This is the dawn of a new semester. Here on the second day of our new classes, I am trying to get a baseline writing sample from all my students, and trying to make sure that everyone knows how to submit their assignments electronically from the get-go. I’m playing Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem today as the poem of the day, and then asking them to write about what they want America (or their own country) to be.
Here are some of my reflections from yesterday: The relief was almost as hard to breathe through as the grief has been. I felt like I do when I get off the bike and don’t walk it off–light-headed and wobbly. Even though I was extra careful with my daily grounding and breathing, it was hard to keep that energy anchored. It’s been a heavy task to carry the weight of constant destruction in these past four years, and laying down the better part of that burden was a shock to the system, especially as the anxiety of further domestic terrorism still hung over the day. Are we safe now? I kept asking myself. Maybe now? Maybe we can say we’re safe now?
We have made it from there to here. Now it is time to take ourselves from here to the next where. We are safe, but not rebuilt. I celebrate with great joy all the successes of yesterday, all the diversity of cabinet members, all the voices being called in and called on and amplified. Now we hold the leaders to the vision they offered us, and to the dream of a just and equal society, of justicia para todos.
It would have been nice to have had some indigenous representation in the ceremony, some Muslim voices. I admit that I cringed at the overtly Christian tone it set. Our new president is Catholic, and so I think it is perfectly apt and acceptable to have priests and ministers give Christian blessing to the ceremony, but I did come away with a sense that there was an assumption of Christianity. I think someone even used the words “people of faith” as though it belonged to us all. This does not destroy the beauty of so much of the ceremony, even in the prayers and speeches–but it mars it a little for me, makes me wince. I want our leaders to commit to separation of church and state, a separation that can bless the religious perspectives of a Catholic president, as well as the Muslims and Buddhists and pagans and atheists and seekers among us all.
Yesterday, after four years of a constant barrage of vicious and violent and belittling rhetoric, a young Black woman taught us how to speak to each other again. Kindly and firmly, honest about the brokenness we have walked through. She showed us how the language of poetry can craft a vision of a desired world in ways that rhetorical speeches cannot. The wildly joyful response to her words show how starved we have been for poetry, how we have longed for the uniquely disruptive vision of the Poet. I kept wanting to tell people, “I loved Amanda Gorman before Amanda Gorman was cool,” but that would have been a buzz kill–I remember how entranced I was the first time I heard her voice. “Tyrants,” she said, in the poem she spoke at her own inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate, “fear the poet.” Yup. There has been no poetry in this past administration.
The mockingjay is not necessarily a call for violent revolution, ya’ll. As I understand the books, the mockingjay was about the networks of people committed to changing an oppressive system that privileged the wealthy, about resisting an authoritarian regime that brutalized children and families in order to control the population (sound like a familiar border-control plan?), that centered the vicious and horrific as entertainment. I don’t know if Lady Gaga and her stylists intended the association between her peace dove and The Hunger Games mockingjay, but I hope they did. It was brilliant. To me, it means that the people are still holding the powers that be accountable, no matter who holds the titles. As it should be in a democracy.
I do not pledge my allegiance to any flag or nation. I belong to the world, and pledge my allegiance to the planet and her peoples and her plant and animal life, to her networks of energy. I do like the liberty and justice for all part of our pledge, however. I do hope we can start living up to that. Especially the ALL part. Yesterday was the first time I ever got teary-eyed during the pledge. A Black woman, signing the pledge. White gloves. Eloquent hands. Her strong, clear voice. Her distinct signs that made even non-ASL speakers understand the meanings. (And then later, Amanda Gorman’s eloquent hands that seemed to be speaking along with her voice. Eloquent hands.)
Speaking of hands, I am a fan of Bernie’s Mittens, made for him by an elementary schoolteacher, by recycling wool sweaters, using fleece made of recycled plastic bottles for the lining. I hope he understands that the meme-making of the image of him sitting there in his mittens is more about how he also represents something about us rather than making fun of him. I, too, am sitting in the cold in my mittens, legs and arms crossed, watching to see what we will make of our chances. Dear practical Senator Sanders, how we need your vision to help guide us now. Be as curmudgeonly as you need to be. (And also, I think I might start swearing by Bernie’s Mittens. Seems like an emblem of power somehow. Eloquent mittens.)
I don’t really like our warlike national anthem. Never have. I prefer to think of “America The Beautiful” as our anthem. Why isn’t it? And I loved the sweetness of J-Lo’s rendition of that one, and the gorgeous intensity of her breaking in with the Spanish version of the pledge. My Spanish isn’t good, but I understood what she was saying by the time she got to “justicia para todos.” Yes, please!
Despite my dislike of the anthem, I found myself moved again, at the moment that Lady Gaga turned and gestured (eloquent hands again) to the flag, as she sang that it was still there, and suddenly it wasn’t just about war but about the fact that we had just weathered an insurrection, and no longer just the flag, but Democracy, was still there. Suddenly it all stood for so much more than war and colonialism and imperialism, but for the basic principles of democracy that we keep trying to get right, that were under attack just two weeks before in that exact same spot. I still don’t like the anthem, but Lady Gaga transformed it momentarily for me yesterday.
Keep singing, Mockingjay. We’re listening. We’re gathering. We’re working as hard as we can to make justicia para todos a reality. We’re ready to be that light you spoke of, Sweet Fierce Poet.
May we be worthy of our dreams.
Gratitudes: 1. Safety 2. Rest 3. Poets 4. Breath 5. Tabula Rasa
May we create justicia para todos.
“For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter To offer hope and laughter to ourselves.” –Amanda Gorman, excerpt from The Hill We Climb
THE LUTE WILL BEG by Hafiz
You need to become a pen In the Sun´s hand. We need for the earth to sing Through our pores and eyes. The body will again become restless Until your soul paints all its beauty Upon the sky. Don´t tell me, dear ones, That what Hafiz says is not true, For when the heart tastes its glorious destiny And you awake to our constant need for your love God´s lute will beg For your hands.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.” —From “On Pain” by Khalil Gibran
A friend who is gathering data for his doctoral research asked me to do a project for him related to mindfulness. When I agreed to log my reflections for a week, and chose the first week of 2021, little did I know exactly how important mindfulness would prove to be.
