure. These children have not been taught to question their privilege. They’ve been taught to lean into it, to revel in it, even. They’ve been encouraged to take on the mantle of wealthy white patriarchy. They’re being groomed to carry on the traditions of powerful white men controlling the religious and financial and political institutions of the world. The real culprits, in my opinion, are the ones who are grooming them. Real justice will only be done when the invisible adults are held accountable.
* And the moment I point my finger at those people, I feel a ripple of a shock wave in my own direction. While my own teaching and parenting are geared, to the best of my ability, at tearing down those structures, at getting the young people of my life to examine their privileges and their biases, I know that I, too, work out of my own biases and my own privilege. We who parent and teach and mold the next generation have a great weight of responsibility. And the boys of Covington Catholic, and especially their invisible chaperones, draw that into high relief.
* Addendum: I am so tired of that picture. I feel so manipulated. I feel confused. I feel sullied. I feel the continuing outrage that flows from me, through those boys, to the president. I am so tired of that picture. But: It is a mirror. No matter who put it up, no matter their intentions, no matter the unclarity of the boy’s own intentions and perceptions, it is a mirror. It is a mirror. Can I dare to keep looking into it?
Gratitude List: 1. Mirrors. The mirror of Nathan Phillips and his drum. The mirror, ugly as it is, of the Covington Catholic boys–I will never learn to question my own privilege if I don’t have to confront it in the ugly mirror of my own assumptions. 2. The holy blue of winter 3. Being able to lay down the weight of first semester and focus on the work of second semester 4. How the cats come up and gently greet me throughout the day when I am at home. 5. Silence and solitude.
May we walk in Awareness.
“Like water, be gentle and strong. Be gentle enough to follow the natural paths of the earth and strong enough to rise up and reshape the world.” ―Brenda Peterson
“Tyrants fear the poet.” —Amanda Gorman, U.S. Youth Poet Laureate
In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” —Jonas Mekas
“Are you enhancing your power to discern the difference between rash risks motivated by fear and smart gambles driven by authentic intuition?” —Rob Brezsny
“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. . . . Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words. I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. . . . The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.” ―Ursula Le Guin
“I wonder how the world would be different if we grew down?” —Someone in my House, a few years ago
A few somewhat random thoughts, some drawn from yesterday’s discussions: * Just as I want to loosen my attachment to the physical stuff that bogs me down and overwhelms me, I want to loosen my attachment to my sense of the infallibility of my perceptions. Admitting that my own perceptions may be fallible does not mean that I am relinquishing my core beliefs. * About that loosening of attachment to stuff: Tidying, de-cluttering, un-hoarding, relinquishing–all this allows me to actually deepen my delight in the Beauty that surrounds me. * In much the same way that loosening my attachment to stuff allows me to see Beauty more clearly, perhaps loosening my attachment to my righteous rage might allow me to see the complexities inherent in moments of injustice. * I learned about Anonymous Collective Rage from a friend yesterday. I think I knew what it was, but I didn’t know it had a name. While I would never join those who write threatening letters and who call for violence against the young men from that school, my own immediate rage was part of the collective pile-on. I feel some shame at my quick leap into the fray. Still, that rage is born of a sense of justice and a desire to bring change. * There are not two sides to racism or misogyny, or to mistreatment of elders. While events like the one that occurred in DC on Saturday might be more complex than they first appeared, disrespectful treatment of others based on their age or their race is unacceptable. Always. * Could people who are experts in restorative conversations, in rebuilding peace in tense situations, offer to help moderate conversations between those boys and Mr. Phillips and his group? This could be a time for real healing and learning. * I think that the time of Catholic boys’ schools is pretty much over. Time for a new model. They seem to simply be training schools for the patriarchy.
Gratitude List: 1. Yesterday’s time off. I needed the rest. I always need the rest. 2. Tidy drawers with clothes folded so I can see everything at once. Now I look forward to getting dressed instead of hating putting clothes on. I hope I can sustain it. 3. The lines of tree-shadow cast by the morning’s moon 4. That red eclipse 5. This is going to be a really busy semester for me–I have more preps than is ideal, but I love the classes I am teaching, and I love the kids in them. Last year was my first year teaching Speech, and although it wasn’t bad, I just didn’t quite have a handle on it. This year, I feel like I am much more able to pin down the perfect resources. Of course, I am only one week in, but already the course is taking shape with greater liveliness and interest.
