After four years of watching people I thought were philosophically and spiritually interested in wisdom and truth and justice cast off their moral and ethical clothing, shed their philosophical and ideological grounding, I shouldn’t be shocked at the callousness and cruelty, the active denialism and cult-like disengagement with humanity. But I am. I expected people to be better, and I keep holding out hope that the cruelty and denialism have just been glitches.
But I don’t think so.
People who railed against the “holocaust” of children represented by the seed of life in a zygote have been shrugging their shoulders when born children are torn from their parents’ arms and locked in cages–ill-fed, cold, untended, subject to sexual abuse.
People who spoke fervently and passionately about a fertilized egg’s right to life are actively fighting against programs which offer health care and living wages to the families of born children.
People who called themselves pro-life, who dogmatically claimed to stand for the tiniest little possibility of living humanity in a fetus, saying, “It’s only old people who are dying.” Refusing to wear a mask because it somehow infringes on their rights, when wearing that mask could be the difference between life and death for someone they expose.
People who seemed like educated, thoughtful adults absolutely denying the science and the demographics and the numbers of a disease that is killing thousands of people every day, actively passing on the outright lies.
People who talked about a gospel of “Good News” for all the world, ignoring the suffering of a world in the grip of a global pandemic. Laughing at people who take it seriously, scoffing at mitigation efforts, actively encouraging others to behave in dangerous and irresponsible ways.
I have known that there were nominal Christians who fought for power and wealth and white supremacy instead of Goodness and Love and Peace. That’s nothing new. And there are plenty of Christians who are acting like they care about Jesus, who are standing for justice and caring about life. I guess I just thought there would be more who, when confronted with real life-or-death situations–with a global pandemic, with a profane president, with a world of suffering–would actually decide to walk humbly with Jesus, to do justice, and to love mercy.
Re-reading Lewis’s Narnia series is a struggle for me today. There are thealogical implications and structures that make me cringe, and racist and xenophobic stereotypes that offend me deeply. Still, often when I am trying to sift meaning out of events and experience, Lewis’s analogies appear into my consciousness to help me make narrative sense of what seems to be senseless. I know I have used this analogy before, have written about the bone-headed refusal of the dwarfs in The Last Battle to See the new reality, to engage with the truth of what was right in front of their faces, because they simply could not accept the truth that their eyes presented to them, but so often these days, I see similar intellectual acrobats who are unable to make sense of the reality they face because they cannot find their way out of the reality they have created for themselves.
In The Last Battle, at the moment of the very end of the world, everyone enters the door of the shack, expecting to see Aslan or his opposite (serious thealogical cringe). When the dwarfs enter, all they see is the dark interior of the shack. With the sounds of thousands rushing past them into eternity, the dwarfs sit down in a circle and talk amongst themselves about how deluded everyone else is, how everyone else has allowed their imaginations to run away with them. Griffle and his friends cannot see the reality that is in front of their faces because they have created a reality that they refuse to interrogate, and so they are stuck in the shack.
All along the way, the dwarfs, clannish and tribal, can only see the interests of themselves and those like them. Lewis gives them more range than he does his specifically evil characters. You’re allowed to like them, to wish–along with the children and Prince Tirian–that they would let themselves See beyond the structures of reality that they have created. But in the end, they’re imprisoned–as Aslan points out–by their own false reality.
I keep thinking of the dwarfs these days as I read bits and pieces of the rants from people who believe this virus is a hoax meant to line the pockets of Bill Gates and his cronies. They’ll give you web sites and articles and Youtube videos that explain how the virus is really not a thing, how it’s played up by Big Pharma because: insert merger here, only old and weak people are dying [really, I am still hearing this], Bill Gates, ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum. . . They write whole essays in the social media threads. They sound like college professors. Or the Unibomber. Or evangelists. They’re the mansplainer of mansplainers, although some of them are women. They will explain to you in great detail how none of this is happening, how some nebulous cabal has created this whole thing in order to rule the world [cue super-villain laughter]. They’re not going to be fooled again, they tell you.
“You must think we’re blooming soft in the head, that you must,” said Griffle. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in again the next minute.”