Monday, 4 January 2021 A Welcome Space
As I thought through the process of this project, I decided I wanted to let the images and reflections happen without a lot of prior planning–a somewhat in-the-moment mindfulness. I was in my silent classroom in the morning, teaching short lessons via Zoom, with longer spaces between the periods. My classroom has a sort of joyfully cluttered visual aesthetic, and my bulletin board is an example. I tack up my own doodles and collages as well as student artwork, notes about books they tell me I need to read, quotes to remind us of our work in the world, along with the schedules and the lists of the business of school. I am hoping the message my students take away from this is the importance of celebrating each moment, no matter how mundane (and life in school gets draggingly mundane). I hope they see my own artwork not as pieces to be admired but as reminders to express their own inner worlds in art and poetry. I hope they are reminded by the quotes and posters to seek justice and to work against the -isms that break our social contracts.
I include here the little close-up of the collage with the woman and the phrase: “Look how many of us there are now” because I think it’s a reminder to connect to others who seek peace and justice and goodness and kindness, and also because–minimal as it is–it’s one of my favorite word-poem collages.
Tuesday, 5 January, 2021 Mending and Making
In the riot of images and posters on my walls and the books and objects on my shelves, I want to make my classroom a place I want to be, and where my students want to be. Even when the work is overwhelming or I am experiencing challenges that make me dread the day, I want my classroom space to be inspiring and engaging and restful.
I’m caught up these days in the concept of making and mending, both in the physical world and in the inner work. Then of course there’s the layer in which the physical act is itself a symbol of the inner work that becomes a ritual or prayer for the work of social justice and of teaching. One of my social media pleasures has been following makers and artists and crafters on Instagram. I find images of mending and handwork and art to be soothing and settling; they help me to shift my inner space into focus a little better when things in my work-life or the state of the nation cause me anxiety or sadness.
I love my striped scarf. I wear it several days a week, even though it was torn. In the fall, I made a couple dresses out of old men’s dress shirts, and I noticed that the one striped fabric was similar to my scarf. At first I zigzag-stitched pieces into the holes, but as that began to fray, I embroidered a blanket stitch over top to make it more secure, creating what my Instagram maker heroes call a “visible mend.” The other piece in the photo with my scarf is random embroidery on a piece of denim, which I made up as I went along.
Sort of like teaching, that: Even after a couple decades of teaching, I am still making it up as I go along, beginning with an idea of what I want to see, but shifting and adapting in the moment depending on the alchemical mixture of students in my class, current events, and the mood of the moment. And sometimes the thing I try to do frays, like my initial mend in my scarf, and I need to add another layer, letting the “mend” itself become part of the pedagogical design in the moment, making the process conscious. Perhaps a visible mend is like our metacognitive processes, where we analyze how we think.
Wednesday, 6 January 2021 How the Light Caught Our Shadows
When I took this photo, I was feeling a vague anxiety about the upcoming events of the day in Washington, DC, chatting briefly with students at the beginning of classes about the significance of the ceremony of counting the votes.. I teach in a Christian school of the Mennonite denomination, and so having religious images like the Madonna of the Streets in the classroom is acceptable. I had also brought along my mala beads, a more Buddhist or universalist tradition. I made them this summer as a way to ritually and prayerfully ground and center my attention when busy-ness or anxiety threaten my peace. Every morning when I enter the classroom, I spray the sage-based Clear Space Mist–its scent reminds me to let go and teach from my center.
Little did I know how I would need the calming of prayer and image and scent by the end of the day. Just before the final period, I had been watching the Senate discussion of Arizona’s votes, when people began to rush around in the chamber, the VP tried and failed to call the room to order, and the screen went blank. I thought it was a glitch, and went on to begin Act 5, scene 3 of Lear in my AP Literature class, listening to a student read Edgar naming Edmund a traitor to his family and the state, standing up to his brother’s treachery. I still have not sorted out the timely irony of this. When class was over, a colleague came down to my room with the news that the chambers were overrun by violent insurrectionists, and that she was feeling more anxious than she did on 9/11.
Despite all my mindful intentions of the morning, I gave in to the anxiety. My calm frayed.
Thursday, January 7 2021 REVOLUTION / ReLoveUtion
This is January’s calendar page in my Amnesty International Calendar. It’s an image of a people’s march in LA, women marching for missing and murdered indigenous women at the 2016 Women’s March. After a protest that became a bloody insurrection on Epiphany yesterday, I focused on the images on my calendar for grounding. I attended that worldwide march in 2016 in Washington, DC on the day these women called for a ReLoveUtion, called for recognition and action to investigate brutality toward indigenous women. For that March, when we felt our vote was disenfranchised, we knitted pink hats, we danced and sang with strangers in the streets, and we admired each other’s signs. We cleaned up after ourselves. We helped each other find good perches from which to better hear and see the speakers.
Yesterday was different. The morning’s anxiety became the afternoon’s reality.
Today I grounded myself in one of my art/spirit practices. Last year, I began doing found poetry and image collages on my calendar pages at school, so today, I sat still, took a deep breath, and pulled strips of words from a can I keep in my classroom. My friend Mara gave it to me, full of strips of words cut from magazines, as a wish for good fortune when I took this teaching job. I need to replenish it, I see. Mara and I call ourselves strippers because we make poetry from strips.
This one reads:
The dark night begins when we realize that all our spirit-heritage did not get along outside our house, for the maps inside a chamber whose wall seethed with a spaceless carpet of creatures, assigned to us in the doldrums like parts in a movie
you can relax and calm the waters a bit Writing has been my cell
As I put it all together, I could feel myself moving out from the weight of the seething spaceless creatures and into the calming waters of my monk’s cell. Writing. Relaxing.