May we walk in Beauty!
fire and flight
“In writing, and perhaps all endeavours, there must be a way which doesn’t simply do as men before us have done, but turns to its own erotic authority. The feminine voice comes from the body’s knowing. It is the writing of aches and ragged breath and dirty fingernails from climbing out of the underworld. It is the sonority of our words which is primary, not their definition. This voice is the howling of a child for its mother before language is even learned. It strives not for the objectivity which is removed from feeling, but rather sinks us deeper into the muck of it. It takes things personally. And it gives personally in return. There is no such thing as impartiality when you live in a body. And it speaks from the flesh and bone rhythms of that first belonging.” —Toko-pa Turner
“A noise annoys an oyster, but a noisier noise annoys an oyster more.” —Anonymous
“…The green earth
is your cloth;
tailor your robe
with dignity and grace.”
“When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” —Thomas Jefferson
fire and flight
after the fire
of coals beneath
fire within you
fire in the earth
fire in the fruit
flames will burst forth
and you will rise
you will know
open your feathers
catch the breezes
the old world
of magic and monsters
will fall away
you will dance
on pillows of cloud
you will swim
in rivers of air
you will hear your
in the voice
of the wind
I don’t think it would be a controversial statement to say that no story has a single truth, that our perceptions about the facts of a story are guided by our prior knowledge and experiences and prejudices. Plato’s Levels of Intelligence paradigm puts Opinion a simple rung above Ignorance, and true Intelligence two whole rungs above Opinion, with Reason in between.
Watch a video of a group of young men chanting and laughing as an old man, a Native American elder, walks into their midst, playing his drum. Observe their red hats, their regalia that marks them supporters of a man who has been divisive in our country, sexist and racist and xenophobic. Watch still images of a smirking boy standing in what appears to be defiance blocking the old man’s path. I formed a pretty strong opinion in response.
Then I watched the events from the angle of a video shot by the four or five members of the Black Hebrew Israelites, who were taunting and mocking the young men before the incident occurred. It was a long and frustrating video, showing the story in a different light. I watched as the BHI men singled out a black student in the Covington group, insulting him personally, calling him names. I watched how his friends gathered around him, shielding him from the vitriol. I heard the things the BHI men were yelling at the boys. I watched the boys begin their school chants to try to drown out the insults. I cringed at the in-your-face nature of sports chants in an already heated situation. I watched a couple other videos of the moments of direct engagement between the boy (Nicholas Sandmann) and the man (Nathan Phillips).
And then I read this two-and-a-half page letter from Mr. Sandmann. His tone is measured and thoughtful, if a little defensive. He states that he does not understand Mr. Phillips’ intentions, and can’t explain what the older man’s intentions were. He is an articulate and careful writer.
Were the boys in the crowd mocking the old man and taunting him? Probably some were. It’s hard not to see that in the videos. Is it possible that some of what appeared at first to be taunting might instead be boys chanting their school chants? Probably. Very likely. Looked at through that lens, the energy of the group shifts a bit, seems less sinister.