(The Last Battle)
Instead of the shaggy golden face of Aslan, however, the image we behold in the space we have entered today is a life-threatening virus, and it’s overwhelming hospitals and taking lives at an increasingly rapid pace. And for some unfathomable reason the maskless masses continue to sit in their circle saying, “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” refusing to see the danger that is right in front of their faces. I too have little faith that the pharmaceutical companies have more interest in public health than in their own wealth and power. I don’t believe that corporations are capable of basic altruism. Still, the global goal at this point is to eradicate this virus to the greatest extent possible, and public health requires a vaccine, requires mitigation efforts. Please don’t sit in the circle with Griffle and Diggle and their friends, denying the reality of what is around you.
Gratitudes: 1. Belonging: This is something I wrote in previous years, but still rings true today– “I don’t always feel like I belong, or like I understand the unwritten rules of certain groups, even though I think I am a pretty good observer of human nature. So when I am in a group whose rules accept everyone’s awkwardness and oddness unconditionally, which loves each one not in spite of our oddities, but because of them, then I feel safe. Then I feel belonging. I am especially grateful to those of you who know how to extend unconditional welcome in ways that make everyone believe they belong.” 2. Birdwatching at our little feeder station. There’s a whole family of red-bellied woodpeckers, along with the newly-arrived flock of juncos, titmouses (titmice?) and nuthatches, chickadees, goldfinches, sparrows, doves, downies, cardinals, a blue jay, and several fat squirrels. 3. How physically cleaning a space seems to create inner space. I need the creative jumble of clutter, but putting it neatly away also makes creative spaces. 4. My mother’s old Singer sewing machine. I have been putting it to great use lately, making what my friend Kris calls Frankendresses–I love that term. 5. This web of loving hearts. Thanks for being part of it all. Cast a line to someone today. Let’s make a glorious net, a new thing, a hopeful future.
May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!
“Healing comes in waves and maybe today the wave hits the rocks. And that’s ok, that’s ok, darling. You are still healing, you are still healing.” —Ijeoma Umebinyuo
“No matter where we are, the ground between us will always be sacred ground.“ —Fr. Henri Nouwen
“The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly; light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding.” —Gretel Ehrlich
“The fact that these words and the jumble of lines that create their letters has no real, inherent meaning outside of a human context, yet they hum with life, is a wonderful reminder that what we imagine can easily become real and powerful simply because we decide it should be so.” —Jarod K. Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist
“Writing at the library. Surrounded by thousands of books, windows into other minds. Some of these writers are living. Some are not. Neatly ordered rectangles of concentrated human life and intellect. A book is certainly a kind of ghost and libraries are pleasantly haunted places.” —Jarod K. Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist
“The beauty of the world…has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” —Virginia Woolf
I know nothing, except what everyone knows — If there when Grace dances, I should dance. —W.H. Auden
“I do believe in an everyday sort of magic—the inexplicable connectedness we sometimes experience with places, people, works of art and the like; the eerie appropriateness of moments of synchronicity; the whispered voice, the hidden presence, when we think we’re alone.” —Charles de Lint
After nearly a month of silence here, I find it difficult to pull out particular threads of thoughts to put down in a blog post. Or perhaps it’s more a function of the times we live in, existing as we do within so many layers of challenge and crisis and change. So today’s post will be more of a smorgasbord than usual.
I am at odds with myself. There’s a Cackler in me who is rubbing her hands with satisfaction at the way karma has finally alit upon powerful people who have minimized the danger of the coronavirus. At the same time, my internal Monk is saddened to contemplate anyone’s suffering, and wants to wish ill upon no being, no matter how brutal and selfish that being is.
Message to self: It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to experience a sense of relief when an out-of-control train that has already been responsible for the deaths of many is suddenly slowed and perhaps side-lined. I’m letting the Monk and the Cackler work together here, working to avoid feeling and expressing glee at this turn of events, but allowing myself to feel relief: This could signal a shift that could save lives in the end.
This is a moment for the type of complexity I have been attempting to integrate since I began working with the Bowl of the Heart several years ago: All of it goes in there together, painful and tender, vengeful and compassionate. We’re many-faceted creatures, we humans, and we have the capacity for myriad responses. While I want to always be appealing to my better nature, I cannot deny the Cackler her space. And I can learn from her. The quiet Monk in me was trying so hard to respond with light and wisdom that I almost missed the essential message of the Cackler–that it is okay to be relived that this bit of suffering being visited upon those who inhabit the White House may be a pathway toward mitigating the suffering of thousands.
A few days ago, I checked in with the faeries about a couple things I’ve lost. One was pretty urgent and timely. The other is a necklace I haven’t seen for over a year, a treasured piece I made myself from various shiny and dangly things I’d received from beloved friends.