It’s a difficult week for mindfulness, an essential week for mindfulness, when all my practices are being tested. I am thrown off-balance, grateful that I don’t have to be in the pressure-cooker of in-person classes, but wishing I could generate more discussion in the Zoom-rooms. At least my 8th period AP Lit class was eager to talk, even on Zoom, sharing a range of honest reflections about yesterday’s events, clearly repudiating the violence and openly complimenting the midnight speeches from both sides of the aisle.
Friday, 8 January 2021 Feather of the Day
In the summer after I got this job, as I was preparing to teach, I realized one day that I had found a feather every day for a week. I began to keep my eyes peeled. The streak continued. For about eight weeks, with only a couple exceptions, I found a feather every single day. Of course, we lived beneath two giant trees, a poplar and a sycamore, with wonderful places for owls to sit and eat their midnight meals, so there’s that. And I was out in the fields every day, harvesting vegetables, so I was out in nature more than I was in the house. Still, as I tell my students when I relate this story: It’s my life, and I get to choose the meaning I wish. So, I chose to honor the gift of feathers as a reminder, in a time when I was making a major job shift in my life from farmer back to educator, that I would have the resources I needed to fly. I began posting photos of my daily feathers on my social media, along with short poems I wrote.
This morning, as I am lost in the fog of the week’s terror, I happened upon a crow feather on the sidewalk on the way in to the school building. I choose to take it as a sign, a message that I can still rise through the fog, and like the crows, beat my wings in the winds, still find joy.
I opened my computer, in the hour before the day’s Zooms, to find a letter from a parent of a student in my 8th period class, worried that I had wasted precious class time yesterday in discussing politics, which has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and which made her daughter anxious. She and her daughter decided to close the Zoom before we got to reading the last few pages of Lear. Sigh. I believe it is urgent that teachers offer their students an opportunity to respond to the events and crises in their real lives with the same analytical and critical lenses and skills they use for their literary analyses. I’m not sure how I will work with this in that class in the final week of the semester. The mother did ask that I dismiss her daughter from class if the talk turns to politics. I DO want my class to feel like a safe place for everyone, but I think we need to talk about unsettling things that happen.
There’s a tension today between the almost glib tone of Monday’s reflections about creating safe space in the classroom, and the knowledge that my careful and intentional teaching created a space that felt unsafe for a student. Part of me wants to shrug and say, “Can’t win ‘em all,” but isn’t that sort of the whole point? We’re trying to win ‘em all–not let any fall through the cracks. I’ll start by reflecting on the differences between unsafe and unsettled.
Saturday, 9 January 2021 The Rhetoric of Insurrection
Here is a poem I wrote about the insurrection. I needed to find a way to put some of the rage and confusion into words. I will not read this one to my students. I don’t even know anymore how to sort out what is acceptable to say in the classroom. In a school connected to a peace church, I want to help my students analyze the events of the week in terms of how to be peace-builders in this most harrowing of situations. And here I am, sitting in my own puddle of rage at the peace-breakers. I have been so careful not to speak ill of this president who galls me to my core. But now, when his lies have brought us to this point, when I want my students to look with clear eyes and hearts toward the building of an equal and just society, how can I talk about this event without drawing the lines? Here’s the poem:
The Rhetoric of Insurrection by Beth Weaver-Kreider
The landscape is littered with lies, seeded with falsehoods like landmines, like bombs hidden in the halls of justice. The fabric of reality is stained, torn and twisted, threads cut and tangled.
It’s nothing new, this rhetoric of insurrection. For years now, they’ve been spreading it on, lie by lie, suggestion by suggestion, layer by seditious layer, whipping the masses into a frenzy of rage and disenfranchisement.
Now is the time for clear-headed cleaning, gathering threads of Truth where we find them, patching and weaving, healing the fabric, stitching and mending, finding our way to the source of the lies and destruction.
Long before terror and chaos pillaged the building, the lies were laid to pillage the truth, to bend the will of the gullible and power-hungry masses to do the silent bidding of the suited pirates who have laid the groundwork of sedition.
Calling for calm and understanding only veils the carnage, drawing another layer of lies to cover the wreck. Now is the time for the stark strands of truth to stand out and carry the narrative back from the brink of destruction.
My peace has been broken, my balance shaken, my mindfulness marred. And yet, if there’s ever a time when spiritual practices must be meant for, it’s now. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Grounding and centering. Visualizing and affirming peace. Why practice the disciplines only for the pleasant and easy times? The whole point is to create inner spaces that cannot be destroyed by outer earthquakes. I’m not in shambles, only shaken. And that itself is a spiritual discipline, a mindfulness practice, to–as they say–feel all the feels. Like Rumi’s “Guesthouse,” I want to welcome them in, meet them eye to eye, know them as part of me. Only then can I start to clean up the shattered pieces that the earthquake knocked to the floor.
Sunday, 10 January 2021 Three Strands to Braid
Strand 1: My teaching actually brings me to mindfulness today. In Themes in Literature class, we’ve been studying The Zookeeper’s Wife, a story of a Warsaw woman who, with her husband and her community and a widely-effective Underground Resistance, saved hundreds of lives of Jewish people and resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation of Poland. We’ve been considering the characteristics of people who, instead of getting caught up in fear, turn toward the terror, and do the work that comes to them to do, to save and protect and rescue.
Strand 2: My husband’s father died on Epiphany, twelve years ago. Last night, my husband was going through some of his papers and came upon some letters and writings his father had tucked away from his days as a Seafaring Cowboy, one of the hundreds of young American men who, in the wake of WWII, tended cattle and other livestock on ships bound for Europe, to aid in rebuilding after the devastation of the war. This photo is of a series of postcards he brought home, images of Gdinya, a town near Gdansk, where they docked. In his letters, we learned that he took his first ever plane ride to visit the destroyed city of Warsaw. He wrote of the devastation of the city and the farmlands, noting that the retreating Nazis had blown up dikes, which flooded the arable farmland. Here, in this trove of papers, my own life intersects with that of Antonina Zabinski, the zookeeper’s wife, in a very small way.
