Anxious Days and Gratitude

Gull on a bad hair day.

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.

Naming the Colors

A golden person peeked in my window this morning while I was writing about colors.

Here’s a little Noticing Exercise for today:
Go outside, or stand at your window, and look around. Take a few deep breaths, of course. Feel your feet on the ground. Now, start naming the colors you see. Maybe start with the spectrum. Hang out with old Roy G. Biv for a few moments.

Find something red (it can be something human-wrought, but it’s especially satisfying to do this only with naturally-occurring colors). Breathe in red.

Orange might be harder, unless you have a family of resident orioles chasing each other across your view, but look really closely at the turnings of color at the tips of a patch of weeds, or the hidden shades of turned earth in the flowerbed. See if you can find it. Breathe in orange.

Yellow is pretty easy if you’ve got a dandelion patch, or goldfinches. Breathe yellow.

Green–it’s everywhere, but don’t forget to breathe it in.

Blue. Also easy, perhaps, particularly if the sky is cloudless. Breathe blue.

Indigo: We’re not really trained to notice indigo. If you have a bunting or a bluebird handy, the indigo is really the deep well of blue that pools beneath the flash and shine. Or look at a cloud–what we call the silver lining of a cloud is actually indigo. Really look at it. Then look into it. Without a cloud, you can do this with shadows. Indigo is the deepest layer of shadow. If you think you’re really only imagining it, you’re probably in the presence of indigo. Indigo is mysterious, almost elusive. Breathe in indigo.

Violet is in the gill-on-the-grass, the edges of asters, the pulsing life force in the newest branches. Find violet. Breath in violet.

Now you’ve breathed a rainbow. Won’t it just be a glorious day from here on out?


Gratitude List:
1. Things are zoomy and bright out there in birdland. In all the years we’ve been here, I really don’t know when I have seen such a healthy flock of local goldfinches.
2. Last night’s weekly Birding Club (I mean Family) Zoom call. If you think I talk a lot about birds, you need to meet my family. In the Before, I might sometimes go a couple months without seeing or talking to my siblings. Now, I talk to them Every Week. I just got a little teary writing that. Even when I am raging at the losses, here is a gift. Such a gift.
3. This is the last week of school. I am so terribly torn. There really is a part of me that dreads this. The lack of closure is extremely painful. It feels wrong. I think I have been keeping myself from anticipating the end of the semester because I don’t know how to close this out. But I so desperately need this break, the chance to re-group, to make art without feeling like I should be doing something else, the opportunity to write what I want when I want, and the movement out of this incredibly sedentary life.
4. Sunshine and cool breezes. Thermal Delight.
5. Color!

May we walk in Beauty!


“Perfectionism is a virus which keeps us running on the treadmill of never-enoughness. It is inherently deadening for how it strives and never arrives. Failure is embedded in its very pursuit, for our humanity can never be homogenised. The only antidote is to turn away from every whiff of plastic and gloss and follow our grief, pursue our imperfections, exaggerate our eccentricities until they, the things we once sought to hide, reveal themselves as our true majesty.” —Toko-pa Turner


“The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.” —Douglas Adams


“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” —Carl Sagan


“UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
It’s not.”
—The Onceler, Dr. Seuss

Kite Strings

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

Back to Gratitude

I need to step back into a thoroughly conscious and anchored gratitude practice these days. The rage and grief that I am feeling over what we are doing to the children at our borders threatens to capsize me, and I need to keep drawing down the energy, grounding, centering, focusing on the beautiful and tender realities that I notice around me.

Before the gratitude list, there’s a small sad thing that keeps getting tangled in my heart when I try to make my list: When we got home from vacation, I looked for Our Lady of the Flowers in her nest of cobweb and lichen on the swingy sycamore branch in front of the porch. The nest is gone. Fragments remain, stuck to the branch, but the little bowl is collapsed and torn. I hope Herself was able to fly free of whatever peril destroyed her home.