Within a couple hours, I found the first, most urgent thing, but I still haven’t found the necklace, although I have been searching all the place that suddenly popped into my head.
But last night, I had a haunting, lingering dream. I kept waking up with images of the two beings in the dream, sometimes with clear recognition of their names, and then falling back to sleep, only to wake up again with their images in my brain. They were two elves, dressed in skinny suits like a 1950s boy band, with white shirts and black skinny ties. They were both dark-haired with piercing dark eyes, very Spock-like.
I woke up, feeling like they wanted to cut some sort of deal with me, like they were looking to draw up a contract. I thought if I could remember their names, I could outwit them, control them, but in the stories, magical names also sometimes backfire, and it’s perhaps best that I don’t quite remember. I do want my necklace back, but I’m not ready to sell my fate to a pair of pushy dream-beings. Still, it couldn’t help to make an offering. . . (I know, I know, no first-born children or anything like that).
I’ve started painting my nails. It’s strange, because I tend to feel like I am a little kid playing dress-up, or like I’m sort of wearing drag when I wear make-up or get my nails done. It’s like it’s territory that doesn’t really belong to me. I identify completely as she/her, and have never had any questions about my gender, but there are myriad ways to express femaleness, and the salon/nails/make-up way has not really been part of my way. I always feel like I’m in someone else’s territory when I do these things.
But I am loving wearing different colors on my nails. I change the color every weekend. A couple weeks ago, I just had to get green. I needed green nails. Today, I painted them RED! My fingernails are red. I needed flames on my fingers right now. Hmmm. I should see about getting some little flame decals. . .
I realized the other day that I almost never find feathers anymore. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough? Or maybe I don’t need them now. Or maybe it’s because we no longer have the glorious owl-perch of the poplar tree anymore.
The day after I began to ponder this, I found this woodpecker feather at the park:
This week two girls stopped outside my classroom to read my bulletin board during my prep period. When I went to say hello, they thanked me for my poster about how all people are valued in this classroom. They said they would like it to include something about how we live on stolen land. I love that they were so ready to add their own pieces, so open to ask for what they want, so intersectionally aware. We talked about how the statements on the poster are all stated in positive ways, and the stolen land piece doesn’t seem to quite fit that tone, but how that’s not quite a good answer even so. I do have a little poster in my room about the people who were first here on the land where we attend school, but I really want to add a line that will respond to their request, if it’s possible. (Or maybe I’ll move that poster out to my hallway bulletin board. One of the girls said she is going to make me a drawing of the hands of many different races gripping each other in a circle, to add put next to the sign.
I would love ideas about how to include an intersectional awareness of the truth of that statement–We are living on stolen land–in the grammatical and tonal context of this. Feel free to offer me your thoughts.
Some Random Gratitudes: 1. Red-breasted hawk on a snag down Schmuck Rd. 2. My wise and compassionate students. 3. The Wheel of the Year. All comes around again. 4. Smoothie for breakfast 5. The treehouse. I spent a couple hours up there yesterday, reading and drawing.
May we walk in Beauty!
“The ways creative work gets done are always unpredictable, demanding room to roam, refusing schedules and systems. They cannot be reduced to replicable formulas. […] To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out. […] Some women get erased a little at a time, some all at once. Some reappear. Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the genealogy, the rights of man, the rule of law. The ability to tell your own story, in words or images, is already a victory, already a revolt.” ―Rebecca Solnit, from: “Men Explain Things to Me”
“The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” —Flannery O’Connor
“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” ―Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ―Barry Lopez
“‘Remember on this one thing,’ said Badger. ‘The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.’” ―Barry Lopez, Crow and Weasel
“Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need For this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, but if faced With courage, need not be lived again. Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you. Give birth again To the dream.” —Maya Angelou
“With dreamwork, we are endlessly tenderising ourselves to subtletly. When we begin to know its dimensions, pain can no longer envelop us in an indistinct mass. It’s not that we are ridding ourselves of suffering, but rather learning its name, which is the prelude to befriending it.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa
Humility by Mary Oliver Poems arrive ready to begin. Poets are only the transportation.
“On the last day of the world I would want to plant a tree.” —W. S.Merwin
“Nature never repeats itself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another.” —Elizabeth Cady Stanton
“All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.” —Kabir
Mirabai Starr said, “Poetry is a gateway into unitive consciousness. It knocks on the doors of the heart and the heart opens. Poets speak truth in a very naked way that bypasses the rational mind. Poetry evokes, rather than describes.”