Strand 3: And then, just before I went to bed last night, I happened upon a Facebook post about Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish Hasidic rabbi who escaped Warsaw mere months before the Nazis began bombing the city. Hasidism, according to Diane Ackerman, the author of The Zookeeper’s Wife, is a strand of Judaism that emphasizes living in radical celebration–not a partier’s absorption, but a life of wonder and amazement. She mentions Heschel only briefly, in the context of Rabbi Shapira, another Hasidic rabbi, who stayed in the Ghetto and ended up dying in a concentration camp, who had to hold for his flock the tension between the horror they were living, and the call to be deeply engaged in the life of the spirit, deeply, mindfully celebrative. He developed meditations and mindfulness techniques to offer his people a way to bridge that space without denying the everyday terror, but also maintaining a heartful connection to everyday beauty and wonder. Here in the US, Rabbi Heschel, a scholar and professor and anti-war activist, became a supporter of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and joined the Civil Rights Movement.
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . . Get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” ―Abraham Joshua Heschel
Today is the actual day of heading back to work, so my morning writing is going to have to be focused and efficient.
This morning’s dream: I am just about to open a box when the alarm goes off! Intriguing. It’s like one of those banana boxes, taped shut with packing tape, just delivered in the mail. The cardboard is sort of reddish. It’s on a little table at the top of the stairs. I had been on my way downstairs to talk to Sonia Sanchez–my friend and I were staying with her. I had just gotten awake after a really long night’s sleep, and I was worried that I wasn’t getting enough sleep, and I had checked the mirror and noticed how great my hair looked, long and really wild, with tiny braids here and there and yarn and beads braided throughout. I was thinking that Sonia might approve.
Before that, I am on the phone with friends, a couple and their son. I am either telling them that I have found something they were looking for, or else they’re telling me that they have found something I was looking for. It’s a little unclear. They’re out at High Point, and they tell me that the view is really lovely today. The little boy tells me something about the thing that someone has found, and I thank them and say goodbye. I feel really awkward.
Early in the night, I had fragmented dreams about making collages and embroidering the pieces of paper together.
Several of the bits and pieces here come pretty directly from my waking-life symbols. We walked at High Point on Saturday, and last night before bed, I was playing with a digital collage using one of the photos I took there. I’ve done lots of embroidered patching during break, and had fallen asleep last night thinking about a patch-making project I signed up to participate in on IG.
If I look at my dreams as a progressive narrative, I have moved from feelings of being lost and seeking lost things to being in a place where I can visualize the person I am going to see when I go downstairs, and finding things that were lost. I only wish I had been able to sleep long enough to open that box! Maybe I’ll find it again in another dream so I can see what was in it!
Gratitudes: 1. Winter Break has been deeply renewing and refreshing, inwardly. I am still behind on my work, but I am internally much better prepared to take up the work. 2. It has been increasingly challenging to get along with only one bathroom in this house. Because we just got the new septic system installed, we have been able to get the basement toilet working again. It’s a pretty small thing, but it just makes life a little easier. 3. I actually do have a couple resolutions, kind of floating around. One of those is to be much more intentional about regularly making things. It gives me a wonderful sense of anticipation to have little art projects to take breaks with. 4. Virtual learning has its struggles, but I like this soft opening of a return to school–it’s a little less pressured, time-wise. And if all goes well, we’ll be back in live classes next week again. 5. People I know are finally getting the vaccine. The election will be certified on Wednesday. The inauguration is only two weeks away. It’s not like all our problems are going to be magically solved, but the constant anxiety of the past four years and the heightened tension of 2020 are slowing resolving themselves.
May we walk in Beauty!
Sophie Scholl: “The real damage is done by those millions who . . . just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
“I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.” ―George McGovern
“The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong—and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right. No religion on earth condones the killing of innocent people, no faith tradition tolerates the random killing of our brothers and sisters on this earth.” —Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We use language to build the structures upon which we hang our ideas. Language is the scaffold upon which we develop whole structures of thought. Language anchors and shapes and breathes life into thought and idea. Conventional thinking, and conventional language, can end up being a pretty tight little box of a windowless building that doesn’t let in the light. The air in there gets pretty stale. When language–and its attendant ideas–become calcified and crippled into arthritic patterns, poetic image and word-use can find new ways to say things, can break windows into the walls of those airless rooms and build ornate new additions onto the old structures. Poetry jars the cart of language out of its constricting wheel ruts. This is why poets and writers can make good revolutionaries–if they know their work and do their jobs well.” —Beth Weaver-Kreider, 2014
“The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.” —Carl Sagan
Mary Oliver, on the Great Horned Owl: “I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world.” And then: “The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I too live. There is only one world.”
“With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.” ―Jalaluddin Rumi (Barks)
In the dream: I am working in an office. It seems like it’s a fairly new business, or else a lot of the employees are new, because people are trying to figure out what is the best way to make things run efficiently and equitably. There’s a general discussion about whether a couple should be allowed to do their work while snuggling together on one chair, as one couple is doing.
It’s a very open office plan, with many work stations set up on tables, and cubicles that are more like library carrels, and the walls between rooms are glass. People are bustling about, doing their work. One guy, dressed in a green shirt and a tie with wide black and white stripes, is trying to hand out Christmas cards, but he doesn’t know who is who, so a group of us is pointing out people for him. Everyone is dressed very formally, but playfully so, with bright colors and prints.
My friend works as an administrative assistant, and is having terrible luck getting people to sign documents for her. People aren’t answering their phones or returning her emails. I start to ask whether her husband, who is also an admin assistant in the company, manages to get people to respond, and she snaps, “Of course they respond to him. He’s a man.”
Retelling this dream exhausts me. It puts me on edge much more than it seems it should from the surface. Perhaps it’s a dream about getting back to school tomorrow, getting the work done, even when it seems like no one is really listening and responding.