Gratitude List:
1. Lovely synchronicities: Today, a friend of mine who I met separately from my family saw a picture I posted on Facebook of my parents on their wedding day 57 years ago. My friend said she recognized my mother’s name, and wondered if she was the same friend she had known for a year when their husbands were both doing medical residencies at York Hospital in the mid-60s. They had had babies within a couple weeks of each other. It was! (My brother was that baby.) A lovely collision of the past into the now. It’s so satisfying.
2. This morning after I had mowed, I stood and watched the afternoon sun playing on the willow tree. A breeze whipped up and yellow locust leaves began sifting down all over the field while the willow danced in the sunlight. No photo, no video, would do it justice. Memory will have to suffice.
3. Little toad in the corner of the wood shop.
4. As wonderful as last week was, traveling, vacationing–still, I didn’t have the clear and unalterable sense of summer. I didn’t have a chance to establish summer routine before we left for Cape Cod. And that was perfect, because now I get to really live into the feeling of being on summer vacation.
5. Family sleeping parties. We’re all sleeping in the living room tonight to be near the air conditioner.

May we walk in Beauty!


I decided that I will try to make at least one phone call or write one letter every day this week, begging our congresspeople to speak out against the Family Separation Policy that the Attorney General has begun to enforce. Today, I called Smucker and Toomey.

Keep up the pressure on your Senators and Representatives. Ask them what their public statements are regarding the Family Separation Policy. Ask them for information about who is caring for the children. Are they vetted? Do they have clearances? How are the children being cared for? Are they getting their nutrition? Do they play? Are they getting education? Ask whether Health and Human Services is responsible for their care, and if so, why the administration is trusting HHS when within the past two weeks, HHS has admitted losing track of children in its care, some to traffickers.

Keep holding out your hands to people who are different from you politically. This is an affront to humanity, not just a liberal or conservative cause. Keep your heart open, keep soft, but don’t let the rage and grief throw you off. Hold on to your own humanity, to your own Love. These are difficult times, and people who would rip children from the arms of their parents in order to keep them out of our country would do anything to solidify their power.


Quotes for the day. I am conflicted about the Garrison Keillor quote because of the several credible accusations against him, but it came up on my feed today, and it felt like it meant to be there.

“Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.”
—Garrison Keillor
***
“It’s still a world with plums in it, my loves, & chamomile & lipstick & cellos. It’s still a world with us in it. Find a hand & hold on.” —Elena Rose
***
“The real work of planet-saving will be small, humble, and humbling, and (insofar as it involves love) pleasing and rewarding. Its jobs will be too many to count, too many to report, too many to be publicly noticed or rewarded, too small to make anyone rich or famous.” ―Wendell Berry
***
”So many of us feel an agonizing longing to contribute something meaningful to the deficits of our time. But years can disappear in the doing of duties, in the never-reaching of rising expectations, in the always-falling-short of proving of one’s enoughness.

“The truth is that if we really want to make an eloquent offering of our lives, we have to step out of that ‘call and response’ relationship with the external world and locate our source of guidance within.

“To hear the rhythm of your indigenous song, to fall in step with the poetry of your unfolding, first there must be a clearing away: a ‘temenos’ of simplicity in which to dwell.

“Strike a holy grove of silence where you can listen as you long to be heard, see as you long to be seen, acknowledge where you long to be relevant, needed and necessary in the ‘family of things’.” ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa
***
“One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
―Henry David Thoreau
***
“We stand together. We stick up for the vulnerable. We challenge bigots. We don’t let hate speech become normalized. We hold the line.” ―J.K. Rowling
***
Rumi: “Ours is no caravan of despair.”
***
“I profess the religion of love wherever its caravan turns along the way; that is the belief, the faith I keep.” ―Asma Kaftaro, UN Women Advisory Board
***
“Human rights are not things that are put on the table for people to enjoy. These are things you fight for and then you protect.”
―Wangari Maathai