Kathleen Norris writes, “Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is their strength. . . . Writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.”
“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories . . . water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” —Clarissa Pinkola Estés
“Every seed contains the potential to save the world. Each seed can keep millions of people from starvation. Each seed is a mirror and guardian of the world’s future. Each seed is the ecology that can sustain the economy. This is why seeds are sacred…” —His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
I am suffering from some serious internal whiplash these days.
Within the past week, I have experienced some incredibly healing times safely social distanced with some of my best beloveds, looking into twinkling eyes, hearing laughter and wisdom and articulate questions. I have had some deeply reviving time in nature despite the heat.
And at the same time, one thought can set my nerves jangling, twanging the wires of anxiety, clashing and clanging waves of worry. School.
While teaching students to read and write–to communicate, to learn to express emotion and articulate new ideas–is clearly my vocational mission, I have an underlying agenda which is just as important as English Language Arts: To create a safe space for young people to explore who they are and learn how to be comfortable and confident in the world. In the spring, when we were sent home to do our learning, we lost that safe space together. I lost the opportunity to make eye contact in the halls with someone who worried that nobody would ever notice them, lost the chance to listen to a student come into my room ranting about some injustice they wanted to remove from the world, lost the chance to watch laughter displace worry or sadness or fear, lost the chance to tell someone that they are stronger than they think.
And now, we’re planning to meet again in the fall, and I will get some of that back on a limited basis, but I don’t feel safe, for me or for them, for our families and beloveds. This virus has stripped us of our safety. I want so desperately to return to classes, but something in me feels like it isn’t yet time, like my Safe Place is still unsafe. I find myself hoping that the governor calls off school again, so we won’t have to navigate these waters, so I won’t have to add to my duties the policing of students’ spacing and masking in the halls, so I won’t have to worry that every sneeze or cough could result in someone’s grandmother fighting for her life, so every day won’t feel like a risk.
I know that we need to open schools again when it is safe to do so. I know that many students’ mental health depends upon it. But it feels like a dangerous experiment with our physical health, and the health of our families to do it now, when my state can’t seem to get its numbers under control, when adults who should know better are refusing to do the simple things to keep us all safe.
I breathe a lot to ground myself, during these days when I struggle through allergies to catch the deepest breaths and yawns. I go to my beloveds, online and in safe circles. I anchor myself in the green and the blue, in earth and air and water. I search for Beauty, and find my grateful center. It helps me a little, a least to ride the top of the anxiety waves. It’s harder than usual to hold onto a calm center, when grief and rage and worry knot themselves into a little ball inside my spirit.
Some Things to Be Grateful For: 1. The twinkling eyes of my beloveds 2. Blue and green, and golden sun 3. Birdfolk 4. Water 5. Laughter.
May we walk in Beauty!
“May hope rise within you. May peace wash over you.” —Charlene Costanzo
“You don’t have anything if you don’t have the stories.” —Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” —Lilla Watson
“A poem is not a puzzle, even if it’s puzzling at first. Instead, it’s a highly selected parcel or capsule of language meant to burst into your psyche and change you in some way. Poetry is the life blood of our language, and it’s meant for everyone, not just academics or young people in school. Poetry is in a word: consciousness.” —Cathryn Hankla
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. —Leonard Cohen
Tom Joad, from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath: I been thinking about us, too, about our people living like pigs and good rich land layin’ fallow. Or maybe one guy with a million acres and a hundred thousand farmers starvin’. And I been wonderin’ if all our folks got together and yelled…
As long as I’m an outlaw anyways… maybe I can do somethin’… maybe I can just find out somethin’, just scrounge around and maybe find out what it is that’s wrong and see if they ain’t somethin’ that can be done about it. I ain’t thought it out all clear, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know enough.
No raccoons this morning. I am such a worrywort, and when I start to care deeply, then I begin to worry about Every Little Thing. We’re assuming that Mama came back for her baby sometime yesterday when we weren’t watching. We’re assuming that she didn’t take them up this tree last night–I have read that they often choose different hiding places each day or week. Just because I kept smelling fox yesterday doesn’t mean that they’ve encountered the raccoons, and just like the raccoons need to feed their littles on birds’ eggs, foxes need little raccoons to feed their littles, so the cycle of life continues. . .