Some of my take-aways: 1. MAGA hats are a really unfortunate apparel choice for young white men at a faith-based march. They are saying more than they intend, perhaps, and they set themselves up for the sort of negative snap judgements that the BHI men, and I, and most of America, seem to have been making. 2. I am really judgemental about white men in MAGA gear. Not only do I rush to judgement; in the midst of a larger array of facts, I still struggle to open my mind when there are MAGA hats in the picture. 3. Even video can tell a misconstrued story. As we were discussing it last night, before I saw the second video, I kept saying, “But I saw that video. It’s really clear what was happening. You can’t just throw out video evidence.” Still, it seems that the story told by the first video is different from the one told by the second video. In the long and rambling video of the BHI group, I heard no chants of “Build the wall.” I don’t doubt that some of Mr. Phillips’ group thought they heard that in the school chants, but I don’t think they said it. 4. Looking at the various videos, I think it is highly possible–likely, even–that both Mr. Phillips’ group and the Covington boys had two separate understandings of the event, that both Mr. Phillips’ account and Mr. Sandmann’s account are “true,” because they’re true to their experiences. 5. As harsh and demeaning as much of the BHI group’s taunting was, they had some things to say that I wish these boys could hear and learn from. They are privileged. Their privilege is built on centuries of white exploitation of black people and people of color, from enslavement of blacks and genocide of Native Americans in the beginnings, to the hoarding and consolidation of resources and the means of production, to outright discriminatory laws and systems, to lynchings, to redlining, to police brutality. I am afraid that this experience will wall off the possibility for these boys to do any deep reflecting on this subject. 6. This would be an excellent opportunity for some real, deep education. Instead of expelling the boys, I think the school should bring in outside educators to talk to about stereotypes and stereotyping–both their own stereotypes and the ones they have experienced from others (people like me). I would love to see the diocese invite Mr. Phillips to talk, create a listening session where he can hear the boys and they can hear him. Bring in an outside mediator, someone who can help them talk, help them listen. This is a perfect opportunity to help these young people learn to think critically and compassionately. 7. I find it really problematic that a boys school would bus a group of young men wearing MAGA hats to protest a Women’s March. I realize that they perhaps put it in the context of Marching in a Pro-Life March, and they’re tying it to their compassion for babies. Still, when it comes down to it, the visuals are of a large group of young religious patriarchs being groomed to take up the reins of the patriarchy marching in a march deliberately planned to coincide with a March for Women. It’s ugly. (I added this point after the original post.) 8. I think I am pretty media savvy. I’m not as savvy as I thought I was. I think perhaps none of us are.
In the dream, as I was waking: I am translating a four stanza Spanish poem into English. I race to get the translation down. Something of my dreamself knows that I am waking, and I must hear the whole thing.
In real life, my Spanish is shaky at best, not sufficient to translate anything like this. I lay in bed for a while before I got up, reciting the last lines (all I could remember) over and over again, so I wouldn’t forget them the minute I got out of bed:
“. . .and so you left us, holding this bagful of winter.
And you, freshest flower of the morning, will bloom forever in my heart.”
Mary Oliver’s “box full of darkness” may have been in my subconscious, though that hasn’t been one of the poems I have been meditating on in these past few days. It feels too personal to be my own elegy for her, not having known her. But hers is the death I have been living with for these last few days. Were I to write such a poem consciously, I would cringe a little at the rather overblown feel of “freshest flower of the morning,” but I somehow feel as though I am messing with words and ideas that aren’t quite mine, even though they escaped the dreamhole in my brain.
Gratitude List: 1. All the poetry she left us. 2. The way she taught me to look, and then to SEE, 3. to examine the inner as well as the outer landscapes, 4. how she encouraged me to feel at home roaming both inner and outer worlds. 5. How her words always find me when I need them.
May we walk in Beauty!
I keep pondering the arrogant smirk of that boy in the pictures of the protests yesterday, mocking an elder, defiant, twisted, domineering, entitled. I am so sad for him and his friends, so troubled for the shallow and scrappy world they are setting themselves up to live in. I’m angry, too, of course, and I hope they face consequences, but I pray (yes, that’s the word) that they will have to face themselves, somehow, that the mirror of Nathan Phillips’ face will help them to look at themselves, that they will take warning, that they will take up their humanity.
In my own life are quite a number of young men, and some of them tend toward arrogance. Some of them, caught in such a moment, would perhaps join in the energy of such a mob. I hope to heaven that they wouldn’t, but I see some of that self-satisfied arrogance in some of my own circle.
I must look again into the faces of the young men in that crowd and know that they, too, are loved and loveable. They are redeemable. But not if we keep giving them the wall of our rage to butt up against. They are begging for a wall. Let’s follow the example of the wise elder Nathan Phillips and give them mirrors instead.
Young MAGA men, I hope you look back on yesterday and feel shame, great shame, for your actions and words. I hope those of you who stood by and laughed will understand that you, too, were participants in an act of great arrogance and entitlement and shame. I hope you know that by not stepping in and standing up to your friends, you, too, wear that shame. And Smirking Boy, I pray that you will be able to see yourself through the thick haze of patriarchal dominance and posturing that seems to have caught you in its grip.
But I hope you do not stop at shame. May the shame itself be only the outer shell of a seed that will burst forth within you, a seed of desire to do right, to respect your elders, to offer recompense for your terrible disrespect of a man, of a people, of a history, of humanity. May you be humbled, may you choose a new way, may you seek beauty and goodness and respect and gentleness.