Mid-day edit: I just accidentally opened my camera on the selfie side and it brought back some troubling images from a dream fragment. I look in a mirror, and my face looks kind of red, and a few moments later I look again, and my face is covered in a raised rash. My chin and cheeks are swelling. I don’t remember what happened after that.
Gratitudes: 1. A good long walk at High Point yesterday. 2. Sorting through the ideas to prioritize projects and create plans for how to finish some of them. 3. Ham and bean soup. Leftover Christmas ham in leftover black-eyed peas from New Years, with leftover roasted roots from another meal. The beets turned the soup a beautiful borschty red. 4. The trees of Goldfinch farm: sycamore and walnut, locust and willow and oak, maple, and the poplar stump, who is so incredibly alive. 5. The sounds of birds outside. We haven’t even opened the curtains, but the wren and the nuthatch have been chattering on the balcony where Jon put up a thistle feeder and a suet feeder.
May we walk in Beauty!
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” —T.S. Eliot
“Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.” —Barbara Brown Taylor
“He said the wicked know that if the evil they do is of sufficient horror men will not speak against it. That men have only stomach for small evils and only these will they oppose.” —Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing.
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” ―Parker J. Palmer
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ―T. S. Eliot
We need for the earth to sing Through our pores and our eyes. The body will again become restless Until your soul paints all its beauty Upon the sky. —Hafiz (Ladinsky)
“Perhaps the uprising of women around the world is the earth’s own immune system kicking in.” —Nina Simons, Bioneers
“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” —Terry Pratchett
One of the ways I try to remember my dreams is, when I wake up in the night after a dream, I note the main points in my head before I fall back to sleep, and then in the morning, I gran those little phrases, like pieces of paper swirling in a wind, and try to tack them down in writing first thing in the morning. There were several of these last night, but the clearest, most compelling dream was right as I was waking up.
I am at some sort of church service/picnic (I do not recognize the people there from waking life). I know that at 3:30, as things are winding down, I am to meet with one of the women about some sort of planning, but I forget, and by the time my child is getting antsy and begging me to go, it’s 3:58. Another woman approaches me. Apparently, she had written me an email (and I hadn’t seen it) that she wanted to meet with me at 4:00 to talk about her child.
We sit down to talk. She pulls out papers, color photocopies of photographs and notes she’s been taking. Her teen child is coming out as trans, and she wants to talk to me about it. She is open and accepting of the child, at least on the surface, but she is agitated. She worries about what her conservative Mennonite family will think. She worries about how the relatives in Argentina will respond. She keeps tearing the papers. At one point she gets up to go ask someone else a question, and I gather up the pieces of paper, wondering how they could be so shredded–I hadn’t seen her tearing these.
This one seems–perhaps deceptively–straightforward. I teach at a private Christian school. I have very intentionally made it part of my role to be ready to listen to parents of LGBTQ+ kids, to hear their questions and worries, to try to walk them through their own anxieties and stereotypes, to help them find their way to expressing their deep unconditional love for their children in the midst of their own confusion. Perhaps the dream points to deeper agitation, maybe for myself as well as the parents. The torn pieces of paper stand out to me, as well as the frustration of not being able to finish a sentence, not being able to help the mom relax enough to settle into an understandable narrative.
There’s also my own anxiety about keeping appointments. I missed the one I had planned, and almost missed this one because I hadn’t checked my email. Ugh. I hate the way meetings and appointments disrupt the flow of a day. That’s been one of the side blessings of this pandemic time–fewer meetings.
Honoring collective work and community responsibility, ujima, with my friends who are celebrating Kwanzaa. I love that ujima comes after kujichagulia, self-determination. When we each get our own house in order, our own mojo going, then we can work together to build and strengthen our communities. Here in these days of stillness as the earth is poised to swirl back into the Long Day, what a wonderful idea to contemplate: How can I carry my own energies into community-building in the New Year? And of course, Kwanzaa is an African American holiday, so the question for me becomes: How can I use the privilege I was born with to support and strengthen the community-building work of BIPOC?
“I’m restless. Things are calling me away. My hair is being pulled by the stars again.” ―Anaïs Nin
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking. It seems that we Christians have been worshiping Jesus’ journey instead of doing his journey. The worshiping feels very religious; the latter just feels human and ordinary. We are not human beings on a journey toward Spirit, we are already spiritual beings on a journey toward becoming fully human, which for some reason seems harder precisely because it is so ordinary.” ―Richard Rohr
“Language is very powerful. Language does not just describe reality. Language creates the reality it describes.” ―Desmond Tutu
“We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.” —Wendell Berry
So many random dream images from last night. They’re fragmented, but they all seem connected somehow.
Josiah and I buy sandwiches in some sort of sunny outdoor courtyard. People are setting up for some sort of event, so we put together a couple of chairs and sit down. One of the custodians from school makes a chair for himself and eats with us.
Jon and I are in a classroom. I think we’re back in elementary school. We’re ahead of the class, so we get to sit near the back and read the next material on our own. The class is finished with the work, but the teacher can’t find the test. I have little plastic animals set up all around my desk and on the windowsill behind me. I’m a little claustrophobic in the space, worried I’ll send my little animals tumbling if I move.
I’m in a Victorian sort of house with two other young women. It’s the next class (after the one in the previous paragraph), and we’re reading a Shakespeare play together. The one woman gets bored and wanders off. I am helping the other to read the parts. It sounds more like Jane Austen than Shakespeare. The other woman tires out, but we’ve been reading for half an hour, so we quit.
I am frantically calling people and trying to find out where my baby is. Someone took him and said they’d bring him right back, but I can’t get in touch with anyone.
I’m on a sort of courtroom, and the proceedings have been going on for hours. I’m bored. Suddenly I notice that the one lawyer is terribly sick. His eyes are red and puffy and he’s sneezing. No one else seems to notice, but I am frantic about finding my mask and putting it on. I move to a corner of the room near a window.