Two nights ago, I dreamed I met a llama. Nothing more remains of that dream, except the llama coming to greet me.
Last night I had my first coronavirus dream. Jon and I were going somewhere in the car, and I realized that I didn’t have my mask along. I told Jon I needed to use his, but he was pretty strict about sharing masks and said I couldn’t use his. The people in the building where we were going to be were all pretty skeptical about social distancing and mask-wearing, so I NEEDED to have my mask to keep me and them safe, and to normalize mask-wearing. Just as we pulled in to the place, I found a scarf in the car, so I wrapped it around my head like a hijab, covering my mouth and nose, although I knew the people in the building would find that triggering.
Gratitude: Color is so important to me. This morning, Indigo Bunting and Blue Jay were at the feeder together. Moments after they flew away, a bright red cardinal and a glowing yellow goldfinch flew in, followed a red-bellied woodpecker with its cap on fire.
May we walk in Beauty!
“Stars are an excellent medicine for homesick hearts.” —F W Boreham
“Radical simply means grasping things at the root.” ―Angela Davis
“If you put three or four disassociated ideas together, and created awkward relationships with them, the unconscious intelligence that comes from those pairings is really quite startling sometimes, quite provocative.” —David Bowie
“Dehumanizing others is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature, the human spirit, and, for many of us, violations against the central tenets of our faith.” —Brené Brown
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only [s]he who sees, takes off [her] shoes.” —Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“I do not see a delegation for the Four Footed. I see no seat for the Eagles. We forget and we consider ourselves superior. But we are after all a mere part of Creation. And we must consider to understand where we are. And we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there as part and parcel of the Creation.” —Oren Lyons
“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed—to be seen, heard, and companioned exactly as it is.” —Parker J. Palmer
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ―Maya Angelou
This is how I would die into the love I have for you: As pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight. ―Rumi
Werifesteria: To wander longingly through the woods in search of mystery. (No one seems to know if this is an actual Old English word, as the internet says, but I don’t really care. It’s a word now.)
“Keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive” ―Martha Graham
“When Paul said, ‘Help those women who labor with me in the Gospel,’ he certainly meant that they did more than pour out tea.” ―Julia Foote
In Japanese (again, according to the internet), tsundoku means, “the act of buying books and not reading them, leaving them to pile up.”
A friend of mine has asked me to avoid saying “rules” when I write about shelter-in-place, because that sounds too martial, too authoritarian. I sort of understand. But “guidelines” feels wrong, too, because so many people seem to be taking them as just that, and ignoring them, going out without masks, not maintaining social distance, acting as though this is all gone. Part of me wants to say: May it be so. May it be gone. But we don’t make a thing “gone” just by declaring it so.
The science seems to be offering us a different picture, one in which we could be facing quarantines and sickness and death for a long time to come. I also want the governor (of PA, where I live) to take us more quickly to yellow and then to green. But I want my parents to be safe, I want the random people who seem to die from this for no apparent reason not to die, I (selfishly) want us to avoid a second peak so I can go back to my classroom in the fall.
Call them what you will–guidelines or rules or orders–please follow through a little longer, for all of us. Wash your hands. Stay home. Plot the Green Revolution. Practice caution and simplicity. Get along without. Keep us all safe.
Gratitude List: 1. This morning at the feeder: goldfinches, bluebirds, doves, downy woodpecker, chipping sparrows, indigo bunting. An indigo bunting in the sun seems lit from within by blue fire. An indigo bunting in the shade sucks all color into itself, holding all the shadows around it within its little bunting shape. What a magical creature. 2. Yesterday I did my Ten Breaths inside a fairy ring of mushroom clump beside the stump of the poplar tree. It was a perfect circle. The faeries did not whisk me away to the Faerie Queen’s realm, perhaps because I have long been a friend of their beloved poplar, perhaps because I am not imaginative enough for their purposes. 3. A family of vultures have taken up residence in the edges of the bosque across the road. Such somber and thoughtful folk they are. 4. The amazing crimson of that little red Japanese maple, and the scarlet of the cardinal up on the hillside above, and the glowing scarlet fire of the head of that red-bellied woodpecker. 5. Nothing in this part of the hollow died of freeze last night. This morning is crisply frigid, breezy and shining.
May we walk in Beauty!