And may the rest of us be mirrors instead of walls. I would walk in the footsteps of the drummer.
Daughter, the songs of women
are the first words of children
—Abby E. Murray, in Rattle Magazine
“Our vitality is inextricably bound up with creativity. Like a tree whose expression is fruit, giving our gifts is what keeps life pushing through our veins. It’s what keeps us feeling alive. As anyone who has strayed too far from their creativity knows, without it every corner of one’s life can fall prey to a terrible greying spread. As Kahlil Gibran writes about trees in an orchard, ‘They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” ―Martin Luther King Jr.
One thing I love about being part of The Academy (I like the pompous sound of that, more than “school system”) is that twice a year I get a fresh start. No matter how badly I feel about myself at the end of a semester, there’s always a fresh, uncharted page coming up, and I can write myself onto that page as solidly and competently as I possible. There’s a hopefulness, a sense of lightness and release. Maybe I can do this, after all. After the slog at the end of the semester, suddenly, there’s a burning fire of creative juices, and a little chorus of inner voices, saying, “You can do this thing!”
Some semesters are harder than others, and this past semester got caught up in the grind of my slip into the year’s shadow. It was harder this year than it has been for a long time. So there’s a soberness to the creative fires that are sparking for the new page before me. And I still have all that work to finish up from last semester. Still, I love the bright shine of that empty page ahead, stretching out before me like the fields of snow I woke up to this morning.
Gratitude List: 1. The beautiful singers at my school. They’re so brave, these young people who get up on stage to perform for their whole school. I am grateful for my colleagues in the music department who offer our kids such a powerful music education. I have tried not to push my own child into the music classes–I want him to be free to take whatever he wants, to explore all his interests–so I am really delighted that he is taking chorus and two different bands this semester. 2. This week’s birds: kestrel hovering, vultures everywhere (as usual), two bald eagles, blue heron, owls calling in the bosque, and crows and geese winging across the sunrise skies. My soul is stirring, too. 3. Tabula Rasa. The fresh page. 4. Snow. 5. The magic of air filling lungs. I listened to a Shakespeare scholar talk this week about how a line of iambic pentameter is just the right number of beats to fill the human lungs. I might have to start reading Shakespeare sonnets to wake up in the mornings.
May we walk in Beauty on the Fresh Page of Today.
“This is the season of owl, of winds that howl through the hollow, the season of the sharp bark of the fox, voicing longing in the bosque.
This is the season of bitter, of fierce flakes feathering cheeks and hands, the season of crystal, crisp and cutting, of beauty that will slice you open.
This is the season of rising, thin and pale, into the dawn air, but also of burrowing, huddling deep into the layers that hold you.
Walk the thin line of today with care, one foot precisely placed, the other. . .
Perhaps you will notice, when you raise your eyes for a moment, how the line curves out ahead of you, bringing you always back home.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider (1/13/16)
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” —Robert Frost
“I am always doing what I cannot do yet
in order to learn how to do it.” —Vincent van Gogh
“Have you been to jail for justice? Then you’re a friend of mine.” —Anne Feeney
“Nice people made the best Nazis. My mom grew up next to them. They got along, refused to make waves, looked the other way when things got ugly and focused on happier things than “politics.” They were lovely people who turned their heads as their neighbors were dragged away. You know who weren’t nice people? Resisters.” —Naomi Shulman
“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” —Maya Angelou
“Begin with something in your range. Then write it as a secret. I’d be paralyzed if I thought I had to write a great novel, and no matter how good I think a book is on one day, I know now that a time will come when I will look upon it as a failure. The gratification has to come from the effort itself. I try not to look back. I approach the work as though, in truth, I’m nothing and the words are everything. Then I write to save my life. If you are a writer, that will be true. Writing has saved my life.” —Louise Erdrich (via Terri Windling’s Myth and Moor blog)
“Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others…
Re-examine all you have been told
at school or church or in any book;
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
“In lying to others we end up lying to ourselves. We deny the importance of an event, or a person, and thus deprive ourselves of a part of our lives. Or we use one piece of the past or present to screen out another. Thus we lose faith even within our own lives.
“The unconscious wants truth, as the body does. The complexity and fecundity of dreams come from the complexity and fecundity of the unconscious struggling to fulfill that desire.” —Adrienne Rich