I find a telephone and try to remember how to dial my parents’ number to tell them about the missing baby. This never goes well in dreams, but this time when I pick up the old-fashioned receiver, my mother is right there, on the other end of the line! I think that perhaps everything is going to be okay.
I decide to rid my bike through the countryside to get home to my parents. This is common in dreams for me. I get to a place that is familiar to my dream-self, except that the corn has grown up on all the corners. Someone has placed blankets on the corn all around, as if they needed somewhere to hang a thousand blankets to dry. The road to the right should be the right way to go, but it seems to curve up ahead in a way that it isn’t supposed to. I ride several yards up toward the curve, but it actually turns back upon itself in a loop and ends up heading back the way I have come. Someone has planted their corn across the road! Just as I decide to ride back the way I have come, I wake up.
The odd thing in the waking up was that I thought I was hearing people speaking, so faintly it could have been my imagination (which it probably was). I thought maybe one of the kids was up really early, listening to a video somewhere in the house. But there’s no sign of anyone. Maybe it was the heat coming on that sounded in my dreambrain like people talking.
This set has a lot of little anxieties: the lost child, the inability to get to my parents, the unprepared teacher, the claustrophobia, the coronavirus, the confusing pathway home. So many of these are my dream-tropes for lostness and confusion. In each one, I am just going along, trying to muddle through each scene the best I can, which is what Jon and I are doing here, trying to make the best of this strange year. This will be a lovely introverts’ holiday, all of us together here, but we also need our people, and we can’t quite see how the road ahead will lead us to them. It seems to be recursive, bending back upon itself.
If there’s a message here, it’s to tend to my anxieties, to notice how the worry affects my choices.
Gratitude: 1. The messages of dreams 2. Quiet holidays 3. Loving hearts, even at a distance 4. There will be an end to this 5. All the people who are working to keep us safe, and to bring an end to this.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
Someday soon, we all will be together, if the Fates allow. . .”
“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. . . .get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” —Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“From the halls of power to the fortress tower, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears every tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; These are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn. My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, For the dawn draws near, And the world is about to turn.” —Rory Cooney, from “Canticle of the Turning”
Making the House Ready for the Lord by Mary Oliver Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but still nothing is as shining as it should be for you. Under the sink, for example, is an uproar of mice–it is the season of their many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves and through the walls the squirrels have gnawed their ragged entrances–but it is the season when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow; what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox, the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know that really I am speaking to you whenever I say, as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through listen to this music I am the concert from the mouth of every creature singing with the myriad chorus” —Hafiz (Ladinsky)
“May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful.” ―Mary Oliver
“We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Dass
“I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple—or a green field—a place to enter, and in which to feel.” ―Mary Oliver
This is the season of dreaming, these nights and days between the Solstice and Epiphany. I mine my dreams in these days carefully, for words and feelings and images, symbols I can use to put the old year to rest, or to carry into the creation of the coming year.
This is going to seem more like a personal journal, perhaps, than a blog. In some ways that is what the blog is. Feel free to read along. I follow a fairly Jungian path to dream interpretation, looking at myself in the story of it, reading it like a fairy tale, watching for images and people to stand out to me, for relationships to reveal themselves. I try to write my dreams in present tense, so it draws me back into the moment of experiencing the dream. I am open to hearing your thoughts about symbols and archetypes in the dream. I tend to close myself off to “This is what your dreams means,” finding my inner world much more open to “This is what I see or hear in your dream.”
Last night: I am taking a student home. While people in my dreams are often archetypal stand-ins, this is an actual student in an actual class of mine right now, a sensitive and thoughtful young woman who has been finding this year to be an emotional roller coaster. We are in Lancaster. Parts of it are recognizably Lancaster, but much of it is dream creation. Also, we are not in a car. I am pushing her in a large stroller.
At one point, we get stuck waiting in traffic, and she starts to suggest we go left, but I am already on it. We pull out of traffic and go through a neighborhood which is almost entirely brick. Orange brick–big, rounded orange bricks. All the houses, the cobbled walkways, and the street itself. “We call this Peter’s thumbs,” she tells me.
I say that it’s good exercise to go up over this way, and she says, “Oh, I don’t believe in that whole weight loss thing.”
This touches a nerve for me because, while I am being really careful right now about not gaining more weight (I gained al lot in the spring of the pandemic), I make it a point to never ever use the words weight loss diet in front of students. So I make a little half-lie: “Oh, I just meant exercise. I want to be healthy and strong. I don’t care about diets and weight loss.” (This is the lie I tell myself in real, waking, life in order to try to make it a truth. When the numbers on the scale are troubling to me. Even at 53, I still struggle with body image.)
At one point our journey takes us up a street that’s more of a tunnel, underneath a heavy, dark skywalk. I’m talking more about exercise and deepening my lie about not caring about my weight. At the top of the hill, when we get into the light, I realize that she’s no longer in the stroller thing. I panic. I’ve lost her! She emerges from the doorway behind me: “Oh, I just thought I’d walk for myself for a little while.” She’s wearing an orange acrobat’s leotard.
That’s when the alarm goes off. As I was writing that, I kept getting flashes of the dream that preceded it, of a small blond boy (perhaps one of mine) following an older child around a camp. They cover themselves in mud. They run down to the river to wash. I have a moment of panic that the small child will drown, and have that moment of vision when I see myself diving into the muddy river, frantically searching for a drowning child, but it passes, and I hold back on my panic as they run laughing into the water.
I think this dream hits right at the center of my anxieties about parenting and teaching–the weight of responsibility, of protecting (both physically and psychically) the young ones in my care. Unfortunately, when I get anxious about the physical well-being of my children, I do get momentary visions of worst-case scenarios sometimes. I do find myself spooling out the dreads. My Dream-spinner was showing me that part of myself, I think.