“No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid.” —Lupita Nyong’o
TO MAKE A PROMISE by David Whyte
Make a place of prayer, no fuss, just lean into the white brilliance and say what you needed to say all along, nothing too much, words as simple and as yours and as heard as the bird song above your head or the river running gently beside you, let your words join to the world the way stone nestles on stone the way the water simply leaves and goes to the sea, the way your promise breathes and belongs with every other promise the world has ever made.
Now, leave them to go on, let your words alone to carry their own life, without you, let the promise go with the river. Have faith. Walk away.
“Feminism requires precisely what patriarchy destroys in women. Unimpeachable bravery in confronting male power.” —Andrea Dworkin
It’s not like a walk in the park, this stepping through darkness from the known space of yesterday into the uncertain places of tomorrow. This moment between past and future is no open doorway with breezes flowing. This now is a tunnel, a constricting funnel, narrowing the horizon to a pinpoint, thinning the potent possibilities to this stretched limbo of waiting.
That’s what I said to Jon before I slipped off to sleep last night. I’m tired of this sometimes overpowering feeling of dread. I’m tired of carrying this bag of tears just beneath the surface.
The virus has entered my circles. People I know, and the beloveds of people I know, are getting sick. I had just heard the news of John Prine’s death, and then an anxious email popped up from someone I know, asking me to pray for his family because his father (who is an essential worker) came home yesterday with a fever. The dread is seeping in deeply. I was relieved to escape the real world into sleep for a little while.
I’m sorry. That’s a lot of heavy to place into this bowl of a space first thing in the morning. But it’s a big part of what I’ve got. So I stretch and breathe, stretch and breathe. I breathe in, and feel all the places where my body is touching a surface. I breathe out and straighten my spine. I breathe in and draw in the blue violet of those wild hyacinths. I breathe out and relax my shoulders. I breathe in and hold the taste and smell of the coffee that I am drinking. I breathe out and notice the quiet cat at the windowsill. In. Out. I can feel myself settling.
The dread is not gone. It’s going to be a long time before it’s gone. And maybe it will never go away. Likely it will mark and shape who I become for the rest of my life. And not all of that will be terrible. Some will contribute to my growth and completeness as a human. But right now? Right now, I breathe, and I notice. I find ways to live through the dread.
And this morning I have strange and wacky dreams to sort through. There was a part of the dream that was part real-life, part animation. A young man in a striped shirt was sneaking around, watching people, trying not to get caught. It wasn’t creepy or terrifying–more like an old-fashioned mystery. We chased him to an open field where dozens of blankets were lying about. He crawled under one, and by the time we got there and lifted the corner, he’d vanished.
And there was a baby bird who fluttered up to me with its beak open. I fed it tomatoes–they’re red like worms, right? It’s back was developing rich golden feathers through the baby fluff. Someone said it was a cuckoo.
And the strangest and most beautiful was the phrase. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up with a song or a phrase in my head, often completely unrelated to anything. This morning’s phrase is “Thou camest to me in sadness. . .and what wilt thou do for joy?” Yes, my Sleep Angels seem to be speaking Elizabethan English. Despite the weirdness of the delivery, it seemed to be a pretty clear response to my expression of pain as I dropped into sleep. And I think of the dreams that I dreamed (there were others, which even now are fading), and I wonder if this is what I can do for joy today and in the coming days: I can let myself experience wonder and surprise. I can tend to those who need me to feed them whatever I have at hand. I can immerse myself in story. I can communicate with my beloveds.
It feels like an extension of a thing a friend wrote to me yesterday, when I asked her about her husband, who has a fever and a cough: “Holding grief and joy together is messy and weird.” That has to be one of the defining phrases of these days.
May we all find ways to bring joy into these days when grief and dread can feel all-encompassing. Listen to your dreams. Keep an eye out for blue, for gold, for the thousand shades of green. Hold each other close–in our hearts if not in our arms. And when it just seems like you cannot bear the dread, let someone know. Reach out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Ground and center. There is no way out but through, and it will be easier if we walk it together.
Gratitude List: 1. The messages that come in dreams (even–or especially–if they’re speaking in Elizabethan English) 2. That patch of blue violet wild hyacinth at the base of the bird feeder stand, and the violet Gill-on-the-Grass that spreads from there to the Japanese maple 3. The chipping sparrow in the Japanese maple 4. The sounds of the morning house: cat eating second (or third, or fourth) breakfast, the constant flow of the water fountain (yes, also for cats), the little bits of conversation with Josiah, my own breathing. . . 5. The way a gratitude list becomes a grounding in-the-moment exercise. The dread has not lifted, but I am no longer living in the center of that cloud. I have sunk to a deeper place, where I can find more complexity (for now)–there is joy in the midst of sadness, no matter how messy and weird it is to hold all those pieces together.
Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. May we walk in Beauty!
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” —Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” ―Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
“Where there’s life there’s hope, and need of vittles.” ―JRR Tolkien
“We are the ones we have been waiting for.” ―June Jordan
“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” ―Albert Einstein
“We are all the leaves of one tree. We are all the waves of one sea.” ―Thich Nhat Hanh
“It is respectable to have no illusions―and safe―and profitable and dull.” ―Joseph Conrad
“I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether they are worthy.” —Thomas Merton
“After a War” by Chinua Achebe
After a war life catches desperately at passing hints of normalcy like vines entwining a hollow twig; its famished roots close on rubble and every piece of broken glass. Irritations we used to curse return to joyous tables like prodigals home from the city. . . . The meter man serving my maiden bill brought a friendly face to my circle of sullen strangers and me smiling gratefully to the door. After a war we clutch at watery scum pulsating on listless eddies of our spent deluge. . . . Convalescent dancers rising too soon to rejoin their circle dance our powerless feet intent as before but no longer adept contrive only half-remembered eccentric steps. After years of pressing death and dizzy last-hour reprieves we’re glad to dump our fears and our perilous gains together in one shallow grave and flee the same rueful way we came straight home to haunted revelry.
Greetings from Narnia! In these days, I remember that even in Narnia, things have often been unstable, have often felt dangerous and frightening. Remember the first time we went there, how we had to draw on all our ingenuity and courage to find our way through? How we needed help from others along the way, how we had to keep going even when we knew we were only children, and clearly not up to the task of saving the realm from an autocratic and capricious leader? That was a plague of winter rather than virus, but people were dying then, too, and people stayed in their houses, fearful of going out.
Here is this realm, we stay indoors in order to try to save more of us in the end, and we have these magical boxes that help us build communities even while we’re far apart. The fear is here, and sometimes I think I can smell it, as if I were one of our animal friends from Narnia. We have to figure out how to survive.
Right now, it’s really hard in Pennsylvania, as it might be where you live. We’ve been out of school for a week, learning through computers and figuring out the best ways to connect. Yesterday, Governor Wolf announced that all non-life-supporting businesses MUST close, which was sort of in effect already, but the clarifications mean that businesses that had closed to the public but still brought their employees in to work behind the scenes will need to keep their employees home. It makes sense, and I respect Governor Wolf’s decision. And yes, and yes, and yes. But it brings the hurt home to the hollow here because Jon won’t get any more hours at work until this is over. The shoe has dropped. We’ve got social and community safety nets, and all sorts of possible strategies to manage, so we’ll be okay. It just brings the harshness of it home, and makes the uncertainty more real, more looming. But we’ll be okay.
I hope you will be, too. It feels pretty dire at times, and every day brings something a little more dire. Searching for the little things that bring light and delight into the day becomes more important to me at times like this. Five things that make me grateful don’t cancel out the gnawing anxiety, and they don’t change the harsh reality. Still, they bring me balance. They help me to remember that my feet touch the ground, that I live in this body in this space. Despite the wild uncertainty of these days, some beautiful things are certain. Some wonders and delights go on. I choose to ground myself in those. I might catch the kite o my anxiety and go zooming off in tears and conjectures, but that string of connection to you, and to the Earth, and to all my Beloved Community–that’s real, and that’s strong, and that will bring me back to solid ground, safe.
Please, if you are finding yourself close to the edge of the panic or despair, reach out. Make a connection with someone out in the wide world. Find your kite strings–who and what holds you to the Earth?
Kite Strings of Gratitude: 1. You. Yesterday, a friend of mine asked to see her friends’ face on FB, and I cried, seeing all her lovely community, so I did the same, and all throughout the day, my friends posted their photos, sometimes with their children or their four-legged companions, and my day was so bright, despite the harsher news, despite the uncertainty. 2. Yesterday after lunch, I did the two-mile walk up and down the hill. The world was still misty, and it felt as though the the hollow itself was an empty bowl with a curtain of mist all around. The bowl was all that existed for a little while. Silence and birdsong. Distant traffic. 3. Yoga. It’s one of my coping strategies right now, both for grounding and for chasing the anxieties out of my lower back. 4. Yesterday during my Office Hour, a couple students from the dorm checked in and then walked the laptop around the dorm so I could say hello to everyone there. It made me sort of giddy. I really miss my students. 5. Yesterday morning, a great blue heron flew through the mist above the hollow. Even though my other blue friend is gone, others are still here.