And also about my own lifelong battle with learning to love being in this particular body, of dealing with shame for my up-and-down weight, of very intentionally not speaking of diet in front of students, particularly female students. In general, I think teachers and adults need to be open about our struggles with students, not spilling all our secrets and pain, but letting them know that we, too, go through challenges. But this whole diet thing is pernicious and insidious. Hearing others talk about dieting has always been a trigger for me, and I want to be extra cautious about that with students.
Like the panic about the boy in the river, I had a similar panic when the student (who is struggling in real life) approached the topic of weight loss. I felt the heaviness of being responsible for someone else’s emotional health. But the reality, at the end of the dream, was that I was not actually pushing her. She was coming out on her own power, and indeed, with grace and agility and strength, as an acrobat.
I think the words for this dream are: Responsibility, Care, Anxiety. Maybe Diet or Body Image. The color orange: Sacral Chakra. Tend to the creative and sensual. I have no idea what the heck Peter’s Thumbs are doing in the dream!
Gratitudes: 1. When I cannot be with my beloveds, memories really do warm my heart 2. New things arising and old things passing out of the picture 3. Messages from the Dream-spinner 4. Today is the last day of school until January–I need this break 5. Today I am healthy. And I hope you are, too. Stay well.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.” —Isadora Duncan
“There is really only one way to restore a world that is dying and in disrepair: to make beauty where ugliness has set in. By beauty, I don’t mean a superficial attractiveness, though the word is commonly used in this way. Beauty is a loveliness admired in its entirety, not just at face value. The beauty I’m referring to is metabolized grief. It includes brokenness and fallibility, and in so doing, conveys for us something deliciously real. Like kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold, what is normally seen as a fatal flaw is distinguished with value. When we come into contact with this kind of beauty, it serves as a medicine for the brokenness in ourselves, which then gives us the courage to live in greater intimacy with the world’s wounds.” —Toko-pa Turner
“God has scattered the haughty ones. God has cast down the powerful from their places of power and has lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” —Mary
“No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.” —Kahlil Gibran
“Always there comes an hour when one is weary of one’s work and devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.” —Albert Camus
“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop. ” —Rumi (Barks)
My heart is moved by all I cannot save: so much has been destroyed I have to cast my lot with those who age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power reconstitute the world. —Adrienne Rich
Beloveds, I don’t really have much in the way of words to offer this morning, to wade through the bog of my own anxiety to offer hope or resilience. I’m here in my bog, listening. I need to be a teacher today, especially for students who are equally as enmired as I am.
Here in the anxious bog of me today, I sit like an angry old spider. I cast a line from me to you. Catch. Send out webs of your own. While we wait for things to ravel or unravel, we weave and spin and hold our own webs as steady as we may. We are stronger when we are together.
Black lives STILL matter. Love is STILL love is STILL love. Your name and pronouns STILL belong to you. Your body is STILL your own. You STILL have agency. The Planet STILL needs us. The elderly and vulnerable STILL need protection from the coronavirus. STILL, nobody is illegal. Justice is STILL important.
This morning felt so dire, so much a repetition of 2016. Jon and I both woke up at 2:30, and made the perhaps unwise choice to check the returns. My heart was racing, and I figured I wouldn’t get to sleep until I saw something to confirm or allay the anxiety. Look the wolf in the eye, they say. I felt in a visceral way how the anxiety and sense of tragedy of the 2016 election had lodged in my body, and how it replayed itself in the night four years later.
This afternoon, there are a few more reasons to hope. The morning, said Vassilissa’s doll in the Baba Yaga stories, is wiser than the evening. Today, the afternoon is wiser than the morning. Get some distance. Get some rest. Get some perspective.
It’s not over, and won’t be for a long time, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve completely shattered the Democracy quite yet. And the popular vote seems to be pretty definitely against the tyrant.
Here’s the one thing that sticks with me, however, like a grief: It wasn’t a clear and obvious win. My neighbors, good people and salt of the earth in so many ways, have not–by and large–passed the test, choosing instead to vote for white supremacy and patriarchy, for homophobia and transphobia, against the poor and the ill and the immigrants. And I do not know what to do with that.
I don’t feel like I can muster appropriate Gratitudes today. Perhaps a couple Commitments might stand in: 1. I commit to not respond smugly if Biden wins. I will express relief and hope if it happens (because I am human and must live my emotions), but I will not be smug, and especially I will try to be open to the pain and confusion of people for whom that is frightening, even though I do not understand it. 2. No matter who wins this election, I commit to standing for justice and compassion, for Black and Indigenous People and other People of Color, for LGBTQ+ folx, for women, for immigrants, for poor and houseless people, for all who are harmed by our systems. I commit to pushing whoever is president for the next four years (and other elected officials) to do right by the people, especially whose who have not been truly free and equal. 3. I commit to harbor no illusions that the lesser of two evils is the savior. 4. I commit to walk this together with you, my Beloveds, and to ask for help when I am sinking.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. In Beauty.
Wangari Maathai, the winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya (and now around the world), told a story about a hummingbird.
When the great forest was on fire, and all the animals were fleeing for their lives, the tiny Hummingbird zipped to the river, gathered a beakful of water, and zipped back to release the water onto the raging flames. Again and again, she carried her tiny beakfuls of water to try to put out the flames. The other animals noticed, and told her how futile her efforts were, but Hummingbird kept on and on, believing that it was her duty–no matter what–to do her one little thing.
Perhaps some of the other animals were inspired to get down to work, to do their own little thing, to pass on the hope of a thousand small actions. Perhaps the fire raged on despite their efforts. Perhaps they held it back. Perhaps they even put it out in the end.
During these days which, in the deepest of the dark insomniac nights, feel a little like the Beginning of the End of Things, Hummingbird has been sipping sweetness from the petunia basket outside my window, resting sometimes on the wire, nabbing gnats out of the air, hovering right at the window and peering in at me.
When I brought my first baby home from the hospital more than 14 years ago (a world ended and a world began with his birth), I settled into the recliner, exhausted and full of great satisfaction and wonder, to nurse the tiny person who had entered our world. Looking up from the babe, I saw Hummingbird hovering at the window for what seemed like ten seconds or more (an eternity of seconds), and she seemed to be watching the New Person, and marveling with me. In the succeeding years, I have marveled back at the wonder of her own young, at their tenacity and resilience, surviving lashing storms in their bottle-cap-sized nest. At their first fledgings. At the blur of their wings as they sip sweetness. At the self-contained unself-consciousness of their existence.
And now, in a time when I am bending all my mental and emotional and physical will toward resilience and tenacity, when I am terrified for my children, my students, my parents, my self, I have Hummingbird in my days, quietly doing her thing, going about her business, checking on me through the window.
She leaves me with questions. Perhaps you want to ponder them, too: * What, in these days of going back to school, will be your sips of sweetness to fuel you through the moments of high challenge and frustration and worry? * What, as Wangari Maathai asked, is your “one little thing”? What is that thing you will do to stem the tides of destruction, even when it seems like only a beakful of water? * What does resilience look like to you? (For me, I want to picture myself in my classroom BEING tenacious and resilient.) * In the story, Hummingbird simply did her work and did not ask for help. I am not Hummingbird, and she leaves me with that question, too: How will you remember to ask for help when you need it?
So. Whatever our tasks in this time of great trouble, whatever our capacities to meet the challenges before us, let us fly with strength and power, knowing that we are doing our part. Around us are so many who are joining in the work. Let us be resilient and vulnerable, earnest and tenacious, willing to ask for help when we need it, offering to give others a spell when they reach exhaustion.
As the Talmud says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
Gratitude List: 1. Messages from Hummingbird 2. Help from a friend when I didn’t even think to ask for help 3. Colleagues. I love my colleagues. 4. The custodial staff at my school. They make me feel safe. They care for the building and the spaces we inhabit. And, they’re so good-humored. 5. Air conditioning in my classroom. If, on top of everything else, I had to go into a 90-degree classroom to teach in my mask, I think I would have given up. I don’t think I could have mustered that much resilience. Air conditioning! I have air conditioning in my classroom!
May we all do our Little Thing, doing justice loving mercy, and walking humbly.
“By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime. The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first spinning and splitting of the stars.
“Thus the greening of the self helps us to re-inhabit time and own our story as life on Earth. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands. Beneath the outer layers of our neocortex and what we learned at school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us survive.” —Joanna Macy
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” —St. Augustine (I’m not usually a great fan of St. A, but I find this really moving)
“Eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.” —Wendell Berry
“Literature irrigates the deserts that our lives have become.” —C.S. Lewis
“A good organizer is a social arsonist who goes around setting people on fire.” —Fred Ross
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. —Wendell Berry
Here is something I wrote yesterday: Our grief should place us onto a similar plane of understanding. Stories of Black youth being held at gunpoint and endangered by police officers who were called to protect those particular lives are not a competition with the story of a White child who was murdered. The murder or mistreatment of a child is a terrible thing no matter their race or circumstance.
Our horrors and griefs should be taking us to the same well, where we can hold each other’s stories, feel each other’s pain, and know we are walking the same valleys.
Saying Black Lives Matter is not meant to compete with or demean your very real grief about the horror stories you hear. It’s not intended to politicize the lives of those who have died. It’s intended to shake us up and wake us up to the continuing grief of Black families, to hold in reverence the lives that have been taken simply because of someone’s race.
I see you asking, “Can’t we grieve him too?” Of course we can. Of course we should. Our hearts are meant to break open with such pain. But asking that question as a response to someone expressing their grief over one more senselessly lost or threatened Black life is politicizing both deaths.
Take a deep breath. Feel your feelings. Weep with those who mourn.
Something I notice about people in these months of pandemic is that we seem to be experiencing, as they say, All The Feels. I think we’re more vulnerable to sad stories, to outrage, to anxiety, and this makes us vulnerable to trolls, to bots, to conspiracy theories. For me, living in that fluttery place of reactivity to emotion is not healthy or sustainable, and it makes me much more susceptible to suggestion that doesn’t require thinking. Denying those fluttery emotions doesn’t help either. They’re there, and they’re going to affect me. I need to lean into them, to give them their space, ask them–like ghosts that haunt a house–what they need of me in this moment. I need to name them as they appear.
This poem, by Jalaluddin Rumi, translated into English by Coleman Barks, helps:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
“I think ultimately people become extremists not necessarily because of the ideology. I think that the ideology is simply a vehicle to be violent. I believe that people become radicalized, or extremist, because they’re searching for three very fundamental human needs: identity, community and a sense of purpose.
“If, underneath that fundamental search is something that’s broken — I call them potholes — is there abuse or trauma or mental illness or addiction? … [T]here are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, they tend to search for very simple black and white answers.” ―Christian Picciolini, former skinhead
“Nazis are a lot like cats: If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.” ―John Oliver
“Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ sons Is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons… We who believe in freedom cannot rest, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” ―Sweet Honey in the Rock
“The future, good or ill, was not forgotten, but ceased to have any power over the present. Health and hope grew strong in them, and they were content with each good day as it came, taking pleasure in every meal, and in every word and song.” —J.R.R. Tolkien (The Fellowship of the Ring)
“There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.” ― Linda Hogan
“Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.” ―Rabindranath Tagore
“Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem, I whisper with my lips close to your ear. I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.” —Walt Whitman, “To You”
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” ―Eleanor Roosevelt
“Shaped language is strangely immortal, living in a meadowy freshness outside of time. But it also lives in the moment, in us. Emotion, intellect, and physiology are inseparably connected in the links of a poem’s sound. It is difficult to feel intimacy while shouting, to rage in a low whisper, to skip and weep at the same time.” ―Jane Hirshfield
“I have always been spiritually promiscuous, lying down with any God who will have me. When I drop down into these ancient texts, I feel the breath of the God of Love on my face. It makes me crazy. In the very best way.” —Mirabai Starr