Take care of each other.
“Although I am a woman of strong faith, I admit that my spirit sometimes struggled to overcome the heaviness of the tragedies around me. When heartbreak knocked on my door, I learned to let faith answer.” —Coretta Scott King
“On this day, the Vernal Equinox, we are in perfect balance between light and dark. Let us pray loving attention to the fragile sprouts of inner beauty which have survived the long dark of hibernation, despite all odds, to push up through the soil into the light. Let us honour the faith it has taken to believe in the invisible, upper world, where soon we will blossom into sprawling gardens overflowing with fruit. Let us hold our painful hearts with gentle hands today. Let us express our gratitude to the light that can only be found in the dark. Let us ask our vulnerability to shine radiantly with knowing that we are unfolding right on time.” —Toko-pa Turner
“The happiest people I’ve ever met, regardless of their profession, their social standing, or their economic status, are people that are fully engaged in the world around them. The most fulfilled people are the ones who get up every morning and stand for something larger than themselves. They are the people who care about others, who will extend a helping hand to someone in need or will speak up about an injustice when they see it.” ―Wilma Mankiller
“Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam. Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something. Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam? Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.” —J.R.R. Tolkien? Or was this from the movie?
“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” —Margaret Atwood
“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” —Fred Rogers, born on this day in 1928
One of my colleagues organized Faculty Devotions this morning on Google Meet, and it was satisfying to see people and hear them talk, and to see families and pets in the frames.
I opened up a Google Meet room this morning for one of my classes for students to stop in and ask questions. I think next week I will have several hour-long periods of Office Hours, where students can stop in and say hello and ask questions they may have. Only five or six students stopped in today, but it was really exciting to see them and to connect. It makes it more real.
I would not want to be a cyber-school educator. I am finding that despite my deep longing for solitude, I also have deep longing for human connection beyond simply being here at home with the family. I miss the extraverted part of me. (That was a little personally startling to write, true as it is.) But for now, I am something of a cyber-school educator, and it’s essential that I do what I can to keep a connection with my students as much as I am able. Our day are altered, so we alter our plans. We adapt and make do. When we get frustrated, we yell, and believe it or not, someone comes to our rescue! When something works, we share it so others who are struggling can find help.
Gratitude List: 1. My younger son is in public school, and his teachers are not allowed to assign required work. Yesterday we got an email to have them check their Google classroom anyway. His teachers had all created fun and chatty videos with their families and housepets. Just for fun. Just for the connection. What priceless people. A little extra reaching out means so much. 2. Also, his school is handing out free meals to kids, to try to ensure that no one falls through the cracks during these altered days. Staff from the high school came down the hill to help with the distribution. Good people keep doing good things. 3. The gold on those finches is really shining through the winter olive. Shine, birdies, shine! 4. My back is hurting again today. I am so glad I have Yasmin’s yoga video to help me. 5. Google Meet. The possibility of continuing connections.
May we walk in Beauty!
“We must always trust in the difficult, then what appears to us as the most frightening will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
“So don’t be frightened, dear friend, if sadness or anxiety casts a shadow over your life. Something is happening within you. Remember that life has not forgotten you. It holds you in its hand and will not let you go. And after all, why would you want to live without pain and unease? You don’t yet know what mysterious work these feelings are accomplishing inside you.” —Rainer Maria Rilke
“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.” —Anais Nin
“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” —Anais Nin
“If you take two steps toward God,” he used to tell me, “God runs to you!” —Satish Kumar in Life of Pi by Yann Martel
“Russian scientists have discovered gold deposits in the dust of decayed tree stumps. The phenomenon occurs in forests growing in ground where there is gold ore. Over the course of centuries, the trees’ roots suck in minute quantities of the precious metal, eventually accumulating nuggets. Describe a metaphorically comparable process you could carry out in your own life over the course of the next 20 years. What invisible part of you is like a tree’s roots? What’s the gold you’d like to suck up?” —Rob Brezsny in PRONOIA is the Antidote to Paranoia.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours, may the clarity of light be yours, may the fluency of the ocean be yours, may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow wind work these words of love around you, an invisible cloak to mind your life. —John O’Donohue
“Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something.” —Carl Sagan